How did the @ sign end up in emails?

By Souvik Das | Updated 8 Mar 2016
How did the @ sign end up in emails?
  • The idea was startlingly simple and made perfect sense to the world and Ray Tomlinson, the credited inventor of the present-day form of emails.

Ray Tomlinson, the credited inventor of emails, passed away on March 5. His illustrious career included working with Bolt Beranek and Newman (present day BBN Technologies) who built the ARPANET, predecessor to the Internet. Among major achievements of his career was inventing the primary form of email, by tweaking University of California-Berkeley’s internal messaging system, SNDMSG.


In 1970, we already knew the way to send electronic messages to computers on the same server, with SNDMSG. What Tomlinson achieved was a way to send messages to computers located on different servers, thereby creating a form of electronic postal service across anyone sitting on a connected computer. To replicate the format of traditional addresses, Tomlinson depicted network addresses by using the ‘@’ sign to denote the location of a computer hosted on another server. This, hence, gave birth to the standard format of an email address as we know it today. Addresses were composed of a user’s primary name, the @ sign and the server’s name on which the receiver’s computer was located.

The inclusion of the @ sign was incredibly simple, and formed a crucial peg in the evolution of present-day mailing services. A certain debate has been raised regarding the correct credition of the inventor of email, with Indian-born Dr. Shiva Ayyadurai claiming his right to the record for the communication service he developed at University of Medicine and Dentistry, New Jersey, aged 14. While that decision may remain in debate for much longer, the format of email addresses as we know today is Tomlinson’s brainchild.

Souvik Das
The one that switches between BMWs and Harbour Line Second Class.

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