The History of Email

Tagged in:

Though modern email first emerged in the early 1990s, electronic communication actually dates back to the 1970s. Yes, email is nearly half a century old! If you’re interested in electronic communications, email validation, and email in general, you’ll appreciate the evolution of email.

Electronic Communications Within the Network

Prior to the emergence of email, users of the same computer used a crude system of communicating with one another: putting messages in the other user’s file directory where they would likely see it. As networked computers became more common, the ability to communicate with other networked computer users eventually emerged.

A computer scientist named Raymond Tomlinson is credited with masterminding modern email addressing using the @ sign and sending the first network email message in 1971. This was long before the Internet was born, and these early electronic messages were limited to messages between networked computers — and users had to be using the same software. Members of the military, government, and academia commonly used the forerunner of the Internet, ARPANET and began using email to communicate with one another. 

Email Moves to the Web 

The World Wide Web emerged in the early 1990s, bringing with it a profound shift in how we communicate. As Internet access became more widely available and used, and as email programs became easier to use, email quickly took off. 

Many of the emerging email options could be used offline as well as stored offline, making it convenient for users to receive messages and review them at their leisure. Senders knew that even if their recipients were offline, their messages would be received. 

Popular email brands of yesteryear include: AOL, Lotus Notes, and Eudora. Initial email use took place at work but it wasn’t long before people began using both the Internet and personal email at home. Early on, most people got personal email addresses associated with their Internet Service Providers such as AOL.

Due to AOL’s dominance, most email users became familiar with AOL’s “You’ve got mail” announcement. In fact, that announcement became a meme and was fodder for the movie You’ve Got Mail starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. 

Email’s Evolution

By the early 2000s, webmail had arrived. Users were no longer tied to the email addresses offered by their ISPs. They could sign up for personal accounts through webmail providers such as Hotmail and Gmail. With webmail, messages could be retrieved using a Web browser — no software or setup required. They could access messages at home, at work, at the library, and virtually any other Internet-connected computer.

While webmail freed users from using a single computer to access their email messages, email wasn’t done evolving. Email moved to the mobile realm in 2003 when the original Blackberry phones were released.

The first US president to use email was President Bill Clinton (though he reportedly only sent two email messages). President Barack Obama was the first US president to use mobile email — and is a self-proclaimed Blackberry addict.

Today, smartphones and tablets along with email apps are the latest evolution of email. Email clients and webmail are still popular and have evolved to include calendars, collaboration, tasks, notes, and organizational features such as tags, message rules, and folders.

Email has prompted the development of other technologies such as anti-spam and email validation software. You’re likely familiar with spam-fighting tools. Email validation software is used to verify and correct (if necessary) email addresses.

Despite competition from social networking, instant messaging, online collaboration, and video chats, email is alive and well. It remains one of the best ways to communicate with others whether or not they are online at the time or using the same software.