Raymond Samuel Tomlinson (April 23, 1941 – March 5, 2016) was an American computer programmer who implemented the first email
program on the
The Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) was the first wide-area packet-switched network with distributed control and one of the first networks to implement the TCP/IP protocol suite. Both technologies became the technical foun ...
system, the precursor to the Internet, in 1971; It was the first system able to send mail between users on different hosts connected to ARPANET. Previously, mail could be sent only to others who used the same computer. To achieve this, he used the @ sign
to separate the user name from the name of their machine, a scheme which has been used in email addresses ever since. The Internet Hall of Fame
in its account of his work commented "Tomlinson's email program brought about a complete revolution, fundamentally changing the way people communicate".
He is credited with the invention of the TCP
three-way handshake which underlies
The Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) is an application layer protocol in the Internet protocol suite model for distributed, collaborative, hypermedia information systems. HTTP is the foundation of data communication for the World Wide Web, w ...
and many other key Internet
Early life and education
Tomlinson was born in
Amsterdam, New York
Amsterdam is a city in Montgomery County, New York, United States. As of the 2020 census, the city had a population of 18,219. The city is named after Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
The City of Amsterdam is surrounded on the northern, east ...
, but his family soon moved to the small, unincorporated village of Vail Mills, Broadalbin, New York
He attended Broadalbin Central School
in nearby Broadalbin, New York
. Later he attended
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute () (RPI) is a private research university in Troy, New York, with an additional campus in Hartford, Connecticut. A third campus in Groton, Connecticut closed in 2018. RPI was established in 1824 by Stephen ...
(RPI) in Troy, New York
where he participated in the co-op program with IBM
. He received a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering
from RPI in 1963.
After graduating from RPI, he entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
(MIT) to continue his electrical engineering education. At MIT, Tomlinson worked in the Speech Communication Group and developed an analog-digital hybrid speech synthesizer as the subject of his thesis for the master's degree in electrical engineering, which he received in 1965.
In 1967, he joined the technology company of Bolt, Beranek and Newman
(now BBN Technologies), where he helped develop the TENEX
operating system including the
The Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) was the first wide-area packet-switched network with distributed control and one of the first networks to implement the TCP/IP protocol suite. Both technologies became the technical foun ... Network Control Program
, implementations of
Telnet is an application protocol used on the Internet or local area network to provide a bidirectional interactive text-oriented communication facility using a virtual terminal connection. User data is interspersed in-band with Telnet control ...
, and implementations on the self-replicating programs Creeper and Reaper
. He wrote a file transfer program called CPYNET to transfer files through the ARPANET. Tomlinson was asked to change a program called
SNDMSG was an early electronic mail program, chiefly notable because it was used to send what is considered the first networked email.
SNDMSG was originally the electronic mail program for a single multi-user time-sharing computer running the TE ...
, which sent messages to other users of a time-sharing
computer, to run on TENEX. He added code he took from CPYNET to SNDMSG so messages could be sent to users on ''other'' computers—the first email.
The first email Tomlinson sent was a test. It was not preserved and Tomlinson describes it as insignificant, ''something like " QWERTYUIOP
"''. This is commonly misquoted as "The first e-mail was QWERTYUIOP". Tomlinson later commented that these "test messages were entirely forgettable and I have, therefore, forgotten them."
At first, his email messaging system was not considered important. Its development was not a directive of his employer, with Tomlinson merely pursuing it "because it seemed like a neat idea".
When showing the system to a colleague, Tomlinson said "Don't tell anyone! This isn't what we're supposed to be working on".
Tomlinson said he preferred "email" over "e-mail", joking in a 2010 interview that "I'm simply trying to conserve the world's supply of hyphens" and that "the term has been in use long enough to drop the hyphen".
Tomlinson died at his home in
Lincoln is a town in Middlesex County, Massachusetts. The population was 7,014 according to the 2020 United States Census, including residents of Hanscom Air Force Base that live within town limits. The town, located in the MetroWest region ...
, on March 5, 2016, from a
A myocardial infarction (MI), commonly known as a heart attack, occurs when blood flow decreases or stops to the coronary artery of the heart, causing damage to the heart muscle. The most common symptom is chest pain or discomfort which may tr ...
. He was 74 years old.
Awards and honors
* In 2000 he received the George R. Stibitz
Computer Pioneer Award from the
American Computer Museum
The American Computer & Robotics Museum (ACRM), formerly known as the American Computer Museum, is a museum of the history of computing, communications, artificial intelligence and robotics that is located in Bozeman, Montana, United States.
(with the Computer Science Department of
Montana State University
Montana State University (MSU) is a public land-grant research university in Bozeman, Montana. It is the state's largest university. MSU offers baccalaureate degrees in 60 fields, master's degrees in 68 fields, and doctoral degrees in 35 fiel ...
* In 2001 he received a
The Webby Awards are awards for excellence on the Internet presented annually by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, a judging body composed of over two thousand industry experts and technology innovators. Categories inclu ...
International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences
The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences or IADAS is an international organization founded in 1998 in New York City to help drive the creative, technical, and professional progress of the Internet and evolving forms of interactive a ...
for lifetime achievement. Also in 2001 he was inducted into the Rensselaer Alumni Hall of Fame.
* In 2002 '' Discover
'' magazine awarded him its Innovative Innovating Award of Innovation.
* In 2004, he received the
IEEE Internet Award
IEEE Internet Award is a Technical Field Award established by the IEEE in June 1999. The award is sponsored by Nokia Corporation. It may be presented annually to an individual or up to three recipients, for exceptional contributions to the ad ...
along with Dave Crocker.
* In 2009, he along with Martin Cooper
was awarded the
Prince of Asturias Award
The Princess of Asturias Awards ( es, Premios Princesa de Asturias, links=no, ast, Premios Princesa d'Asturies, links=no), formerly the Prince of Asturias Awards from 1981 to 2014 ( es, Premios Príncipe de Asturias, links=no), are a series of a ...
for scientific and technical research.
* In 2011, he was listed 4th in the MIT150
list of the top 150 innovators and ideas from
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is a private land-grant research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Established in 1861, MIT has played a key role in the development of modern technology and science, and is one of th ...
* In 2012, Tomlinson was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame
The Internet Society (ISOC) is an American nonprofit advocacy organization founded in 1992 with local chapters around the world. Its mission is "to promote the open development, evolution, and use of the Internet for the benefit of all people ...
Tomlinsons' e-mail webpage
American computer programmers
American electrical engineers
20th-century American inventors
MIT School of Engineering alumni
People from Amsterdam, New York
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute alumni
Webby Award winners
Engineers from New York (state)
Inventors from New York (state)