Home / Technology / Raymond Tomlinson, Who Put the @ Sign in Email, Is Dead at 74

Raymond Tomlinson, Who Put the @ Sign in Email, Is Dead at 74

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“I’m often asked, did I know what I was doing? And the answer is, yes, I knew exactly what I was doing. I just had no notion whatsoever of what the ultimate impact would be,” Raymond Tomlinson said of his idea. Credit Raytheon BBN Technologies, via Associated Press

Raymond Tomlinson, the computer programmer who invented email as it is known today and in the process transformed the “at” sign from a sparely used price symbol to a permanent fixture in the lives of millions of computer users around the world, died on Saturday. He was 74.

His death was announced by Raytheon, where he worked. The company provided no details on where he died or the cause of death.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Mr. Tomlinson was working at the research and development company Bolt, Beranek & Newman on projects for ARPANET, a forerunner of the Internet created for the Defense Department. At the time, the company had developed a messaging program, called SNDMSG, that allowed multiple users of a time-share computer to send messages to one another.

But it was a closed messaging system, limited to users of a single computer.

Mr. Tomlinson, filching codes from a file-transfer program he had created called CYPNET, modified SNDMSG so that messages could be sent from one host computer to another throughout the ARPANET system.

To do this, he needed a symbol to separate a user name from a destination address. And so the plump little “at” sign came into use, chosen because it did not appear in user names and did not have any meaning in the TENEX paging program used on time-sharing computers.

In 2010, the Museum of Modern Art incorporated the symbol into its architecture and design collection, calling it “a defining symbol of the computer age.”

The Internet Society in Geneva, on inducting Mr. Tomlinson into the newly created Internet Hall of Fame in 2012, honored Mr. Tomlinson for “having brought about a complete revolution, fundamentally changing the way people communicate.”

In accepting the honor, Mr. Tomlinson said, “I’m often asked, did I know what I was doing? And the answer is, yes, I knew exactly what I was doing. I just had no notion whatsoever of what the ultimate impact would be. What I was doing was providing a way for people to communicate with other people.”

A complete obituary will appear soon.

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