When V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai created the first email system in 1978 for UMDNJ at Newark, NJ, he literally created the electronic version of paper postal mail. Mail meant interoffice / inter-organization communications. A typical mail piece was the MEMORANDUM, with “To:”, “From:”, “Date:”, “Subject:”, “Cc:”, “Bcc:”, “Attachment”, elements. As a high school student, Ayyadurai was challenged by the Director of the Computer Laboratory at UMDNJ, Les Michelson, to create an “Electronic Mail” system for UMDNJ, the electronic version of the interoffice paper mail system.
The email systems we use today are born out of the first email system that Ayyadurai created in 1978 at UMDNJ, it is a system of interlocked components intended to emulate the interoffice paper mail system.
History of the First Email System
There are two parts to this history. Sending text messages electronically could be said to date back to the Morse code telegraph of the mid 1800s; and the 1939 World's Fair where IBM sent a message of congratulations from San Francisco to New York on an IBM radio-type, calling it a high-speed substitute for mail service in the world of tomorrow. The original text message, electronic transfer of content or images, ARPANET messaging, and even the familiar "@" sign were used in primitive electronic communication systems. While the technology pioneers who created these systems should be heralded for their efforts and given credit for their specific accomplishments, these early computer programs were clearly not email.
The first part is the pre-history of the development of electronic text messaging. This first part is based on extant history, which can be found on the Internet by searching 'history of EMAIL', although the term EMAIL is misused as the term did not exist prior to 1978, and it should really be set as ‘history of electronic messaging’.
The second part is the history of the First Email System, and the various other email systems that came after email created by V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai.
The early message transaction developments allowed one user to transact an electronic text message with another user. Such communication was command driven and hence was only used by technical people who knew how to craft the cryptic code to send a message between two people. This was electronic text messaging, and not an email system, a system of interlocking parts, each of which is essential for ordinary people to communicate effectively with one or many others, in an environment where different kinds of information must be shared (memos, documents, files, etc.) i.e. the modern office environment.
Early electronic messaging systems allowed multiple users on one computer to leave each other messages, like a yellow sticky note. One user could leave a message by appending that message to a file, that was owned and accessible by the user, similar to having a notepad where people write notes to each other at the bottom, as a way for multiple users of a time-sharing mainframe computer to communicate. The exact history is not clear. But according to Tom Van Vleck, among the first systems to have such a facility were SDC's Q32 and MIT's CTSS. This capability was quickly extended to become network electronic messaging, allowing users to pass messages between different computers. The early history of network electronic messaging is equally unclear. According to Van Vleck, AUTODIN system may have been the first allowing electronic text messages to be transferred between users on different computers in 1966, but it is possible the SAGE system had something similar some time before.[i] Tom Van Vleck and Noel Morris developed Mail in CTSS at MIT for sending messages using the CTSS file system. This was before Ray Tomlinson's development (see below), so rightly Van Vleck says it is "exaggerating" to say Tomlinson invented email. Early electronic messaging was just a small advance on what we know these days as a file directory - it just put a message in another user's directory in a spot where they could see it when they logged in --- simple as that. Just like leaving a note on someone's desk.[ii]
So while electronic mail transactions via file transfers on a single computer and across a computers (network electronic messaging) existed before 1978, they were hardly an Email System, given the characteristics aforementioned. Many components, beyond just being able to transfer messages across computers were necessary to build an Email System. The history of these components is provided in the next section.
Developments Prior to Email
1954 - John Backus develops the FORTRAN language for IBM [iii]
1960 - Charles Bachman invents database technology [iv]
1961 - Early message transactions through file sharing by Tom Van Vleck. MIT developed CTSS (Compatible Time Sharing System). Users passed messages using files on a central server. One user could log in to create a file and another user would open that file and read the message. [v]
1961 - Leonard Kleinrock publishes "Information Flow in Large Communication Nets" describing the "Internet" [vi]
1962 - J.C.R. Liklider envisons the "galactic network" [vii]
1962 - Bob Bermer develops ASCII naming standard [viii]
1965 - The SNDMSG program was created to allow one user to leave an electronic message to another user by appending to a file.
1966 - AUTODIN and SAGE allow electronic text messages to be transferred between users on different computers.
1968 - Elmer Shapiro leads the Network Working Group at SRI [ix]
1968 - Paul Baran, Thomas Marill, Lawrence Roberts and Barry Wessler create Interface Message Processor specifications [x]
1968 - CPYNET developed to transfer files across computers
1969 - UCLA introduces Internet to the public [x]
1969 - First Internet Message is sent from Kleinrocks’s lab at UCLA [xi]
1971 - Ray Tomlinson offers features similar to AUTODIN and SAGE for sending TEXT messages across multiple computers, in his own implementation by copying CPYNET code into SNDMSG using @ symbol to indicate recipient.
1971 - Larry Roberts writes RD at ARPA to list incoming messages and support forwarding, filing, and responding to them. [xii]
1972 - Commands MAIL and MLFL were added to the FTP program (RFC 385) to provide standard network transport capabilities for email transmission. FTP sent a separate copy of each email to each recipient.
1973 - TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) developed by Vinton Cerf, Robert Kahn [xiv]
1973 - Ethernet is developed by Bob Metcalfe [xv]
1974 - Yogen Dalal and Carl Sunshinge Publish RFC 675 protocol [xvi]
1974 - Telenet is introduced as the first Internet Service Provider [xvii]
1975 - John Vital developed some software to organize electronic messages
1975 - DARPA program manager Steve Walker initiates a project at RAND to develop an MSG-like email capability for the Unix operating system.
1977 - Dave Crocker, John Vittal, Kenneth Pogran, and D. Austin Henderson collaborate on a DARPA initiative to collect various email data formats into a single, coherent specification, resulting in RFC 733.
1977-1978 - Crocker followed Dave Farber to the University of Delaware, where they took on a project for the U.S. Army Materiel Command (AMC) to develop a capability to relay electronic messages over dial-up telephone lines for sites that couldn't connect directly to the ARPANET. [xiv]
1978 - TCIP/IP was developed by Danny Cohen, David Reed and John Shoch [xviii]
The First Email System
1978 - V. A. Shiva Ayyadurai develops the first Email System at UMDNJ. Email is the electronic version of the interoffice postal mail system that offers doctors at UMDNJ the ability to send and receive email in a user friendly network wide manner.
1979 - Development of Email Maintenance and Management System
1980 - Development of User Manual
1981 - Westinghouse Science Talent Search Award committee recognizes V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai with Honors Award for EMAIL, world’s first Email System that is User-Friendly, and Network wide features Inbox, Oubox, registered mail, broadcast, nearly all the features of modern email systems, and easy-to-use, not for Geeks alone.
1982 - US Copyright Office issues first copyright for EMAIL to V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai [xxii]
1982 - Jon Postel develops SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) [xix]
1982 - Crocker revised RFC 733 to produce RFC 822, which was the first standard to describe the syntax of domain names.
1983 - Jon Postel, Paul Mockapetris, and Craig Partridge to support the Email addressing space, creating .edu, .gov, .com, .mil, .org, .net, & .int. [xx]
1985 - Development of "offline readers." Offline readers allowed email users to store their email on their own personal computers, and then read it and prepare replies without actually being connected to the network - sort of like Microsoft Outlook can do today. [ii]
1988 - Eudora developed by Steve Dorner [ii]
1988 - Vinton Cerf arranges for the connection of MCI Mail to the NSFNET through the Corporation for the National Research Initiative (CNRI) for "experimental use", providing the first sanctioned commercial use of the Internet.
1989 - The Compuserve mail system also connected to the NSFNET, through the Ohio State University network. [xiv]
1989 - MCI offers the connection of MCI Mail. It is initially provided to NSFNET through the Corporation for the National Research Initiative as an experiment. This offers the first commercial use of the Internet.
1990 - Compuserve offers its email, connected to the NSFNET, through the Ohio State University network. [xiv]
1991 - Lotus Notes is released
1993 - America On-line and Delphi offers global Internet Mail. Their solution makes it easy for an ordinary citizen to get an email account and use an email system
1996 - Microsoft Internet Mail and News was a freeware email and news client and ancestor of Outlook Express. Version 1.0 was released in 1996 following the Internet Explorer 3 release.
1997 - the program was renamed as Outlook Express and bundled with Internet Explorer 4. The executable file for Outlook Express, msimn.exe, is a holdover from the Internet Mail and News era. Internet Mail and News handled only plain text and rich text (RTF) email, lacking HTML email. [xxi]
1999 - Blackberry