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E-mail turns thirty

Full of qualities and with a few defects, the e-mail has won over the planet and has become an indispensable working tool of the modern world. It is true that it only began to be really massively used from 1995 onwards when the Internet began to be seen as something useful and easy to be used by a large number of people.

But 30 years have gone by since its birth, in the computer of engineer Ray Tomlinson, in 1971. Dr. Tomlinson worked at BBN, a company hired in 1968 by the State Department of the United States to help to set up the Arpanet, the forerunner of the Internet. He wrote the first program for an e-mail and named it SNDMSG (Send message) and chose the graphical symbol @ (at) to separate the name of the addressee from the place the message is going.

“The symbol was little used and I thought it was perfect for my program.” related Dr. Tomlinson in numerous interviews. The first message, sent to a colleague who worked at his side, was a sequence of letters (qwertyuiop) or of numbers (123456).

“I no longer remember which of the two I sent.” The second message was an advice to the other colleagues of the company teaching how to use the program. Thirty years later, the Electronic Messaging Association, based in the United States, estimates that the number of e-mails sent in 2000 was more than 6 trillion, some of them dangerous, carrying a virus. At 63 years of age, Dr. Tomlinson remains with BBN, bought in 1997 by GTE Internet working, where he is the main engineer. He didn’t make any money with his invention but doesn’t feel any resentment. “At the time, the notion of registering was contrary to the spirit of what would become the Internet.” he said. “Only a long time afterwards I realized that we had been dealing with something really big.”

A short history of electronic communication

The North american Samuel Morse exhibits and tests the first wire telegraph at a distance of 500 meters. In 1840, a telegraphic alphabet is created and four years later the first long distance message (64 kilometers) is sent.

The Scotsman Alexander Graham Bell, settled in the United States, invents the telephone. The first phrase spoken was to his assistant Tom Watson: “Watson, come here, I need you.”

The German Heinrich Rudolf Hertz discovers electromagnetic waves, a discovery which allows the development of radio, television and radar.

The priest from the Brazilian State of Rio Grande do Sul, Father Roberto Landell de Moura carries out the first radio transmission in the world, from Paulista Avenue (downtown São Paulo) to the Santana Hills neighborhood in the capital of the State of São Paulo (about 7-km away).

One year later, the Italian Guglielmo Marconi transmits a signal to a receptor a 7 meters away and gets the fame of being the inventor of the radio.

The Russian, naturalized North american Vladimir Zworykin, invents the iconoscope, a forerunner of the cathode ray TV tube. It is the beginning of electronic television.

Shaken with the success of the launching of the Russian Sputnik 1, the United States found the Agency of Advanced Research Projects (Arpa).

Created Arpa (Arpanet), which connected four American university laboratories. At the peak of the Cold War, the idea was to construct a huge communication network in which all of the points were equivalent without a central command.

The North american engineer Ray Tomlinson invents the first e-mail program in the company BBN, in Cambridge.

Tim Berners-Lee creates the language World Wide Web (www) in the European Laboratory of Physics Particles (Cern).

Microsoft, of Bill Gates, finally joins the web and launches the Internet Explorer browser.