The man who invented email—right down to the addition of the @ symbol—died over the weekend. Ray Tomlinson was 74, and heart failure is suspected, Ars Technica reports, From the official Twitter account of Gmail: "Thank you, Ray Tomlinson, for inventing email and putting the @ sign on the map. #RIP." Tomlinson in 1971 wrote the first email program for ARPANET, a precursor to the Internet, while working at Bolt Beranek and Newman (now Raytheon BBN Technologies). He reportedly showed it to a colleague, saying, "Don’t tell anyone! This isn’t what we’re supposed to be working on," the Guardian reports. In one interview, Tomlinson reportedly said he created email "mostly because it seemed like a neat idea." Early email test messages were, he said, "entirely forgettable," and the first email was sent between side-by-side machines.
As for the @ symbol, Tomlinson wrote on his website: "The at sign just makes sense. The purpose of the at sign (in English) was to indicate a unit price (for example, 10 items @ $1.95). I used the at sign to indicate that the user was 'at' some other host rather than being local." A Raytheon rep tells the Guardian that by choosing the symbol, Tomlinson likely saved it from extinction. “It is a symbol that probably would have gone away if not for email,” she says. Born in Amsterdam, NY, in 1941, Tomlinson went to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and MIT, later joining the company that would become Raytheon. As for his contribution to email: "He was pretty philosophical about it all," the Raytheon rep says. "And was surprisingly not addicted to email." (Read more email stories.)