Email as we know it turns 50 years old this month (October 2021). The first email sent over a network — the beginning of email as we use it today — was sent in October 1971, by MIT graduate Ray Tomlinson (April 23, 1941–March 5, 2016). Tomlinson was the first to use the @ symbol to identify a message recipient on a remote computer system. Using this address format, he became the first person to send an email between two computers. That first email traveled 10 feet between two computers in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Tomlinson stated when interviewed that the first email was “something like QWERTYUIOP”.
Tomlinson leveraged existing software at the time, including SNDMSG and CPYNET, which allowed people to send messages to others who used the same computer, to send the first email over a network – back then multiple users would share computers, rather than having their own dedicated computers. His work enabled the exchange of messages between computers for the first time. Creating email was a side project at work for Tomlinson, and when he showed his work to another employee for the first time, he reportedly said: “Don’t tell anyone! This isn’t what we’re supposed to be working on.”
Ray Tomlinson was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame in 2012, and his work is ranked fourth in Boston Globe’s top 150 MIT-related “Ideas, Inventions, and Innovators”.
According to the Guinness Book of Records, the first unsolicited email was sent in May 1978 to 397 recipients advertising an upcoming a product demonstration of computers. That’s right—spam is almost as old as email itself! In 1991, the first email was sent from space by astronauts on the NASA shuttle Atlantis. That message began with “Hello Earth!” and was delivered to Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
Over the past 50 years, there’s been a lot of firsts in email. For us at Amazon Simple Email Service (Amazon SES), our email first was when we launched our service back in January 2011. We initially started as a service that delivered email for Amazon.com, and grew over time into launching as a public service in Amazon Web Services (AWS).
Customers told us that building large-scale email solutions to send marketing and transactional messages was often a complex and costly challenge for businesses. Amazon SES eliminates these challenges and enables businesses to benefit from the years of experience and sophisticated email infrastructure Amazon.com has built to serve its own large-scale customer base. With Amazon.com being our first customer, from day one – scalability, reliability, and deliverability have been our highest priorities. This same service has also powered the email sending capabilities of Amazon Pinpoint since 2017, as well as email-related features in several other AWS services.
Today, Amazon SES is a cost-effective, flexible, and scalable email service that enables developers to send mail from within any application – supporting multiple email use cases, including transactional, marketing, or mass email communications, as well as inbound email.
We encourage our readers to share their own stories of their email firsts, or any other interesting email anecdotes. #QWERTYUIOP #50yrsofemail