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History of Email

October 11, 2023  |  6 min read

There are many fascinating tales and innovative technologies throughout the history of email. In the timeline below, we’ve highlighted 24 significant turning points from the previous 50 years. Explore email history by scrolling through the slideshow as you go back in time. Continue reading to learn more about the evolution of email.

1971: Email’s development

The majority of people credit Ray Tomlinson as the creator of email. He developed the concept while working on ARPANET, the federally supported research initiative that gave rise to the internet. The only persons you could leave messages for at the time were those using the same computer. On the ARPANET network, Tomlinson wrote a program that allowed users to communicate with other linked computers.

The @ symbol is one of Tomlinson’s most significant contributions to email as we know it today. Despite living to see his idea be accepted by people all around the world, Tomlinson passed away in 2016.

1976: First Email from the Queen

The first head of state to use email was Queen Elizabeth II. During a trip to the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment in Malvern, England, she used the ARPANET’s electronic mail service. Her Majesty Elizabeth II’s username was given to her as HME2.

1978: A pioneering spam email

Someone quickly discovered a method of using email to generate income. After sending an unsolicited email marketing message to hundreds of ARPANET subscribers, Gary Thurek gained the moniker “father of spam.” He was advertising a fresh offering from Digital Equipment. Thurek asserts that the email generated purchases worth $13 million.

You might wonder if this was actually spam or just shrewd email marketing with that much success. The most ironic email campaign in history might be the subject of the same query.

1978: The Email Program for the Other Inventor

As we discuss the history of email, the originator of email is still up for discussion. According to V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai, the original email was a program he wrote when he was just 14 years old. For the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Ayyadurai created his interoffice software system. “EMAIL,” he dialed.

Ayyadurai continued on to graduate from MIT with four degrees, start tech enterprises, and enter politics. It’s probable that he came up with the word even if his claim to be the inventor of email is widely disputed.

1982: Streamlining Email

The Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) standardized the sending and receiving of messages by mail servers. It is somewhat based on Tomlinson’s SNDMSG program from the ARPANET. Email clients use SMTP to transmit messages to mail servers, which then deliver them to the intended recipients.

The Post Office Protocol (POP), which would appear in the middle of the 1980s, and the Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) are other protocols.

1988: Outlook’s Predecessors

Microsoft unveiled MSMail, their first commercial email program, around the end of the decade. Versions were available for both PCs and Macs. It served as the Exchange and Outlook products’ forerunner.

1989: The 1990s’ version of email

The voice of Elwood Edwards perhaps contributed to the public’s addiction to email checking. He created the “You’ve Got Mail” notice on AOL. It was arguably among the first methods of getting a dopamine rush online. Edwards was employed in radio at the time, while his wife was employed with AOL. She asked him to record a few lines for her, which he did in his living room on a cassette tape.

He didn’t become wealthy from the recording, but he did draw a lot of attention. Edwards worked as an Uber driver in 2016. There are still times when people can distinguish that distinctive voice.

1991: In Space Email

As we look further into the history of email In early 1990s, email took off. At that time, the Atlantis Shuttle crew sent the first email from orbit using a Macintosh Portable. The message stated that on this voyage, Apple products were the focus of the team.

1992: Enhancing email beyond text

Multipurpose Internet Mail Extension (MIME) made email much more flexible, supporting text in character sets other than ASCII. It also made it possible to include multimedia attachments such as images, audio, and videos.

1992: You receive exactly what you see.

CompuServe made it possible to format emails without knowing any code. A WYSIWYG editor with support for various fonts, colors, and emoticons was first developed by an early ISP for use in email and online forums.

1993: Webmail’s First Years

It’s simple to forget that, for a considerable amount of time, you had to send and receive email using a certain software application because the development of email has progressed so swiftly. The initial iteration of webmail was created by Phillip Hallam-Baker, a cyber-security specialist employed at CERN. But his version was just a test, never made available to the whole public.

1996: The Increase in Webmail Users

Having access to your email from any computer with an internet connection is a concept that, of course, would catch on immediately. In the middle of the 1990s, ISPs started included webmail in their packages. The first free webmail services were Hotmail and RocketMail, the latter of which evolved into Yahoo! Mail.

1998: Spam Definition

Spam was a regrettable side effect of email becoming a cheap means of mass communication. The most egregious stain on the history of email is undoubtedly the proliferation of unwanted communications, many of which originated from dubious enterprises. Spam and a number of other internet phrases entered the New Oxford Dictionary in 1998.

Many people think a famous Monty Python sketch is where the term “spam” for unwanted email first appeared. In the sketch, diners’ customers are bombarded with obnoxious spam slogans that they do not desire.

1999: Integrity in Email Marketing

It’s not necessary for email marketing to be obnoxious. When you establish a list of subscribers who truly want to hear from you, Seth Godin and his company Yoyodyne believed email could be used successfully and responsibly. (Consider that!)

Permission Marketing, a book he wrote about this kind of marketing technique, cost him membership in the Direct Marketing Association, probably as a result of how strongly it attacked the established quo. Godin is currently a member of the Direct Marketing Hall of Fame.

2002: Move to Wireless Email

BlackBerrys were beloved by early smartphone adopters. Due in part to BlackBerry’s emphasis on mobile email, the popularity of the devices skyrocketed. The first mobile phone with email capabilities was the BlackBerry 5810, which was introduced in 2002. (rather than a pager).

2003: CAN-SPAM Act

With the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act, or the “CAN-SPAM Act,” the United States established regulations for policing commercial email. In 2003, 32 years after the creation of email, President George W. Bush signed it into law.

The law, according to some detractors, didn’t go far enough. Spoofing the “From” field is against the law according to CAN-SPAM, which also mandates an opt-out mechanism. Sending unsolicited email marketing messages was not, however, prohibited by the legislation. Some referred to it as the “You-Can-Spam” act as a result.

2004: Gmail Reverses the Trend

Gmail set a new standard for webmail competition when it debuted in 2004. To begin with, Gmail provided a full gigabyte of storage space, which may not seem like much now, but was significantly more than was typical at the time. Additionally, threaded discussions and improved search were added to webmail by Gmail.

2009: Perfect Email Delivery

Email marketing is challenging. John Thies, an email developer, and Michelle “Miki” Klann, a designer, started a new business in 2009 with the goal of assisting marketers in producing flawless emails. John and Michelle had a difficult time explaining to their clients why different email clients portrayed campaigns in different ways. As a result, they decided to develop a solution rather than describe the issue.

2010: Emails Improve in Response

Smartphones had become a must-have item by the time Apple released the iPhone 4 in 2010. Another obstacle for email marketers was the proliferation of cellphones. How may campaigns be made more mobile-friendly?

2012: Success with Presidential Email

President Barack Obama’s use of digital marketing to inspire funders and voters has received plaudits from several marketers. Check out Obama’s email marketing advice from Neil Patel. Social media and email marketing were successfully used in the president’s 2012 reelection campaign.

Something intriguing about the CAN-SPAM Act? It does not apply to political campaigns.

2014: Spam Fight in Canada

In order to reduce unwanted email, Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) went above and beyond CAN-SPAM. The Cakemail blog notes that while CAN-SPAM does not require consent or any other action before receiving an email, Canadian law does. Text messaging, social networking, and other digital communications are likewise covered by CASL.

2016: Ladies of Email

Email marketing has been increasingly popular over time. “Email geeks” come in various shapes and sizes. This was established in 2016 by seasoned email marketers Jen Capstraw, April Mullen, and Kristin Bond to support female leadership in the field.

2018: Privacy Protection

While the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe and the California Consumer Privacy Act may have given email marketers some trouble, they have also inspired us to become better at what we do.

Email marketing is generally intentionally avoided. It can be difficult to get individuals to opt-in (and stay in), especially with all the commotion around them. But the effort is worthwhile. Protecting the information and privacy of those who voluntarily subscribe to your emails is also important. If we want email to remain a useful channel in the future, transparency, security, and empathy are crucial.

2020: The year that everything changed

Email has undergone numerous changes over the years, but in 2020, the entire world changed, and email marketing went along with it. Bringing us to the current state of the history of email.

During the COVID-19 outbreak, email was crucial for crisis communication. The transition to remote work and online learning, the growing acceptance of eCommerce, and the effects of economic ups and downs were other shifts.


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