The History of Email

the history of email

The History of Email

Email is considered to be a modern method of communication. However, you might be surprised that the history of email stretches back over 50 years. The origins of email can be traced back to the 1970s, which, perhaps even more surprisingly, means that email predates the modern internet.

There is a long history of email that predates the introduction of concepts such as email hosting and business or enterprise clouds that are now commonly used for email archiving purposes.

Following are the significant developments in email over the decades:



In 1971, the first electronic mail (email) system was created by Ray Tomlinson. It was developed with the help of a program called CPYNET. Interestingly, the @ symbol was used in email addresses since its inception.

In 1976, Queen Elizabeth sent an email and became the first monarch to do so. As a result, the popularity of email started to grow. A new programming language was announced in the content of the email.

Two years later, in 1978, the first email marketing campaign was developed by Gary Thuerk. He sent an email to 400 emails addressed on ARPANET. It was heavily criticized by users and system administrators as the first-ever spam email.



In 1989, the World Wide Web was developed by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the popularity of which became a driving force behind in the popularity of email. The first email software, Lotus Notes, was also released in 1989 by Lotus Development.



By 1990, email had become an essential tool for communication all over the world. In 1991, the first email was sent from space by astronauts Shannon Lucid and Jame.s C. Adamson. Apple’s portable computer was used to write and send this email.

In 1992, the feature of attaching files to emails was developed with the development of an internet protocol called Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (MIME). In 1993, the use of ’email’ or ‘e-mail’ became popular shorthand for messages sent by computers over the internet, which were previously known as ‘electronic mail’.

Hotmail became one of the first email services not associated with a single ISP. Instead, it was dependent on web-based services. Another significant development came in 1996 with the development of the Mail Abuse Prevention System (MAPS). This system was created to minimize the rising number of spam messages. IP addresses that sent spam messages were logged and blocked by the users to avoid spam messages.

However, the word ‘spam’ itself was not introduced until 1998, when the Oxford English Dictionary recognized that this term was being used to refer to unsolicited messages.



In 2000, an email-based computer worm affected about 10 million PCs. This email had a subject line of ‘ILOVEYOU‘ and contained a file masquerading as a love letter. However, it was an advanced script capable of overwriting files and sending a copy of itself to all available email addresses.

This cyberattack affected a massive number of people, demonstrating that email had now become prevalent globally. This sets the stage for the email history of the 2000s, which prominently features measures against spam messages.

In 2002, the EU released rules and regulations for safe and secure email communication. These guidelines were about dealing with unsolicited emails. The sending of unsolicited emails was also made illegal, even for marketing purposes.

Another significant development during this decade was the introduction of Gmail, which started as an internal email system. Gmail kept operating as a beta version for several years before the beta label was finally removed in 2009.



Rapid technological advancements such as machine learning and AI-based tools and technology have led to the development of chatbots and real-time chat, ushering in an end to the reign of the email. At the same time, significant advancements were made in email hosting and archiving through business and enterprise cloud solutions.

In 2018, GDPR was introduced in the EU. It is currently the most detailed global legislation dealing with the protection of privacy and personal data. Moreover, it offers comprehensive details of the possible consequences for organizations that use the emails for inappropriate means.


The Bottom Line

Despite the introduction of various new communication means like social media and instant messaging that are much faster than emails, emails’ popularity has not significantly decreased.

In fact, emails have become an essential part of society as every student, employee, and organization uses emails for different purposes. Companies also deal with hundreds of emails every day. In short, email is not going anywhere and is expected to continue to remain a leading method of online communication.