Email is Officially Middle Aged! An Overview of The History of Email

It’s official- email is over the hill. This year, email is celebrating its 44th birthday, and to celebrate, Reachmail collected all of email’s most significant moments through the course of its history. Let’s take a trip down memory lane.

History of email in infographic

Email made its official debut in 1971, when computer engineer Ray Tomlinson sent the first electronic mail message (he’s since forgotten what it said). Five years later, email made its way across the pond, and Queen Elizabeth II became the first head of state to send an electronic mail message. In 1978, email reached another wide audience when the first electronically sent advertisement went out over a network of government and university computers.

Electronic mail message is a mouthful to say and type, so in 1982, the word “email” was first used. On a similar note, Scott Fahlman invented the first ever smiley “emotion” in 1982, giving emailers another way to express themselves. AOL’s iconic phrases (“Welcome,” “File’s done,” “Goodbye,” and of course, “You’ve got mail!”) were recorded in 1989 by radio man Elwood Edwards; the actual film You’ve Got Mail came out nine years later and earned more than $250 million at the box office.

Microsoft had a big year in 1997; they bought Hotmail for about $400 million and released Microsoft Outlook. In 1998, “spam” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary- just in time, since in 1999, millions of people circulated a fake email claiming that Bill Gates was going to share his wealth with Internet users.

It was clear that email needed to be regulated, and in 2003, George W. Bush signed the CAN-SPAM Act into law, making it the US’ first national standards for sending commercial emails. In 2004, the FTC codified email spam laws as well.

In pop culture, Homer Simpson revealed in 2003 on an episode of The Simpsons that his email address was [email protected], and in 2004, LOL and several other Internet acronyms were officially recognized in the Oxford English Dictionary. 2004 was also the year that multimedia emails were introduced after the MMS World Congress in Vienna.

Homer Simpson's email address

In 2005, SPF became the first technology that verified email senders’ identities to be established, and in 2007, Google made the magic of Gmail available to the public. The Internet Engineering Task Force adopted DKIM as an anti-phishing security protocol in 2007 as well.

In 2008’s presidential campaign, candidate Barack Obama utilized the power of email by compiling a database of over 13 million email addresses. Three years later, the Associated Press Stylebook changed “e-mail” to “email,” and a study was also released that showed that the most easily hacked email password was “password,” along with predictable patterns like “123456” and “qwerty.”

In 2012, email was being accessed on mobile devices more than ever, by 90 million people (64A% of whom reported that they did so daily). At the same time, Google was working to make email smarter than ever with its 2013 introduction of Gmail tabs for smarter sorting and less email overload.

However, while email got smarter, so did email hackers, and in 2014, Sony Entertainment was hacked and hundreds of sensitive emails were released to the public. While the U.S. government blamed North Korea, the North Koreans denied responsibility.

It’s clear that in its first 44 years, email has evolved in ways that we never could have seen coming- and the next 44 years of email are sure to be just as unpredictable.