History and Timeline of Email

Electronic mail is much older than ARPANET or the Internet. It was never invented; it evolved from very simple beginnings. Going through the history of email has several benefits. First of all, email is one of the popular and longest standing creations of the internet. There are around 3.8 billion email users today and around 293 billion emails gets sent every day globally. There were several attempts to “kill” email. However, the celebrated email alternatives either died down or just didn’t replace email. Despite all the challenges, email still goes strong and is the preferred business communication medium.

Early email was just a small advance on what we know these days as a file directory - it just put a message in another user's directory in a spot where they could see it when they logged in. As simple as that. Just like leaving a note on someone's desk.

Electronic mail on individual computers had been in existence for nearly a decade before 1971. This form of communication, referred to as "intra-computer email" allowed user communities on solitary, time-shared computers to trade messages with one another. Intra-computer email did not proliferate over any kind of network; it was limited to serving the user population of a single machine. Intra-computer email was "popular among those who were regular time-shared computer users.

The email as we know today, had it humble beginning when there was an effort to send messages across the ARPANET network. Let us start from that point - from the beginnings of network email.



While developing the TENEX operating system, Ray Tomlinson and his team used local email programs known as READMAIL and SNDMSG. After adding CPYNET, the first email application for ARPANET had arrived because files could now be copied over the network. Ray Tomlinson informed his colleagues by sending them an email using the new program with instructions on how to use it
The ‘@‘ symbol was used by Tomlinson so that host names and specific users could be combined; this introduced the ‘user@host’ model that is used today. Although these programs were incredibly simple, they built the foundation for the electronic mail system that would soon be used by millions.
Raymond Samuel Tomlinson was born in Amsterdam, New York in 1941. In 1967, he joined the legendary research and development company Bolt Beranek and Newman.


RD for Email Management

Larry Roberts wrote the first "mail-manager software," RD. “RD” included capabilities to sort email headers by subject and date, giving users the ability to order the messages in their Inbox, and to read, save, and delete messages in the order they wished.
This inspired an outburst of variations on the mail manager. A legendary variation, MSG was created in 1975 by John Vittal. MSG quickly became the most widely used mail-management program due to its convenient features. It could handle an even greater amount of mail than RD, could sort messages into separate files, and most importantly, reply and forward with much greater ease.
Lawrence G. Roberts is best known for his work on the development of the ARPANET. He was hired as program manager and technical architect for the ARPANET in 1966, and later became director of the main computing office at ARPA



Abhay Bhushan from MIT and colleagues proposed adding commands to FTP protocol to provide standard network transport capabilities for email transmission. Basically, the emails piggybacked on FTP. FTP sent a separate copy of each email to each recipient and provided the standard ARPANET email functionality until the early 1980's when the more efficient SMTP protocol was created.
Abhay Bhushan obtained his B.Tech. degree in Electrical Engineering from IIT Kanpur in 1965 following which he went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to pursue Masters. Abhay Bhushan is credited with authoring the File Transfer Protocol (FTP) and early versions of email protocols.


Email Standards

At this point, it was obvious that there should be some standards about how the emails are formatted and how the addresses are handled. So, there started Attempts to develop a standard for the email. The initial proposals were as extensions of the FTP protocol (RFC 469 and RFC 475) . RFC 561 “Standardizing Network Mail Headers” proposes common things such as the ‘to’ and ‘from’ fields. The standard proposes the separation of email payload metadata from email routing data. These proposals later evolve into RFC 733 (1977) and RFC 822(1982).
For those unaware, RFC actually stands for ‘Request for Comments’ and was named as such to encourage discussion within the industry. Once it has been discussed and edited, the final RFC then becomes the standard.


MSG - Reply, forward emails

MSG was the first email program to include many of the email features that we know today. John Vittal, A computer programmer who worked at the University of Southern California's Information Sciences Institute, improved on the older version of email, called BANANARD, and later called the new program MSG.
MSG had features like message forwarding, a configurable interface, and an Answer command that automatically created properly addressed replies. For the users, the Answer command was revolutionary. It resulted in an outburst of email use over a 6-month period. Email changed from just sending independent messages into having a real conversation.
A computer programmer who worked at the University of Southern California's Information Sciences Institute, he was responsible for transforming the old email system into the highly user-friendly tool of today


Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) gets published

SMTP is an Internet standard for email transmission. The protocol is defined by RFC 821 SMTP protocol was later enhanced in 2008 by RFC 5321 . SMTP is generally used to send messages from a mail client to a mail server.



Sendmail is a general purpose email routing facility with support for Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) . Written by Eric Allman, sendmail first shipped with BSD 4.1c in 1983. Sendmail is one of the most popular mail transfer agents ever since
Born in El Cerrito, California, Allman knew from an early age that he wanted to work in computing, breaking into his high school's mainframe and later using the UC Berkeley computing center for his computing needs.


Post Office Protocol

Post Office Protocol (POP) is an Internet standard protocol used by email clients to retrieve email from a mail server. POP version 3 (POP3) is the version in common use.
POP1 was specified in RFC 918 (1984) . The current and most recent version of Post office Protocol in use, is POP3 RFC 1939 (1996)


Internet Message Access Protocol ( IMAP)

IMAP was designed by Mark Crispin in 1986 as a remote access mailbox protocol, in contrast to the widely used POP, a protocol for simply retrieving the contents of a mailbox. IMAP was designed with the goal of permitting complete management of an email box by multiple email clients, therefore clients generally leave messages on the server until the user explicitly deletes them.
Virtually all modern email clients and servers support IMAP, which along with the earlier POP3 (Post Office Protocol) .The current and latest RFC of IMAP being RFC 3501 (2003)
From 1977 to 1988, he was a Systems Programmer at Stanford University. He developed the first production PDP-10 32-bit address ARPAnet NCP for the WAITS operating system, and wrote or rewrote most of the WAITS ARPAnet protocol suite.


Elm email client

Elm is a text-based email client commonly found on Unix systems. It became popular as one of the first email clients to use a text user interface. The name elm originated from the phrase ELectronic Mail.
Dave Taylor developed elm while working for Hewlett-Packard. Development later passed to a team of volunteers. Other popular text-based email readers which followed elm and took it as inspiration include Pine (1989) and Mutt (1995). elm slowly slipped in popularity and functionality, and it now sees relatively little use.
Dave Taylor got his undergraduate degree in Computer Science (with a minor in Philosophy) from University of California, San Diego. Taylor soon joined Hewlett-Packard's Colorado Networks Operation, and while there began creation of The Elm Mail System.


Eudora Email Client

In 1988 , Steve Dorner created Eudora, an application that gave a popular face to email by providing a graphical user interface for email management. Eudora supported all major platforms at that time including classic Mac OS, Mac OS X, and Microsoft Windows operating systems. It also supported several palmtop computing platforms, including Newton and the Palm OS.
Eudora was acquired by Qualcomm in 1991. In 2006 Qualcomm stopped development of the commercial version, and sponsored the creation of a new open-source version based on Mozilla Thunderbird. Development of the open-source version stopped in 2010 and was officially deprecated in 2013. The computer history museum open sourced Eudora in 2018
Eudora email client screenshot.
An American software engineer, he developed the Eudora email client in 1988 as a part of his work as a staff member at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.


Microsoft Mail

The first version of Microsoft Mail was released in 1988 for Mac OS, allowing users of Apple’s AppleTalk Networks to send messages to each other. In 1991, a second version was released for other platforms including DOS and Windows, which laid the groundwork for Microsoft’s later Outlook and Exchange email systems.
Microsoft Mail 2.1 screenshot.


Lotus Notes

The first release of Lotus Notes email software. 35,000 copies are sold in the first year.


Pine Email Client

Pine is a free, text-based email client which was developed at the University of Washington.
The first version was written in 1989 and announced to the public in March 1992. Source code was available for only the Unix version under a license written by the University of Washington.
Alpine(2007) is the rewrite of Pine.


First Email From Space

Astronauts Shannon Lucid and James C. Adamson sent the first email from space on a Macintosh Portable: “Hello Earth! Greetings from the STS-43 Crew. This is the first AppleLink from space. Having a GREAT time, wish you were here,...send cryo and RCS! Hasta la vista, baby,...we'll be back!”
White House physician Robert G. Darling standing next to US president Bill Clinton in 1998 as the latter sends his first email into space.
Astronaut James C. Adamson
Astronaut Shannon Lucid


Email Encryption and PGP(Pretty Good Privacy)

Up until now, all emails had been sent in plain text which soon raised security questions since anybody on the same communication channel could read the content. In fact, the problems were spotted in the 1980s and a privacy proposal was being worked on by the IETF. Called Privacy-Enhanced Mail (PEM), it seemed to reach a stumbling block and couldn’t be adopted by universal systems.
By 1991, Phil Zimmerman, a software engineer and political activist, grew frustrated by the lack of security and created PGP encryption. Once announced on a USENET group, it quickly became popular for those who shared the same privacy concerns. Over time, it went international and Zimmerman actually came under some pressure in 1993; he was investigated by the U.S. government for exporting munitions without a license. Later, no criminal charges were filed and the case was dropped.
As PGP continued its tour around the world, thousands of people started to work on software that interoperated with it. For Zimmerman, the focus was now on an open standard for this type of encryption. In 1997, the IETF received a proposal from PGP Inc for ‘OpenPGP’. After accepting, this paved the way for OpenPGP Working Group and the latest specification came in 2007 under RFC 4880.
Before founding PGP Inc., Zimmermann was a software engineer with more than 20 years of experience, specializing in cryptography and data security, data communications, and real-time embedded systems.


MIME and email attachments

The attachment was born when the Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (Mime) protocol was released, which includes the ability to attach things that are not just text to emails.
As a new standard, the format of emails was extended and could now support a variety of new functions. This included non-text attachments (images, videos, audio clips, and more), character sets beyond ASCII, numerous sections in message bodies, and even non-ASCII header information.
Created by Nathaniel Borenstein and Ned Freed, it was the former who sent the first attachment through email on March 11th. Today, MIME can be found in six unique RFC memoranda including RFC 2045, RFC 2046, RFC 2047, RFC 4288, RFC 4289 and RFC 2049.
This picture is the first email attachment . Far right is Nathaniel Borenstein.
Edwin Earl "Ned" Freed was born in 1959 in Oklahoma. After College he set up a company, Innosoft, with Kevin Carosso and Daniel Newman, working on PMDF messaging systems on DEC VAX systems.
Nathaniel Borenstein is a scientist/programmer/inventor/entrepreneur who has been involved in Internet-related innovations since 1980, specializing in email technology, human-computer interaction, and electronic commerce.


Microsoft’s Outlook & AOL

The first version of Microsoft’s Outlook was released in 1993 as part of Exchange Server 5.5, while at the same time US internet service providers AOL and Delphi connected their email systems


Web Mail

The first Web Mail implementation was developed at CERN in 1993 by Phillip Hallam-Baker. However, this project was not developed further.
Phillip Hallam-Baker is a computer scientist, mostly renowned for his contributions to Internet security, since the design of HTTP at CERN in 1992.


Exim Mail Server

The first version of Exim was written in 1995 by Philip Hazel for use in the University of Cambridge Computing Service’s email systems. The name Exim stood for EXperimental Internet Mailer. Exim still continues to be one of the popular email servers
Philip Hazel is best known for writing the Exim mail transport agent in 1995 and the PCRE regular expression library in 1997


Mutt email client

Mutt is a text-based email client for Unix-like systems. It was originally written by Michael Elkins in 1995 and released under the GNU General Public License. New to Mutt were message scoring and threading capabilities. Support for fetching and sending email via various protocols such as POP3, IMAP and SMTP was added later. Mutt has hundreds of configuration directives and commands. It allows for changing all the key bindings and making keyboard macros for complex actions.
Michael Elkins graduated with a B.S. in physics from Harvey Mudd College in 1993. His professional experience is in the areas of high-speed networking, network architecture, and network security.


Mail Abuse Prevention System

Email spam (unsolicited, mass-sent emails ) started becoming a problem by now. Email users have to wade through many unsolicited email messages before getting to emails meant to them.
Dave Rand and Paul Vixie, had started keeping a list of IP addresses which had sent out spam or engaged in other behavior they found objectionable. The list became known as the Real-time Blackhole List (RBL). Many network managers wanted to use the RBL to block unwanted email. Thus, Rand and Vixie created a DNS-based distribution scheme which quickly became popular. The "blackhole list" made it possible for mail servers to block mail coming from spam sources.


Microsoft Internet Mail and News 1.0

Version 1.0 was released as Microsoft Internet Mail and News in 1996 following the Internet Explorer 3 release. In 1997 the app was changed and renamed as Outlook Express and bundled with Internet Explorer 4. Outlook Express 4 could run on Mac System 7, OS 8, and OS 9 as well as Microsoft platforms. The last version of Outlook express was version 6 included with Windows XP



1996 saw the launch of one of the first popular webmail email services called HoTMaiL developed by Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith. It was one of the first email services not tied to a particular ISP and adopted new HTML-based email formatting – hence the stylising of the brand name. By December 1997, Hotmail reported having more than 8.5 million subscribers. Hotmail was bought by Microsoft in 1997 for a reported $400 million, rebranded MSN Hotmail, then Windows Live Hotmail and replaced by Outlook.com in 2013.
A screenshot of hotmail.com, 1997
Bhatia briefly worked for Apple Computer (as a hardware engineer) and Firepower Systems Inc. He, along with his colleague Jack Smith, set up Hotmail on 4 July 1996
Jack Smith worked at FirePower Systems Inc., a subsidiary of Canon Inc., where he designed integrated circuits for use in high-performance PowerPC workstations, and invented and marketed the first web server accelerator card that boosted server performance significantly.


Becky! - email client

Becky! Internet Mail is an email client used on the Microsoft Windows operating systems. Becky! achieved early success in East Asia due to good support for CJKV ( Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese ) characters and its ability to handle many languages has created interest in Europe, as evidenced by the translations to French and German by volunteers. Becky! was developed by the Japanese company RimArts and was first released in 1996. That version was rewritten in the early 2000s and Becky! Version 2 was released in 2004 and is still the flagship product, receiving periodic updates.


RocketMail / Yahoo Mail

RocketMail was one of the first major, free webmail services. The service was originally a product of Four11 Corporation. For a brief time, RocketMail battled with Hotmail for the number-one spot among free webmail services. Four11, including RocketMail, was acquired by Yahoo! in 1997 for $92 million.
A screenshot of RocketMail.com


You’ve Got Mail - movie

The romantic comedy You’ve Got Mail, starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, hit theaters in 1998. Kathleen and Joe used AOL software to connect to the Internet. They were both using version 4.0 which was in beta testing mode when the film was being made. All of Joe and Kathleen's emails were put on the movie's official website.
Poster of You’ve Got Mail - movie.


Postfix Mail Server

Postfix is a free and open-source mail transfer agent (MTA) that routes and delivers email. Originally written by Wietse Venema Postfix continues to be actively developed by its creator and other contributors. Postfix is still one of the popular mail servers.
Wietse Zweitze Venema (born 1951) is a Dutch programmer and physicist best known for writing the Postfix email system.



FastMail is a web-based email service offering premium paid email accounts. FastMail was founded in 1999 by Rob Mueller, Bruce Davey, and Jeremy Howard. The company was acquired by Opera Software in 2010. On 26 September 2013, FastMail announced that it had split from Opera and became a privately held independent company.
FastMail continues to operate one of the longest operating premium email services, with offerings of better security, privacy, and speed to its email users.



SpamAssassin is a computer program used for email spam filtering. SpamAssassin comes with a large set of rules which are applied to determine whether an email is spam or not. SpamAssassin spam-filtering system was first uploaded to SourceForge.net on April 20, 2001 by creator Justin Mason. In 2004 the project became an Apache Software Foundation project and later officially renamed to Apache SpamAssassin.
Before the SpamAssassin explosion, Justin was working at Netnote, hacking on the Webnote, which originally was a low-cost internet access device. Previously, Justin was the IONA sysadmin for four years or so, right when they started up.


Dovecot mail server

Dovecot is an open source IMAP and POP3 server for Linux/UNIX-like systems, written primarily with security in mind. Timo Sirainen originated Dovecot project in 2002. Dovecot developers primarily aim to produce a lightweight, fast and easy-to-set-up open-source mail server. Dovecot is the most popular IMAP server as of 2019
Timo Sirainen, born 1979, is a Finnish programmer also known under the handles "cras" and "tss". Sirainen is the original author of the IRC-client Irssi and the POP/IMAP server Dovecot.


Email comes to mobile devices.

BlackBerry introduced the first of what we would think of as being the modern smartphone. This was a device that not only functioned as a telephone but also allowed for the sending and receiving of email and text messages as well as web browsing. One of the main focuses of the early BlackBerry's was to allow for mobile email. It was clear that this was a technology that was necessary since email had become so popular. Clearly people who were on the go needed a way to access their email without having to find a computer.



The idea for Gmail was developed by Paul Buchheit starting 2001 several years before it was announced to the public. The project was known by the code name Caribou. By early 2004, Google employees were using it as an internal application to access email. Gmail was announced to the public by Google on April 1, 2004 as a limited beta release. Gmail exited the beta status on July 7, 2009
Gmail has a search-oriented interface and a "conversation view" which makes it easy to navigate an email thread. Better user experience and superior spam filtering helped Gmail grow fast to be one of the most popular email platforms. As of July 2017, Gmail has more than 1.2 billion active users.
Paul Buchheit was the creator and lead developer of Gmail. He developed the original prototype of Google AdSense as part of his work on Gmail. He also suggested Google's former company motto "Don't be evil"


Mozilla Thunderbird

Early in the 2000s, Mozilla was enjoying popularity thanks to their Firefox browser. For users of this browser, there was a need for an accompanying mail client and this led to the production of the open-source, cross-platform Mozilla Thunderbird. Version 1.0 was released towards the end of December in this year and it hit the magical one million download mark within just ten days.
Thunderbird is still one of the most popular email clients even as more people shifting to web-based email clients.


DKIM standard for associating email to domain

DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) permits a person, role, or organization that owns the signing domain to claim some responsibility for a message by associating the domain with the
message. DKIM allows the receiver to check that an email claimed to have come from a specific domain was indeed authorized by the owner of that domain. This is a measure to prevent email spoofing, a technique often used in phishing and email spam. Related RFCs: RFC 6376, RFC 8301 and RFC 8463.


Sender Policy Framework

The first email standard to attempt to fight the deluge of spam by verifying senders was published after a five-year development. Sender Policy Framework was then implemented by a variety of anti-spam programs. A standard of authentication to attempt to prevent email spoofing and phishing was also released called DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM).
The first public mention of the concept was in 2000 but went mostly unnoticed. SPF allows the receiver to check that an email claiming to come from a specific domain comes from an IP address authorized by that domain's administrators. The list of authorized sending hosts and IP addresses for a domain is published in the DNS records for that domain.
RFC 7208 is the standard for SPF


Alpine email client

Alpine is a free software email client developed at the University of Washington. Alpine is available under the Apache License. The name "Alpine" officially stands for Alternatively Licensed Program for Internet News and Email. University of Washington has also referred to it as "Apache Licensed Pine". Since January 2013, Eduardo Chappa, an active software developer formerly from the University of Washington, has released newer versions of Alpine from his site.


Inbox by Gmail

Inbox by Gmail aimed to improve email productivity and organization through several key features. Bundles gathered emails of the same topic together, highlights surface key details from messages, and reminders, assists, and snooze functionality enabled users to control when specific information appears. Inbox also had undo send feature, a "Smart Reply" feature that automatically generates short reply examples for certain emails and many more smart productivity features.
In September 2018, Google announced it would end the service in March 2019.

“Instead of worrying about what you cannot control, shift your energy to what you can create.

What you do today could be history tomorrow”