The Inventor of Email
Innovation any time, any place, anybody
Bookmark and Share

False Claims About Email


Sending text messages electronically could be said to date back to the Morse code telegraph of the mid 1800s; or the 1939 World's Fair where IBM sent a message of congratulations from San Francisco to New York on an IBM radio-type, calling it a “high-speed substitute for mail service in the world of tomorrow.” The original text message, electronic transfer of content or images, ARPANET messaging, and even the familiar “@” sign were used in primitive electronic communication systems. While the technology pioneers who created these systems should be heralded for their efforts, and given credit for their specific accomplishments and contributions, these early computer programs were clearly not email.


Standard histories of the Internet are full of claims that certain individuals (and teams) in the ARPAnet environment in the 1970s and 1980s “invented email.” These claims have been compiled in the list below. For example, the “@” sign, early programs for sending and receiving messages, and technical specifications known as RFCs, have been claimed to be “email.” But as some claimants have admitted, none of these innovations were intended as a system of interlocking parts Inbox, Memo, Outbox, Folders, Address Book, etc. the email system used today by more than 500 million people worldwide.


Fact #1: Email was created at UMDNJ, not on the ARPAnet


This quote, “Under ARPAnet several major innovations occurred: email (or electronic mail), the ability to send simple messages to another person across the network,” [1] is a misuse of the term “email.” The invention referenced here is command-line protocols for transferring text messages, not email as defined to be a system of interlocking parts, such as the 1978 EMAIL platform, a full-scale emulation of the interoffice inter-organizational paper mail system. As the related references show, early workers in the field of electronic messaging had no intention to create a full-scale electronic version of interoffice or inter-organizational paper mail system (ref. 1.1, 1.2), and in fact were not even allowed to work on creating an electronic system to replicate “letters”, e.g the interoffice memo (ref. 1.3).


Related references:

[1.1] “At this time, no attempt is being made to emulate a full-scale, inter-organizational mail system.” ---Crocker, David. Framework and Function of the "MS" Personal Message System. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, December 1977.


[1.2] “The level of the MS project effort has also had a major effect upon the system’s design. To construct a fully-detailed and monolithic message processing environment requires a much larger effort than has been possible with MS. In addition, the fact that the system is intended for use in various organizational contexts and by users of differing expertise makes it almost impossible to build a system which responds to all users’ needs. Consequently, important segments of a full message environment have received little or no attention and decisions have been made with the expectation that other Unix capabilities will be used to augment MS.” --- Crocker, David. Framework and Function of the "MS" Personal Message System. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, December 1977.


[1.3] “The idea of sending ‘letters’ using [the Compatible Time-Sharing System] was resisted by management, as a waste of resources.” --- Van Vleck, Tom. “The History of Electronic Mail,” http://web.archive.org/web/20110720215402/http://www.multicians.org/thvv/mail-history.html Note: Tom VanVleck, after March 2012, revised his own history by inserting the word “initially” to the above sentence to read, “The idea of initially sending ‘letter’….” to give the false impression that somehow later he was allowed to implement the letter, eg. the interoffice memo.


1 http://inventors.about.com/od/estartinventions/a/email.htm


Return to Listing of False Claims

Fact #2: Ray Tomlinson “did not invent email”,
he modified SNDMSG for exchanging text messages across computers


This quote, “Ray Tomlinson is credited with inventing email in 1972. Like many of the Internet inventors, Tomlinson worked for Bolt Beranek and Newman as an ARPANET contractor.” [2] misuses the term “email.” The invention referenced is a program called SNDMSG, which was a set of highly technical computer codes that a sender had to type to transfer a message from one computer to another. Tomlinson updated an existing SNDMSG command program to transmit text strings over a network connection. SNDMSG was not a system of interlocking parts designed for laypersons to transmit routine office communications, i.e. it was not designed to replicate the interoffice paper mail system. As related references show that SNDMSG was not only not email but also just a very rudimentary form of text messaging.


What is more alarming is Padlipsky's reference in the standard “histories” has been removed. Padlipsky was one among Mr. Tomlinson's peers. He himself was present in the 1970's when “email” was not developed by Tomlinson.


Related references:

[2.1] “The very simple systems (SNDMSG, RD and READMAIL) did not integrate the reading and creation functions, had different user interfaces, and did not provide sufficient functionality for simple message processing.” --- Vittal, John. MSG: A Simple Message System. Cambridge, MA: North-Holland Publishing Company, 1981.


[2.2] “I was making improvements to the local inter-user mail program called SNDMSG. The idea occurred to me that CPYNET could append material to a mailbox file just as readily as SNDMSG could. SNDMSG could easily incorporate the code from CPYNET and direct messages through a network connection to remote mailboxes in addition to appending messages to local mailbox files. The missing piece was that the experimental CPYNET protocol had no provision for appending to a file; it could just send and receive files. Adding the missing piece was a no-brainer -- just a minor addition to the protocol.” --- Tomlinson, Ray. The First Network Email,

http://openmap.bbn.com/~tomlinso/ray/firstemailframe.html, April 7, 2012.


[2.3] “I don't believe Ray Tomlinson invented ‘e-mail’. And not because of the quibble that we called it netmail originally, though that does offer an excuse to observe that I personally find the term ‘e-mail’ awfully cutesy, and references to ‘sending an e-mail’ syntactic slime. Nor because of the semi-quibble that ‘mail’ had been around intra-Host on several of the Host operating systems since well before anybody realized they were Hosts, though that one has a great deal of abstract ‘historical’ appeal. No, it's because I have a completely clear memory that Ray wasn't even at the FTP meeting where we decided to add mail to the protocol.” --- Padlipsky, M.A., (ARPANET contributor and author of more than 20 RFC specifications), “And they argued all night…”, http://tinyurl.com/83739l7, April 7, 2012

http://tinyurl.com/83739l7, April 7, 2012.


2 http://www.nethistory.info/History%20of%20the%20Internet/email.html


Return to Listing of False Claims

Fact #3: The “@” symbol separates the user name from the domain name


This quote, “When [Tomlinson] is remembered at all, it is as the man who picked @ as the locator symbol in electronic addresses. In truth though, he is the inventor of e-mail, the application that launched the digital information revolution. And yet the breakthrough he made was such a simple evolutionary step that hardly anyone noticed it till later.” [3] is a misuse of the term “email”. The invention referenced is the use of the “@” symbol to distinguish two computers when sending a text message. The “@” symbol is not a necessary component of the system of interlocking parts, in some cases “-at” was used, or the “.” symbol as in the EMAIL system.


Some have mistakenly characterized the @ symbol as “underused”. As a point of fact, the @ symbol was the line kill character on Multics, another early timesharing system, and created a character conflict for those Multics users trying to use Tomlinson's SNDMSG. As Pogran noted, “Do folks remember that @ was the Multics line-kill character? We were opposed to Ray Tomlinson's famous (or is it infamous?) selection of @ as the character that separated the user name from the host name in email addresses. Early versions of ARPANET email specs allowed the use of space-a-t-space (i.e., “ at ”) in place of the @ to accommodate Multics (and the mail composition software I wrote used the syntax -at on the command line)” [4]


The @ symbol was “underused” only to the extent that it interfered with some users' host environments.


Related references:

[3.1] “Because the @ was a line kill character in Multics, sending mail from Multics to other hosts used the control argument -at instead.” --- Van Vleck, Tom. History of Electronic Mail, www.multicians.org/thvv/mail-history.html, April 7, 2012.


[3.2] “Early versions of ARPANET email specs allowed the use of space-a-t-space (i.e., " at ") in place of the @ to accommodate Multics and the mail composition software I wrote used the syntax -at on the command line to begin composing an email….” --- Pogran, Kenneth, ARPANET contributor www.multicians.org/mx-net.html , April 2012.


3 http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~scotch/innovation/inventing_email.pdf

4 http://www.multicians.org/mx-net.html


Return to Listing of False Claims

Fact #4: RFC's were simply written documentation,
neither an email computer program nor an email system


This quote, “…email underpinnings were further cemented in 1977's RFC 733, a foundational document of what became the Internet itself.” [5] is a misuse of the term “email” because the RFCs (Request for Comments) and RFC 733 were written documentation not a computer program or code or a system. Moreover, this quote and others such as “In 1977 these features and others went from best practices to a binding standard in RFC 733.” are hyperboles. RFC 733 was drafted in November 1977 and was an attempt at standardization of messaging protocols and interfaces; it should not be conflated as “email underpinnings” with the electronic system of interlocked parts defining the interoffice paper mail system. The RFCs by their own admission [ref. 4.1] did not even dictate which features of the interoffice mail process would be included such as the basic components of user interfaces for message creation and reading.


RFC 733 was an attempted standard that was never fully accepted [ref. 4.3]. The very term ‘RFC’ means “Request for Comments” [ref. 4.2]. It was merely a document and only proposed an interface for message format and transmission, but said little about feature sets of individual electronic messaging or mail systems. As the opening of RFC 733 states:

This specification is intended strictly as a definition of what is to be passed between hosts on the ARPANET. It is NOT intended to dictate either features which systems on the Network are expected to support, or user interfaces to message creating or reading programs. [6]


The RFCs’ authors, by their own admission, clearly state this was not their intention. RFCs were the command-line terminology at best, but not email.



Related references:

[4.1] "This specification is intended strictly as a definition of what is to be passed between hosts on the ARPANET. It is NOT intended to dictate either features which systems on the Network are expected to support, or user interfaces to message creating or reading programs." --- Crocker, DH, Vittal, JJ, Pogran, KT, Henderson, DA, STANDARD FOR THE FORMAT OF ARPA NETWORK TEXT MESSAGES

http://www.rfc-editor.org/rfc/rfc733.txt


[4.2] “Prospective users, system designers, and service offering companies often compile lists of potential services [of electronic mail systems]…Nobody claims that these lists are complete, and most often it is admitted freely that these lists represent a first cut synthesis of services offered by other communication facilities. Unfortunately, these lists mostly convey just a number of buzz-words which everybody interpreters in his own fashion.” --- Shicker, P. "Service Definitions in a Computer Based Mail Environment” Computer Message Systems. Ottawa, Canada: North-Holland Publishing Company, 1981. 159-171


[4.3] “Some of RFC #733's features falied to gain adequate acceptance.” --- Crocker, DH, Vittal, JJ, Pogran, KT, Henderson, DA, STANDARD FOR THE FORMAT OF ARPA NETWORK TEXT MESSAGES

http://www.rfc-editor.org/rfc/rfc733.txt


5 Gizmodo.com, March 5, 2012, http://gizmodo.com/5888702/corruption-lies-and-death-threats-the-crazy-story-of-the-man-who-pretended-to-invent-email, April 7, 2012.

6 http://tools.ietf.org/rfc/rfc733.txt


Return to Listing of False Claims

Fact #5: These programs were not email, the full-scale emulation of the interoffice mail system


This quote “By the mid-1970s, other user-oriented e-mail programs arrived on the scene. Two of the more popular examples were ‘Hermes’ at Bolt, Beranek, and Newman, now BBN – a wholly owned subsidiary of Raytheon — and ‘Laurel’ which was in use at Xerox PARC,” [7] is a misuse of the term “email” since programs like Hermes and Laurel were not a system of interlocking parts for emulating the interoffice paper mail system. Laurel was really only one component, a front-end for the independent, lower-level Grapevine messaging platform [ref. 5.1]. Though Laurel was beginning to incorporate some elements of the interlocked parts such as folders and the inbox, it was still like nearly all messaging systems of the period, heavily dependent on external system resources, and not designed as a system of interlocking parts. Furthermore, internal Xerox documentation [ref. 5.1, p. 7] shows that independent Grapevine component was still being prototyped with five dedicated servers in 1981, well after Ayyadurai’s EMAIL system had been in use routine communications at UMDNJ for several years. No word of Laurel or Grapevine would be publicly available until 1982 [8], when the Xerox work would be published in the Communications of the ACM [ref. 5.1, 5.2].


Hermes was similar. It was not a system of interlocked parts and not something user-friendly that an ordinary office worker could use. Users had to learn about 20 commands to use it [ref. 5.3]. Another program PLATO, which was an invention for computer-assisted instruction which some reference as “email”, is one that Vallee’s comments also help to place in context relative to Ayyadurai’s EMAIL system [ref. 5.4]. In 1979, all known messaging systems were itemized in RFC 808 by the leading researchers who worked at the big universities, large companies and for the military [ref. 5.5]. Note, Laurel and PLATO do not appear on this list.


For a review of individual systems of the period, it is best to look at the 1979 RFC 808, which contains a “listing the names of all the [computer mail] systems anybody had ever heard of.” [9] The vast majority of the systems such as – MSG, MS, SNDMSG, RD, HERMES along them – all share a common ancestry, and inherit features (and deficiencies) from this heritage. John Vittal tried to distinguish the features and qualities of his MSG message system relative to its antecedents : [10]


VA Shiva Ayyadurai,the Inventor of Email - False Claim – 5: Extract 1 from 1979 RFC 808 on MSG Message System


VA Shiva Ayyadurai,the Inventor of Email - False Claim – 5: Extract 2 from 1979 RFC 808 on MSG Message System


VA Shiva Ayyadurai,the Inventor of Email - False Claim – 5: Extract 3 from 1979 RFC 808 on MSG Message System


In his conclusion, he was careful to stress the limitations of MSG’s as a general communication tool:


VA Shiva Ayyadurai,the Inventor of Email - False Claim – 5: Extract 4 from 1979 RFC 808 on MSG Message System


MSG was at best a rudimentary text messaging client. It was lightweight messaging system, designed to aid users of the TENEX operating system. It served its purpose well, but was crippled by a limited feature set.


Related references:

[5.1] “A client program of Grapevine generally obtains services through code...The primary clients of Grapevine are various mail interface programs, of which Laurel is most widely used.” --- Schroeder, Michael D., Andrew Birrell, and Roger Needham. "Experience with Grapevine: The Growth of a Distributed System." ACM Transactions on Computer Systems 2.1 (1984): 3-23.


[5.2] “…the Grapevine system was first made available to a limited number of clients during 1980.” --- Birrell, A., Grapevine: An Exercise in Distributed Computing, birrell.org/andrew/papers/Grapevine.pdf :272.


[5.3] “In systems like SEND MESSAGE and its successors, such as HERMES, ON-TYME, and COMET, there is no provision for immediate response. A message is sent into a mailbox for later access by the recipient. No automatic filing is provided: any searching of message files requires users to write their own search programs, and to flag those messages they want to retain or erase. The burden is placed on users to manage their own files, and a fairly detailed understanding of programming and file structures is required. Both senders and receivers must learn about 20 commands, and if they misuse them they can jeopardize the entire data structure. Some messages may even be lost in the process.” --- Vallee, Jacques, (a principal investigator of ARPA and NSF messaging projects), Computer Message Systems. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1984.


[5.4] “The notes and memo systems are very similar to the ARPANET message systems, with the coordinators setting up access modes to define who gets in and at what level. A user can either respond to a note or create a new one. On the negative side, the system does not allow review of entries except in serial fashion. New messages generally cannot be sorted, filed, or ignored, although a sophisticated user can ‘transport’ various kinds of notes through buffers. Nor can it apply to them any facility to search for key words, to save information, or to recombine information. This implies a self-limiting feature—if the system were ever used heavily, users would spend all their time managing the flow of information. Clearly, this approach calls for powerful file management functions that had not yet appeared at the time of our survey of the system.” --- Vallee, Jacques, (a principal investigator of ARPA and NSF messaging projects), Computer Message Systems. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1984.


[5.5] “Dave Farber gave a bit of history of mail systems listing names of all the systems that anybody had ever heard of (see Appendix A)…. It was noted that most of the mail systems were not formal projects (in the sense of explicitly sponsored research), but things that ‘just happened’." --- RFC 808, Meeting at BBN, January 10, 1979, http://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc808.


7 Article titled “A history of e-mail: Collaboration, innovation and the birth of a system” http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/on-innovations/a-history-of-e-mail-collaboration-innovation-and-the-birth-of-a-system/2012/03/19/gIQAOeFEPS_story_3.html

8 See Larry Tesler’s comments (who worked at Xerox, 1973-1980) on the internal development of Laurel: http://tinyurl.com/83nlq32. He acknowledges that he himself did not “…know what if any email systems based on unofficial internet standards were implemented before 1979”, but was aware that Laurel was still under development in 1979

9 http://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc808

10 Vittal, John. MSG: A Simple Message System. Cambridge, MA: North-Holland Publishing Company, 1981. Print.


Return to Listing of False Claims

Fact #6: CTSS' MAIL was an early text messaging system, not email


This quote "Electronic mail, or email, was introduced at MIT in 1965 and was widely discussed in the press during the 1970s. Tens of thousands of users were swapping messages by 1980." referring to the MAIL command on MIT’s CTSS timesharing system is a misuse of the term “email”. The basic usage of MAIL, as documented in CTSS Programming Staff Note #39 [11], is below:


VA Shiva Ayyadurai,the Inventor of Email - False Claim – 6: Extract 1 from Staff Note on CTSS Message System


This invention, MAIL, was not a system of interlocked parts emulating the interoffice paper mail system. MAIL allowed a CTSS user to transmit a file, written in a third-party editor and encoded in binary-decimal format (BCD), to other CTSS users. The delivered message would be appended to the front of a file in the recipient’s directory that represented the aggregate of all received messages. This flat-file message store placed strong constraints on the capacity of MAIL, and required users to traverse and review all messages serially; search and sort mechanisms were not available. Corruption to the MAIL BOX file could result in the loss of a user’s messages. From the CTSS Programmer’s Guide [12] (Section AH.9.05):


VA Shiva Ayyadurai,the Inventor of Email - False Claim – 6: Extract 2 from Staff Note on CTSS Message System


The design choices in MAIL – lack of search and sort facilities, need for an external editor, dependence on CTSS-specific user IDs, and flat-file message store – put strong constraints on the use and capacity of the command. It was well-suited to the low-volume transmission of informal (i.e. unformatted) messages. “The proposed uses [of MAIL]”, wrote Tom Van Vleck, “were communication from ‘the system’ to users informing them that files had been backed up, communication to the authors of commands with criticisms, and communication from command authors to the CTSS manual editor.” [13]


The limited feature set of MAIL would be carried over to its progeny (e.g. SNDMSG, MSG, HERMES), creating headaches for even the most sophisticated technical staff: [14]


VA Shiva Ayyadurai,the Inventor of Email - False Claim – 6: Extract 3 from Staff Note on CTSS Message System


Those who promoted MAIL was "email" when the term "email" did not even exist in 1965 are attempting to redefine "email" to be a command-driven program that transferred BCD-encoded text files, written in an external editor, among timesharing system users, to be reviewed serially in a flat-file.


One would be hard-pressed to draw a historical straight line from MAIL to today’s email systems. MAIL was not "email", but a text messaging command line system, at best.


11 See pg 4: http://www.multicians.org/thvv/psn-39.pdf

12 http://www.bitsavers.org/pdf/mit/ctss/CTSS_ProgrammersGuide_Dec69.pdf

13 http://www.multicians.org/thvv/mail-history.html, April 18th, 2012

14 Vallee, Jacques. Computer Message Systems. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1984: 53-55. Print.


Return to Listing of False Claims

Fact #7: Email was defined precisely in 1978,
as the electronic version of the interoffice mail system


Following news of Ayyadurai's invention of email, industry insiders have attempted to redefine the term “email”. For example these individuals have openly asserted:

“…we need a more specific definition that captures the essence of computer based electronic mail as it actually emerged. Here is one that was developed in discussion with email pioneers Ray Tomlinson, Tom Van Vleck and Dave Crocker:


‘Electronic mail is a service provided by computer programs to send unstructured textual messages of about the same length as paper letters from the account of one user to recipients' personal electronic mailboxes, where they are stored for later retrieval.’”
[ref. 7.1]


Email was clearly defined in 1978 as the electronic interoffice, inter-organizational mail system, and formally in 1982 by Ayyadurai's US Copyright. Such a revisionist definition by industry insiders, now in 2012, serves one purpose, to allow them, e.g. Tomlinson, Van Vleck and Crocker – who worked with the early messaging systems SNDMSG, MAIL and MS respectively, to now retroactively choose a definition for electronic mail that ensures their primacy to “email”, which they did not create and had no intention of creating


The facts are the literature of the period reveals that the term "email" did not exist prior to 1978 and the definition of "electronic mail", and a specification of its functions, was anything but clear-cut. It was Ayyadurai's work starting in 1978 and the formal copyright of 1982 which clearly defined "email" and "electronic mail" as a system of interlocked parts emulating the entire interoffice, inter-organizational paper-based mail system in an electronic format. Prior to Ayyadurai's invention, there was confusion even about the term “electronic mail”.


As Gordon B. Thompson of Bell Northern Research wrote in 1981 : [15]


VA Shiva Ayyadurai,the Inventor of Email - False Claim – 7: Gordon B. Thompson on Email Systems


Peter Schicker wrote [16] similarly concerning the problems of messaging service and feature lists:


VA Shiva Ayyadurai,the Inventor of Email - False Claim – 7: Peter Schicker on problems in messaging services


Even normally well-defined terms – like “memo” and “conferencing” – took on plastic, often conflicting, meaning: [17]


VA Shiva Ayyadurai,the Inventor of Email - False Claim – 7: Conflicting meanings for "memo" and "conferencing"


Or, as James Robinson wrote [18] in the opening lines of his master’s thesis on a review of electronic mail, messaging systems:


VA Shiva Ayyadurai,the Inventor of Email - False Claim – 7: James Robinson on "Electronic Mail"


Email has had a clear definition since Ayyadurai's invention. There is no reason now in 2012 to redefine it, except to inappropriately assign ”the inventor of email“ moniker to those that are not the inventors of email.


Related references:

[7.1] SIGCIS blog entry, April 17, 2012 www.sigcis.org


15 Thompson, Gordon B.. "What's the Message?." Computer Message Systems. Ottawa, Canada: North-Holland Publishing Company, 1981. 1-6. Print.

16 Schicker, Peter. "Computer-Based Mail Environments." Computer Networks 5 (1981): 435-443. Print.

17 Vallee, Jacques. Computer Message Systems. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1984: xiii. Print.

18 Robinson, James G. "Introduction." An Overview of Electronic Mail Systems. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1983. 4. Print.


Return to Listing of False Claims

Fact #8: Like VisiCalc, EMAIL also created an electronic metaphor ---
a metaphor for the interoffice paper mail system


Some “historians” in collusion with industry insiders who seek to discredit Ayyadurai's invention of email, have gone to the extent of asserting that EMAIL is not an invention, but VisiCalc is. If they refer to “email” as a text message, then email is not an invention. However, in recognizing that EMAIL, the first email system, by Ayyadurai is the electronic version of the interoffice paper mail system, then EMAIL, like VisiCalc, is an invention.


There is a clear analogy between invention of EMAIL and the invention of VisiCalc. Bricklin’s title as the Father of the Modern Spreadsheet belies significant contributions to the field of data processing had been done prior to the release of VisiCalc. It was the subject of Iveron and Brooks’s seminal Automatic Data Processing and a major research topic for industry and academia. What Bricklin did was to create an integrated system for data processing – complete with a consistent UI and strong metaphor – targeted towards end users. Bricklin’s accomplishment wasn’t that he invented data processing, but that he made it integrated and accessible.


In the same way that Bricklin’s VisiCalc electronified the system of paper spreadsheets, Ayyadurai’s EMAIL electronified the system of interoffice, inter-organizational paper-based mail system. Both took well-defined social processes, and gave them the power of computation, freeing users from the drudgery of manual recalculation in the former case, or the delivery of physical interoffice memos in the latter.


This puts both projects in stark contrast to the messaging systems of early timesharing architectures, which evolved to address the administrative and technical needs of mainframe users. As stated in RFC 808, most of these message systems “were not formal projects (in the sense of explicitly sponsored research), but things that ‘just happened’”, and Jacques Vallee wrote [19] of these early systems:


VA Shiva Ayyadurai,the Inventor of Email - False Claim – 8: Jacques Vallee on Early Message Systems


One “historian”, part of the industry insider clique, has falsely asserted, with reference to Ayyadurai's work that:

"The system will still be of interest to historians as a representative example of a low-budget, small scale electronic mail system constructed from off-the-shelf components, including the HP/1000’s communications, word processing, and database programs."


This is a false statement. It reveals deliberate and reckless ignorance of the facts, which are accessible now at the Smithsonian. EMAIL, the first email system, was designed as an integrated system – it included all its own facilities for message handling, distribution, composition, archival, and user management. It was “small scale” only in the sense that it did not need the ARPAnet, in contrast to systems like MAIL and MSG, which leveraged a host of facilities in the host environment. EMAIL – the program and system – consisted of nearly 50,000 lines of FORTRAN IV code, unlike Van Vleck’s MAIL command which comprised less than 300 lines [20] of MAD, a high-level language on the CTSS.


EMAIL was far from a "small-scale electronic mail system". EMAIL was a full-scale emulation of the entire interoffice paper mail system, with all features we now experience in modern email programs and many features, which some email programs even in the late 1990's did not have.


19 Vallee, Jacques. Computer Message Systems. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1984: xiii. Print.

20 See source listing.


Return to Listing of False Claims

Fact #9: Email systems were not available from DEC and Wang in 1980


By 1980, electronic mail systems aimed at the office environments were not "readily available from companies such as DEC, Wang, and IBM". Such statements are conflating the term “email” with all forms of electronic communication – from telegraph services, to Telex or CBMS systems. This conflation is confusing, and a misuse of the term "email".


The offerings of electronic mail systems by private suppliers varied greatly, and were largely incompatible. Wang Laboratories, for example, had already been well established for its line of word processing equipment [21]. When network facilities became readily available, it bolted on file transfer facilities to its machines, creating a line of “communicating word processors” [22]. This networking of word processors is not "email".


In 1980, there was tremendous pressure to innovate in the “office automation sector”. However, as addressed in James Robinson’s 1984 thesis, An Overview of Electronic Mail Systems [23], these offerings were part of a larger defensive strategy:


“[Computer-based message systems] are sold to users who have an interest in implementing electronic mail on their current equipment. Not surprising therefore, many of the vendors in this grouping tend to be minicomputer manufacturers such as Data General and Prime. The reason for this is not so much that minicomputer manufacturers have a real interest in electronic mail, but rather have devised messaging systems in an attempt to prevent other firms from selling a system that would run on their hardware. Thus, this type of electronic mail system has evolved as part of a defensive strategy by original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). An excellent example of a product by an OEM is Wang Laboratories Inc.’s Mailway.”


The "electronic mail" offerings by private industry in 1980 were not the system of interlocked parts emulating the entire interoffice paper mail system. They were, at best, wildly unstable and inconsistent.


21 See the July 1979 Wang Newsletter

22 Trudell, Libby, Janet Bruman, and Dennis Oliver. "Distributed Electronic Mail Networks." Options for electronic mail. White Plains, N.Y.: Knowledge Industry Publications, 1984. 67. Print.

23 Robinson, James G.. "Computer-based Messaging Systems." An Overview of Electronic Mail Systems. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1983. 32. Print.


Return to Listing of False Claims

Fact #10: LAUREL was not email, but a front-end to text messaging programs


The quote "...the PARC email software, Laurel, ran on the user’s local computer, was operated with a mouse, and pulled messages from the PARC server to a personal hard drive for storage and filing." is a misuse of the term "email". The invention Laurel was a mail user interface program for the Xerox Alto. It was a graphical front-end to a series of messaging programs akin to SNDMSG and MS [24]. The use of mouse was an innovation of its host environment Alto, not of Laurel itself [25]. Laurel was capable of basic message composition, scanning and flat-file storage (through the use of its *.mail files). Like other file-flat approaches, mail management remained in the hands of users [26].


The Laurel Manual, as it existed at Stanford in September 1980 [27], provides thorough explanation of what Laurel was, and what it was capable of. Laurel was just a user interface, and not the system of interlocked parts to emulate the entire interoffice paper mail system.


Laurel was disconnected and relied on `"Piping" other small programs which were loosely connected to each other.


VA Shiva Ayyadurai,the Inventor of Email - False Claim – 10: What is Laurel?


Mention of MSG in the official Laurel documentation refers to the same command program discussed earlier – the same program created and critiqued by John Vittal, and listed in RFC 808 as running on a TENEX operating system. Maxc refers to a Xerox-produced machine that emulated the facilities of PDP-10 TENEX-based systems. Its operation is well documented. [28] It follows that Laurel, as it existed in 1979 and 1980, fundamentally depended on MSG, and Maxc, for message transmission. It was an Alto-based front-end for a more pedestrian MSG program. Ironically, the revealing kinship of Laurel and MSG is well-described in the 1979 Whole ALTO World Newsletter [29]. The sentence “Eventually, the services of Laurel will surpass those of MSG, but at present, the two are roughly equivalent in function” should not be overlooked.


VA Shiva Ayyadurai,the Inventor of Email - False Claim – 10: Laurel and MSG – 1

VA Shiva Ayyadurai,the Inventor of Email - False Claim – 10: Laurel and MSG – 2


The “distributed message system” mentioned in the Laurel Manual would eventually be realized in Grapevine, tested on a limited number of clients in 1980, and not publicly documented [30] until 1982 – well after Ayyadurai’s EMAIL was well-established in a production environment. These points are corroborated by Larry Tesler, who was at Xerox throughout Laurel’s development [31].


A review of period documentation helps to put Laurel in perspective. It was, as of 1979 and 1980, an Alto-based graphical front-end for MSG. It stood on the foundations of the beautifully sophisticated Alto environment, and contributed Alto-specific operations – like menu picking and Bravo-type editing – not available in other MSG environments. However, Laurel 2.0 provided only a small subset of the features available in Ayyadurai’s EMAIL, lacking an attachment editor, relational database, administrator/postmaster functionality, prioritization and search among others. The Alto was a brilliant machine, the precursor to the Apple machines, and Laurel would evolve to become a worthy Alto application. However, as of 1980, Laurel did not represent the state of the art. Readers are encouraged to read the Laurel Manual for details.


24 Schroeder, Michael D., Andrew Birrell, and Roger Needham. "Experience with Grapevine: The Growth of a Distributed System." ACM Transactions on Computer Systems 2.1 (1984): 3-23. Print.

25 See the ALTO User Handbook for details.

26 This is well-demonstrated by Another Laurel Hack in the August 1979 Whole ALTO World Newsletter, pg. 325

27 Included as part of the Stanford Computer Science Department document Welcome to ALTO Land

28 See MAXC Operation, May 1974.

29 See footnote 14, above, pg. 94.

30 As published in the April 1982 Communications of the ACM

31 See his recent response to the acceptance of EMAIL into the Smithsonian


Return to Listing of False Claims

Fact #11: The term “email” was coined in 1978 at UMDNJ


The term email was first coined by VA Shiva Ayyadurai in 1978. Those five characters "E", "M", "A", "I", and "L" were juxtaposed together to name the main subroutine of the first email system. Ayyadurai coined the term email for the idiosyncratic reason that in 1978 FORTRAN IV only allowed for a six-character maximum variable and subroutine naming convention, and the RTE-IV operating system had a five-character limit for program names.


By 1980, Ayyadurai’s EMAIL was in production use at UMDNJ. Needless to say, EMAIL – the program – and its user manual were already in distribution around the UMDNJ campus. CompuServe has no clear claim to primacy here: a US Trademark database search shows the first use in commerce as April, 1981. CompuServe applied for an EMAIL trademark on June 27, 1983 – an effort that it abandoned in August 1984.


Email was a CompuServe trademark in 1983 - but that remains a moot point for discussions of primacy. However, for the sake of clarity and transparency, two instances of CompuServe’s 1983 EMAIL advertising are included below:


VA Shiva Ayyadurai,the Inventor of Email - False Claim – 11: CompuServe’s 1983 EMAIL Advertising – 1

Taken from the August, 1983 Edition of Popular Mechanics Magazine, pg. 107


VA Shiva Ayyadurai,the Inventor of Email - False Claim – 11: CompuServe’s 1983 EMAIL Advertising – 2

Taken from the January 1983 Edition of Byte Magazine


It’s important to note that CompuServe “popularized” the term ‘Email’ only to the extent that triggered animosity and ridicule from system users; it was notoriously buggy and feature-light [ref. 11.1, ref. 11.2, ref. 11.3]. Interested readers are encouraged to explore the CompuServe Email documentation as it existed for the Radio Shack TRS-80 in 1983 for details.


Return to Listing of False Claims

Fact #12: Email has a single inventor, VA Shiva Ayyadurai


Email has a single inventor. That inventor of email is VA Shiva Ayyadurai. For nearly a decade, Raytheon's subsidiary, BBN, has been falsely promoting that it hosts the "inventor of email", referring to their employee Ray Tomlinson.


The news of the ceremony to honor the acceptance of Dr. Ayyadurai's 50,000 lines of code, tapes, papers and artifacts proving his invention of EMAIL, the first email system, by Smithsonian on February 16, 2012, appears to have caused great concern to BBN.


BBN has put a great deal of effort to their own branding as innovators by presenting a public face that they are the “inventors of email”. This branding involves juxtaposing the “@” symbol with the face of Ray Tomlinson as the “inventor of email”. In fact, on BBN's home page the word "innovation" is visually juxtaposed next to the @ logo with Tomlinson's picture. Clearly, such a branding effort is to support BBN’s sales efforts.


Following the news of Ayyadurai’s invention, BBN sent press releases re-asserting Tomlinson as the “inventor of email”. Concurrent with these efforts to re-assert Tomlinson as the “inventor of email”, industry insiders, supported by SIGCIS “historians”, Ray Tomlinson, BBN supporters and ex-BBN employees continued to perpetuate a false history of email by discrediting Ayyadurai's invention. They used revisionism and confusion to redefine and misuse the term email. Through these efforts, they re-declared Tomlinson, and thereby the BBN brand, as the singular “inventor of email”, “Godfather of email” and “King of email”, as reported in poppular press during April 24 - 26, 2012.


In the midst of this self-promotion, they released hypocritical statements such as:


"Email has no single inventor. There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of people who contributed to significant incremental “firsts” in the development of email as we know it today. Theirs was a collective accomplishment, and theirs is a quiet pride (or at least was until recent press coverage provoked them). Email pioneer Ray Tomlinson has said of email’s invention that “Any single development is stepping on the heels of the previous one and is so closely followed by the next that most advances are obscured. I think that few individuals will be remembered.”

to feign a false humility and “collaborative spirit”, while isolating and dismissing Ayyadurai's singular and rightful position as the inventor of email.


The facts are that neither Ray Tomlinson nor BBN created "email". As Padlipsky, one of Tomlinson's own peers has stated:

“I don't believe Ray Tomlinson invented ‘e-mail’. And not because of the quibble that we called it netmail originally, though that does offer an excuse to observe that I personally find the term ‘e-mail’ awfully cutesy, and references to ‘sending an e-mail’ syntactic slime. Nor because of the semi-quibble that ‘mail’ had been around intra-Host on several of the Host operating systems since well before anybody realized they were Hosts, though that one has a great deal of abstract ‘historical’ appeal. No, it's because I have a completely clear memory that Ray wasn't even at the FTP meeting where we decided to add mail to the protocol.”--- Padlipsky, M.A., (ARPANET contributor and author of more than 20 RFC specifications), “And they argued all night…”, http://tinyurl.com/83739l7, April 7, 2012


The facts show that Ayyadurai did singularly create email, the system of interlocked parts emulating the entire interoffice paper mail system. One ex-BBNer, Dave Walden, though part of the Tomlinson coterie acknowledged the following:

"Naturally this was discussed on the exBBN list. In my view, this "new guy" [Shiva Ayyadurai] has described something not quite like what the rest of us understand when we say "email". [32]


Walden recognized the misuse of the term "email" to mean the transmission of text messages between terminals, as was the case with the early messaging systems such as MAIL. Such a misuse of the term "email" can signify nearly all forms of digital communication -- facsimiles, communicating word processors, online bulletin board systems, instant messaging clients, and formal communication.


However, email has a very clear meaning as established by Ayyadurai in 1978: it is the electronic interoffice, inter-organizational paper-based mail system. It includes all the features one expects from paper mail systems: memo composition, editing, drafts, sorting, archival, forwarding, reply, registered mail, return receipt, prioritization, security, delivery retries, undeliverable notifications, group lists, bulk distribution, and managerial/administrative functions. Like the interoffice mail system, it is meant to be an integrated system of parts, as accessible to a secretary as a compiler writer. It has to be fault-tolerant, familiar, and universal. By this definition, Ayyadurai’s EMAIL system is the only instance to first achieve this level of integration – the same we all now experience in products such as Gmail, Hotmail and others.


32 From a February 22 SIGCIS-Members post.


Return to Listing of False Claims

V A Shiva - Inventor of Email
VA Shiva Ayyadurai's Personal Statement on Invention of Email
VA Shiva at the age of 14, Newark, 1978.As a Lecturer at the MIT, 2012.
Link to Podcast of VA Shiva Ayyadurai's Interview with SBS Australia Radio
Noam Chomsky on VA Shiva Ayyadurai's Invention of Email
Dr. Leslie Michelson on VA Shiva Ayyadurai's Invention of Email
V A Shiva - Inventing EMAIL

Learning Programming
@ NYU, 1978

VA Shiva Ayyadurai, the Inventor of Email: Learning Programming, 1978

EMAIL was named in 1978 in FORTRAN IV

VA Shiva Ayyadurai, the Inventor of Email: EMAIL was named in 1978 in FORTRAN IV

West Essex Tribune, 1980

VA Shiva Ayyadurai, the Inventor of Email: First Email System, 1980

Westinghouse Award Entry, 1981

VA Shiva Ayyadurai, the Inventor of Email: Westinghouse Award Entry, 1981

Westinghouse Award, 1981

VA Shiva Ayyadurai, the Inventor of Email: Westinghouse Award, 1981

MIT Tech Talk, 1981

VA Shiva Ayyadurai, the Inventor of Email: MIT Tech Talk, 1981

First US Copyright for EMAIL, 1982

VA Shiva Ayyadurai, the Inventor of Email: First US Copyright for EMAIL, 1982

COMAND, 1982

VA Shiva Ayyadurai, the Inventor of Email: COMAND, 1982

EMAIL User's Manual Copyright, 1982

VA Shiva Ayyadurai, the Inventor of Email: EMAIL User's Manual Copyright, 1982

EMS Copyright, 1984

VA Shiva Ayyadurai, the Inventor of Email: EMS Copyright, 1984

Beyond Email

U.S Patent: Relationship Management System and Method using Asynchronous Electronic Messaging, 2003

VA Shiva Ayyadurai, the Inventor of Email: Relationship Management System and Method using Asynchronous Electronic Messaging, 2003

U.S Patent: System and Method for Content-Sensitive Automatic Reply Message Generation, 2004

VA Shiva Ayyadurai, the Inventor of Email: U.S Patent: System and Method for Content-Sensitive Automatic Reply Message Generation, 2004

U.S Patent: Filter for Modeling System and Method for Handling and Routing of Text Based Aynchronous Commmunications, 2004

VA Shiva Ayyadurai, the Inventor of Email: Filter for Modeling System and Method for Handling and Routing of Text Based Aynchronous Commmunications, 2004

© 2012 - 2013  International Center for Integrative Systems. All Rights Reserved.