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The Inventor of Email

Site Contributors

The following people have contributed articles, feedback, research, design and production to the development of this site. In addition, the annotated bibliography below provides additional sources of content used in this site.

Prof. Noam Chomsky
Institute Professor
MIT - Department of Linguistics & Philosophy


Leslie P. Michelson, Ph.D.
UMDNJ - High Performance and Research Computing Division


C. Forbes Dewey, Jr.
MIT - Dept. of Mechanical Engineering & Biological Engineering


Mathew Labrador
President & CEO


Devon Sparks
MIT Student
MIT - Department of Architecture


Renato Umeton
Sapienza University of Rome


Tom Zawacki
Vice President, Western Region


Sonu Abraham
Executive Director
International Center for Integrative Systems


Theodore J. Monetti
Ret. Executive Board Member
W2 Group


Martin J O'Donnell
Cesari & Mc Kenna, LLP


Deborah J. Nightingale
MIT - Sociotechnical Systems Research Center


Robert Field
Systems Analyst
University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey


Hauke Kite-Powell, Ph.D.
Research Scientist
Emerson College


Carole Kammen
Founder & Principal
Pathways Institute


Todd Reily
Systems Engineer
MITRE Corporation


Gene Deans
Technology Lab, The Email Lab


Laurie Cestnick, Ph.D.
Neuro-Psychologist & Clinician
Hallowell Center


Robert Wolfe
President & CEO
The Cambridge Company


Neil Devine
Director of Technology
International Center for Integrative Systems


Tad Crawford
Attorney & Artists' Rights Advocate
Allworth Press - Publisher


Martin Feuerman
Statistician & Consultant


Caen Contee
Co-Founder, Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer


Usha Raghavan
Senior HR Executive


V A Shiva Ayyadurai, Ph.D.
President & CEO
CytoSolve, Inc.


J. Paul Rickett
Founder & CEO


Deepa Rao
Graduate Student
Georgetown University


Dr. Ashvini Ravi
D G Vaishnav College School of Management


James He
Graduate Student
Wesleyan University


MIT Librarians & Archivists
MIT Libraries
MIT Archives



Andelin, John, and Sam Hale. Implications of Electronic Mail and Message Systems for the U.S. Postal Service. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1982.

Documents an internal investigation into the effects of rising electronic mail traffic on the USPS. The study addresses three major questions: (1) To what extent are privately offered electronic mail and message systems likely to affect mail volume handled by the USPS, (2) Are changes in USPS mail volume likely to lead to significant adjustments in USPS rates, service levels, and/or labor force requirements?, (3) What are the implications of EMS for the future of USPS and how it might participate in the provision of EMS services? Includes a discussion of the USPS E-COM initiative.


Brotz, Douglas K.. "Message System Mores: Etiquette in Laurel." ACM Transactions on Information Systems 1.2 (1983): 179-192.

On the basis of observation of user behavior in Laurel, an EMS for the Alto, this paper documents suggestions for message system etiquette. Topics covered include misaddressed messages, rudeness, message system costs, unsolicited messages, chain reactions, and masquerading.


Comer, Douglas, and Larry Peterson. "Conversation-Based Mail." COMPUTER SCIENCE TECHNICAL REPORTS 1 (1983): 5-27.

Describes a user interface to computer mail grouped by conversations - effectively an early incarnation of modern, Gmail-like "threading". Provides a broad overview of mail transport agent architectures, and their relationship to end-user interfaces.


CompuServe Information Service User's Guide. Fort Worth, TX: Radio Shack, 1983.

Includes documentation of the CompuServe EmailTM offering, including screen captures of the EmailTM interface. It's easily noted the severe limitations of this service. These limitations - and unreliability - are further documented in Neil Shapiro's "The Small Computer Connection".


Connell, Stephen, and Ian A. Galbraith. Electronic Mail: A Revolution in Business Communications. White Plains, NY: Knowledge Industry Publications, 1982.

A thorough overview of electronic mail ecosystems. Addresses the use of EMS in industry, the technology driving the platforms, and the regulatory issues involved with electronic message transmissions. Includes directories of 1980s-era electronic mail suppliers.


Crawford, Jr., A.B.. "Corporate Electronic Mail - A Communication-Intensive Application of Information Technology." MIS Quarterly 6.3 (1982): 1-13

Documents the application of electronic mail systems in corporate environments, including the results of user surveys the effectiveness of EMS on personal and organizational productivity. Provides recommendations for implementing EMS pilot projects in corporate environments.


Crawford, Jr., A.B.. "Corporate Electronic Mail - A Communication-Intensive Application of Information Technology." MIS Quarterly 6.3 (1982): 1-13.

Documents the application of electronic mail systems in corporate environments, including the results of user surveys the effectiveness of EMS on personal and organizational productivity. Provides recommendations for implementing EMS pilot projects in corporate environments.


Crisman, P.A.. The Compatible Time Sharing System: A Programmer's Guide. 2 ed. Cambridge - Mass: M.I.T. Press, 1965.

The official CTSS documentation. Provides the manual page for the MAIL command, and gives a good view of the high-level operation of the CTSS.


Crisman, Pat, Glenda Schroeder, and Louis Pouzin. Programming Staff Note 39. Cambridge, MA: MIT Computation Center, 1960.

This note documents the original proposal for the CTSS MAIL command. See Van Vleck's "Electronic Mail and Text Messaging in CTSS" for comparison.


Crocker, David. Framework and Function of the "MS" Personal Message System. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 1977.

Documents the design and implementation of the MS message system. Includes a discussion of the system scope, the status of the implementation, and a summary of system functions. Of particular interest is the stated scope of the project; namely, that there was no intent to replicate the inter-office, inter-organizational paper mail system.


Distributed Computation and Tenex-related Activities. Cambridge, MA: Bolt, Beranek and Newman, Inc., 1976.

This declassified BBN technical report discusses the features and use of the MAILSYS/Hermes system as it existed in the mid-1970's.


Donahue, James, and Willie-Sue Orr. Walnut: Storing Electronic Mail in a Database. Palo Alto, CA: Palo Alto Research Center, 1985.

Discusses the design and implementation of Walnut, a database-backed electronic mail storage and retrieval system developed for the Cedar environment. Includes Cedar screenshots.


Fiala, Edward R., Charles M. Geschke, Paul Heckel, and Edward Taft. MAXC Operations. Palo Alto, CA: Xerox Corporation, 1974.

Captures the feature set and use of the MAXC system. Necessary for understanding the use of Laurel, and its relationship to John Vittal's MSG.


Frank, H., R.E. Kahn, and L. Kleinrock. "Computer Communication Network Design: Experience with Theory and Practice." Networks 2 (1972): 135-166.

This paper, as well as the three that follow below, discusses the design ideas behind the ARPANET transport layers, useful for context on the design of early electronic messaging systems.


Heart, F. E., R. E. Kahn, S. M. Ornstein, W. R. Crowther, and D. C. Walden. "The Interface Message Processor for the ARPA Computer Network." Spring Joint Computer Conference 1 (1970): 551-566.

Heart, Frank E.. Interface Message Processors for the ARPA Computer Network. Ft. Belvoir: Defense Technical Information Center, 1974.

Hu, Weiming. "Design and Implementation of a Gateway Between Two Electronic Mail Systems." IEEE Communications Magazine 24.6 (1986): 18-23.


Kahn, Robert E. Electronic mail and message systems: technical and policy perspectives : proceedings of the AFIPS Workshop on Technical and Policy Issues in Electronic Mail and Message Systems. Arlington, Va.: American Federation of Information Processing Societies, 1981.

Similar to the work of Uhlig et. al. in scope, but emphasizing the need - and challenge - of effective policy in the proliferation of electronic communication systems. A good complement to the work of Andelin and Hale.


Kent, Jack, Douglas Terry, and Willie-Sue Orr. Browsing Electronic Mail: Experiences Interfacing a Mail System to a DBMS. Palo Alto, CA: Palo Alto Research Center, 1989.

An excellent follow-up to the original Xerox Walnut documentation, this paper captures the evolution of Xerox's database-backed electronic mail offering in the late 1980's. Includes screenshots of Walnut.


Law, Carl Edgar. X.400 and OSI: electronic messaging into the 1990s. London: IBC Technical Services, 1989.

A good overview of electronic messaging systems as they evolved into the early 1990's. Provides a thorough discussion of system standards, gateways, and example messaging systems. However, its emphasis on messaging innovation leaves little room for discussion of early history.


Levin, Roy, and Michael D. Schroeder. Transport of Electronic Messages through a Network. Palo Alto, CA: Palo Alto Research Center, 1979.

Early documentation of a distributed mechanism for "digital memoranda" transport on a network. Describes the foundations that would become Xerox Grapevine.


Licklider, J.C.R., and Albert Vezza. "Applications of Information Networks." Proceedings of the IEEE 66.11 (1978): 1330-1347.

A visionary text on the use and possibilities of digital information networks. Particularly useful for its discussion of interpersonal communication.


Mackay, Wendy E.. More than just a communication system: diversity in the use of electronic mail. Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sloan School of Management, 1989.

Describes a series of interviews that examine the ways that professional office workers use electronic mail to manage their daily work.


Manning, Eric G. "The 1976 Computer Communications Conference - An Assessment." Computer Networks 2 (1978): 125-154.

A high-level overviews of the ideas, proposals and opinions discussed at the 1976 Computer Communications Conference. An excellent resource to capture the "messaging ethos" of the late 1970's.


Martins, Gary R., and R. Stockton Gaines. Implementing Message Systems in Multilevel Secure Environments. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 1982.

Documents the growing need for hierarchical security features in electronic mail environments. Focuses on the security features of two mail systems: MH and SMH. More useful for its policy perspective than its technical descriptions.


Mathison, Stuart, and Phillip Walker. "Regulatory and Economic Issues in Computer Communication." Proceedings of the IEEE 60.11 (1972): 1254-1272.

Highlights the regulatory issues associated with the rapid growth of computer communication. Focuses on the role of the FCC.


McNeal, Barbara. Electronic mail among university training centers: a demonstration in national network building. Menlo Park, Calif.: Institute for the Future, 1980.

Describes a pilot program that used electronic mail facilities of the OnTyme network to aid university training centers. Includes cost metrics, survey results, questionnaires, and the message system user list.


Multics Extended Mail System User's Guide. Waltham, MA: Honeywell Information Systems, Inc., 1983.

Provides extensive documentation of the Honeywell Extended Mail System as it existed in 1982. Not of immediate use for issues of primacy, but offers an additional data point for industry offerings.


Naffah, Najah. "Communication Protocols for Integrated Office Systems." Computer Networks 5 (1981): 445-454

Describes high-level architecture of integrated office systems, emphasizing the work of the KAYAK project.


Panko, Raymond R. . "The Cost of EMS." Computer Networks 5 (1981): 35-46

This paper describes the adoption and maintenance costs of various EMS systems relative to paper mail systems, focusing on the features and costs of the Hermes and Planet EMS platforms.


Partridge, Craig. "The Technical Development of Internet Email." Annals of the History of Computing, IEEE 30.2 (2008): 3-29.

A summary of early BBN contributions to the ARPANET, text messaging and computer networking, this detailed account is hindered in that it assumes all computer communication work done solely at BBN. While it provides a very good description of BBN's EMS history, it should not be taken as a creation story.


Payne, Sue. MH5: Electronic Mail. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 1985.

A Rand Note documenting the operation of MH5 - the successor of Rand's MH message handling program. Provides a clear description of the system and its use - with screenshots - and exemplifies the architecture "UNIX-style" EMS programs.


Rice, Ronald E., and Donald Case. "Electronic Message Systems in the University: A Description of Use and Utility." Journal of Communications 1 (1983): 131-152.

A detailed study on the relationship between EMS availability and managerial productivity in universities, this paper is critical of the universal productivity gains claimed by EMS producers. From the abstract: “Contrary to popular belief, people do not necessarily attribute greater benefits to using computer-based messaging as they gain experience; in addition, they tend to prefer different media depending on the task, their organizational status, attributes of the medium, and their own personalities.”


Roberts, Steven, and Tony Hay. Electronic Message Systems and Services: An International Handbook. London: Communications Educational Services, 1987.

By far one of the most comprehensive resources in the literature, the International Handbook documents the international computer communication status quo in the late 1980's. Provides descriptions, statistics, and adoption recommendations for computer-based messaging, teletex, telegraph, radiopaging, facsimilie, telex, and voice mail systems. Also includes an EMS adoption survey by country, and a company directory and subsidiary listing as an appendix. Recommended for those unfamiliar with issues of definition and adoption.


Schicker, Peter. "The Computer Based Mail Environment - An Overview." Computer Networks 5 (1981): 435-443.

Provides a high-level overview of electronic mail systems, including descriptions of transport layers, user agents and standards. Particularly important is the final summary, which emphasizes that precise definitions of electronic mail features and environments preclude in-depth analysis.


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.

Provides an architectural overview of the Grapevine mail transport agent, and a description of its client interface. Xerox Laurel would include Grapevine support by the mid-1980's, replacing its earlier MSG-based backend. Includes a brief discussion on Grapevine prototypes and adoption as of 1983.


Shapiro, Norman Z., and Robert H. Anderson. "Towards an Ethics and Etiquette of Electronic Mail." RAND Corporation Rand Publication Series (1985): 1-28.

This RAND Report provides two valuable chapters: the first discusses why electronic mail is a fundamentally different communications medium from existing technologies, and the second discusses the need for new modes of conduct within the new medium. Particularly interesting is the discussion on “flaming”.


Sirbu, Marvin A., and Janet Taplin Thompson. A survey of electronic message systems: state of the art and future developments. Cambridge, Mass.: Center for Policy Alternatives, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1978.

This seminal report intended to document the present state and future prospects of U.S. electronic messaging offerings. The report does a particularly good job of addressing the need for more exact definitions - “Builders of electronic message systems hold very different views on the objectives of EMS. For one group, the goal is to increase the productivity of the office worker. For the second group, the primary goal is improved message transmission.” - and for documenting the variety of offerings in the late 1970's. It should be clear from this report that, as of 1978, electronic message systems did not have a single origin, or purpose, and that confusion of definitions and semantics were of the utmost importance.


Sproull, Lee, and Sara Kiesler. "Reducing Social Context Cues: Electronic Mail in Organizational Communication." Management Science 32.11 (1986): 1-21.

Explores how the introduction of electronic mail systems into office environments affects the flow of communication between individuals, departments, and organizations. Primarily of interest to social scientists, the article gives an extremely high-level description of EMS technology, and documents the results of several user surveys.


Thacker et al., Chuck. Alto: A Personal Computer. Palo Alto, CA: Palo Alto Research Center, 1979.

This Xerox technical report documents the low-level architecture and design of the Alto personal computer. The Alto was a remarkable machine, and its operating environment offered a range of end-user innovations. Recommended background reading for understanding Alto applications like Cedar, Bravo and Laurel.


"The ALTO User's Primer." Whole Alto World Newsletter [Palo Alto] 1 Apr. 1978: 90-94.

The Whole Alto World Newsletter provides documentation of many Xerox product announcements, including the adoption of the Alto's Laurel mail user interface. The ALTO User's Primer, released in 1978, discusses the introduction of the Laurel front-end on Alto machines, but emphasized the continued need for MSG and MACX for message processing. Laurel would depend on a MSG backend for several more years for message handling, and - as described in the Laurel User Manual (see below) - would not be recommended for production use for some time.


Trudell, Libby, Janet Bruman, and Dennis Oliver. Options for electronic mail. White Plains, N.Y.: Knowledge Industry Publications, 1984.

Targeted towards managers and potential EMS buyers, Options for Electronic Mail outlines (in simple terms) the various EMS offerings of the mid-1980's, and offers guidance on various system features, costs, and long-term prospects. Apart from clear prose and organized presentation, the book is notable for its Table 4.1, which captures a side-by-side feature comparison of several commercial EMS platforms.


Uhlig, Ronald P.. Computer Message Systems: proceedings of the IFIP TC-6 International Symposium on Computer Message Systems, Ottawa, Canada, 6-8 April, 1981. Amsterdam: North-Holland :, 1981.

A broad compilation of ideas and opinions on electronic communication. Topics include protocol design, computer conferencing, voice messaging, third world technology development, and example systems (e.g. Vittal's MSG). A comprehensive, and diverse, resource.


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

Perhaps the best general resource in the entire group, Vallee's Computer Message Systems provides a clear, thorough description of the existing state, challenges and prospects of electronic message systems in the 1980's. Documents the variety of messaging technologies available, the trouble with definitions, the inherent conflict with the USPS, and the role of marketing in EMS adoption. Highly recommended.


Van Vleck, Tom. "Electronic Mail and Text Messaging in CTSS: 1965-1973." IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 34.1 (2012): 4-6.

A clear personal account of the development of MAIL on the CTSS.


Vervest, Peter H. M. Innovation in Electronic Mail. Amsterdam: North-Holland, 1986.

A good example of mid-1980's thinking on the state and future of EMS. Most early history of electronic messaging is ignored, instead focusing on the development of new protocols (e.g. X.400) and products.


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

Primary documentation on MSG, a widely used electronic message program that served as the core of many later systems (including Xerox Laurel). The appendix provides a list of available commands, capturing the feature set of the program.


Welcome to ALTO Land: Stanford ALTO User's Manual. Stanford, CA: Xerox Corporation, 1980.

A critical piece of evidence, the Stanford Alto User's Manual includes the Laurel User Manual as a separate chapter, documenting its features, implementation and use. Critical to current discussions of primacy is the note that Laurel was - as of 1980 - still relying on Vittal's MSG for mail handling, and that the two systems were roughly feature-equivalent.

V A Shiva - Inventor of Email
The Inventor of Email on CBS
Interview with Inventor of Email
Interview in TIME Magazine
Interview with Doug Aamoth
Noam Chomsky on VA Shiva Ayyadurai's Invention of Email
VA Shiva Ayyadurai, the Inventor of Email: EMAIL was named in 1978 in FORTRAN IV
VA Shiva Ayyadurai, the Inventor of Email: First US Copyright for EMAIL, 1982
Dr. Leslie Michelson on VA Shiva Ayyadurai's Invention 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.
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

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