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[liberationtech] Who first created/coined email?

Fran Parker lilbambi at
Fri Mar 2 11:11:18 PST 2012

This might help:

On 3/2/12 1:44 PM, Yosem Companys wrote:
>> I can't find clarity about who first created a mechanism we can call
>> email on a timesharing system.
> Who first made a timeshared messaging system is one thing.  Who first
> coined the word "email" for electronic mail is another.  Both are
> worth looking into.
> If only the academics of the time had had a system for communicating
> ideas with each other, that had left a paper trail.  Hey wait, they
> did!  It was called papers and conferences and proceedings and
> journals.  If only the public had easy access to that stuff now, we
> could merely search it for the first occurrence of "email" and get an
> interesting data point.  Unfortunately, all that research
> correspondence is locked up behind paywalls, if it has been digitized
> at all.  Maybe one of you who has a paywall account (e.g. "ACM Digital
> Library" card or a similar IEEE thing) could do such a search?
> What does the O.E.D. say?  They're behind a paywall, too.
> The Usenet archives at show a single mention of
> EMAIL in 1981, but it refers to a specific program for email, and it
> originated in an ARPAnet mailing list that was gatewayed to Usenet.  A
> Human-Nets posting from 19 May 1981 by ROODE at SRI-KL (David Roode)
> complains about CompuServe, saying:
>   It truly does seem to me that their attitude embodies the idea that
>   their potential customers will be ignorant of any better way of doing
>   things than those they choose.  Their EMAIL program is the most
>   cumbersome messaging system I have seen, and its improved palatability
>   for the naive user over MM, MSG, RMAIL and the like is not clear to
>   me.
> (CompuServe ran on PDP-10s; what was the origin of the EMAIL program
> that they offered the public?)
> The first mention of email as a service (in the Google Groups archive)
> was more than a year later, on 15 October 1982, by my old friend
> Robert Elton Maas<REM at MIT-MC>, talking about PCNET, which is a
> project that I worked on with him (he wrote the 8080 CP/M
> implementation, I wrote the Apple II one, and we got them to exchange
> non-internet email over dialup modems, with each other and with a
> Commodore PET, using a nice packet protocol; we demoed it at the West
> Coast Computer Faire).  His message says in part:
>   A single network design should support all speeds of equipment
>   rather than requiring different speeds to be on different and
>   disjoint networks (at the least, gateways for the major services,
>   email, ftp, telnet) should exist even where differing equipment
>   requires differing low-level protocols.
> (The topic of that whole Human-Nets digest issue was "WorldNet", a
> hard-to-visualize dream about tying all sorts of computers together
> worldwide.)
> By 1983 there are a hundred references to email, in many newsgroups,
> including net.sources,, net.general, net.bicycle,
>, and net.sf-lovers.  Here's a notable one:
>   Newsgroups: net.mail
>   From: diam... at cwruecmp.UUCP (John Diamant)
>   Date: Thu, 10-Nov-83 00:28:06 EST
>   Local: Thurs, Nov 10 1983 12:28 am
>   Subject: Re: speaking of needed words
>   In response to the need for a word to distinguish between a letter and
>   electronic mail:  this word exists.  It is EMAIL (for electronic mail,
>   of course).
>   John Diamant                            Usenet: ...decvax!cwruecmp!diamant
>   Case Western Reserve University         CSNet:  diamant at Case
>   Cleveland, Ohio                         ARPA:   diamant.Case at Rand-Relay
> There's an interesting history of ARPANET email here:
> It was written by Ian R. Hardy of UC Berkeley in 1996 as a history
> thesis.  It uses the word "email" throughout, but doesn't go into the
> history of the word.  But it does mention the paucity of official
> references to electronic mail (as a network service) in early official
> ARPANET reports and such, quoting Ray Tomlinson and Frank Heart.
> Since email wasn't an official government project or priority, it
> wasn't mentioned til "about 1976", even though all the researchers
> were using it and it was 75% of the network traffic.
> RFC 808 of 1 March 1982, "Summary of Computer Mail Services Meeting"
> by Jon Postel documents a meeting held on 10 January 1979 at BBN.  Its
> appendix contains a list of all known electronic mail systems on the
> ARPAnet as of January 1979 (compiled by Dave Farber!) and their author
> and operating system.  The majority of these names use the word "mail"
> (e.g. RDMAIL, MAILER, Read-mail) but none use "email", nor does the
> RFC itself.
> Among the RFCs, the first RFC to include "email" or "e-mail" was RFC
> 977 of February 1986, for NNTP.  The word occurred in an example
> Usenet posting, apparently a real one snatched from a spool directory
> by the RFC author, from newsgroup net.unix-wizards, dated 25 Sep 85, and
> containing the concluding paragraph "Please reply by E-mail.  Thanks
> in advance."  The next was RFC 1048 of February 1988, "BOOTP Vendor
> Extensions", which provided contact information for registering
> additional data fields at a postal address, "or by E-mail as:
> JKREYNOLDS at ISI.EDU".  The next was RFC 1060 of March 1990, one of the
> "Assigned Numbers" series, which marked a change in the RFC format.
> It included an "Authors' Addresses" section, which contained "Email:
> JKREY at ISI.EDU" and "Email: POSTEL at ISI.EDU".  The previous Assigned
> Numbers, RFC 1010 of May 1987, did not have an "Authors' Addresses"
> section, and though it included a table of protocol designers and
> their companies and email addresses, no column heading was used to
> describe the email addresses.
> The first RFC to include the word "email" or "e-mail" in a sentence
> was RFC 1093 of February 1989, "The NSFNET Routing Architecture",
> whose introduction said, "Thanks also to: Milo Medin (NASA), John Moy
> (Proteon) and Greg Satz (Cisco) for discussing this document by email
> and/or phone."  They started coming thick and fast then, and by
> December 1989, RFC 1137's page headings called the document's topic
> "E-Mail Address and Quoted Strings".  By RFC 1336 in May 1992, Steve
> Crocker is quoted as saying:
>            E-mail dominates the Internet, and it's likely to remain the
>            dominant use of the Internet in the future.  Nonetheless, I
>            expect to see an exciting array of other applications which
>            become heavily used and cause a change in the perception of
>            the Internet as primarily a "mail system."
> This doesn't tell us the precise origin of the word, but it does
> indicate that in 1981-2 very few people on the ARPAnet and Usenet were
> using it, and that in 1983 its usage broke out on the Usenet.  Perhaps
> further inquiries should be made on the Usenet and Unix mail side of
> history.  And does anyone have conveniently searchable archives of
> early ARPAnet mailing lists, BITNET, CSNET, etc?
>         John
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