This year, email is celebrating its 44th anniversary of the day in 1971 when computer engineer Ray Tomlinson sent the first electronic mail message. To celebrate, let’s take a look back at just how far email has come in the past 44 years.
While email was first used in 1971, it took a few years to really catch on. In 1976, Queen Elizabeth II became the first head of state to send an electronic mail message, and two years later, the first electronically-sent advertisement went out over a network of government and university computers.
In 1982, the word “email” was first used, and emoticons entered our lexicon that year as well, when Scott Fahlman became the first person to use a smiley “emotion” in an email. The “You’ve got mail!” voice that you’d know anywhere was recorded in 1989 by radio man Elwood Edwards, along with other iconic AOL phrases (nearly ten years later, Warner Bros. released You’ve Got Mail the movie, which topped $250 million at the box office).
The business of email underwent some changes in 1997, when Microsoft bought Hotmail for about $400 million and Microsoft Outlook was released. Unfortunately, it was also around this time that Internet users began figuring out how to use email’s powers for evil; the word “spam” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 1998, and in 1999, a fraudulent email claiming that Bill Gates was going to share his wealth with Internet users began to circulate and was ultimately forwarded by millions.
In 2001, the founding of ReachMail meant marketers could harness the power of opt-in email marketing. In the new millennium, email began to become more regulated. George W. Bush signed the CAN-SPAM Act into law in 2003, the country’s first national standards for sending commercial emails, and in 2004, the FTC codified email spam laws. (It’s unclear how much spam mail Homer Simpson received when he revealed in 2003 that his email address is “email@example.com”.)
Email embraced its light-hearted side in 2004, when LOL and several other Internet acronyms were officially recognized in the Oxford English Dictionary and multimedia emails were introduced after the MMS World Congress in Vienna. In 2005, email became more secure when SPF was established, a technology that verifies email senders’ identities, and in 2007, Google made Gmail available to the worldwide public. Also in 2007, the Internet Engineering Task Force adopted anti-phishing security protocol DKIM.
In 2008, presidential candidate Barack Obama worked to harness the power of email by compiling a database of over 13 million email addresses. Three years later, the AP Stylebook officially decided that electronic mail should now be abbreviated as “email” rather than “e-mail,” and a study found that the most easily hacked email password was “password,” followed by common sequences like “123456” and “qwerty.”
Now, Americans tend to access their email on the go using their smartphones; in 2012, the number of Americans emailing on mobile devices reached 90 million, with 64% of people reporting that they do so daily. In 2012, ReachMail announced free email marketing for life, making life even easier for marketers. To address the high volume of emails being sent and received, Google rolled out Gmail tabs in 2013 to ensure smarter sorting of email and less email overload.
In 2014, the major storyline of email was hacking. Most notably, Sony Entertainment was hacked, leading to the release of hundreds of sensitive emails. The U.S. government blamed North Korea, who denied responsibility.
In the past 44 years, email has gone from being a little-used form of communication reserved for only the most tech-savvy, to something so commonplace that it’s become part of our daily vocabulary. And just think- in the time that it took you to read this infographic, you probably got an e-mail.