Ray Tomlinson, the man who sent the very first email and plucked the “@” symbol from obscurity and made it the superstar it is today, has passed away at the age of 74 of an apparent heart attack.

Tomlinson was working in Boston at Bolt, Beranek, and Newman when he sent the very first email in 1971. The company had helped develop ARPANET, an early version of the Internet, and Tomlinson was tasked with finding problems that ARPANET could solve.

There was already a system in place for leaving notes for other users of the same computer, but by coming up with the SNDMSG command, Tomlinson successfully sent a mail file to another computer, kicking off the first networked messaging program.

He chose the “@” symbol to designate a user from its host; both because nobody else was really using it for anything and because it was “the only preposition on the keyboard.” While his legacy might be electronic mail, one could argue that his popularizing of the “@” symbol is just as important given its heavy usage in social media today.

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