This year, email celebrates its 44th anniversary. Since its creation in 1971, email has gone from being a niche method of communication to something that most Americans use on a daily basis. In honor of email’s 44th year, let’s look back at what the first 44 years have included.
Email made its official debut in 1971, when computer engineer Ray Tomlinson sent the first electronic mail message, and it was first used by a head of state in 1976 when Queen Elizabeth II sent her first electronic mail message. Two years later, the first electronically delivered advertisement was sent, over a network of government and university computers.
Electronic mail was shortened to “email” in 1982, and that same year, Scott Fahlman invented the first ever smiley “emotion” to add on to the abbreviated trend. In 1989, radio man Elwood Edwards recorded AOL’s signature sound bites: “Welcome,” “File’s done,” “Goodbye,” and of course, “You’ve got mail!” Speaking of, the movie “You’ve Got Mail” was released by Warner Bros. in 1998, earning over $250 million at the box office.
In 1997, Microsoft bought Hotmail for about $400 million and released Microsoft Outlook. The next year, the Oxford English Dictionary added “spam” to its lexicon- good timing, since in 1999, millions of people forwarded a counterfeit email claiming that Bill Gates planned to share his wealth with Internet users.
To address email spam, in 2003, George W. Bush signed the CAN-SPAM Act into law, which became the country’s first national standards for sending commercial emails. In 2004, the FTC codified email spam laws.
Email got a sense of humor in 2004, when LOL and several other Internet acronyms were officially recognized in the Oxford English Dictionary; in fact, many Internet users were probably LOLing at Homer Simpson, who revealed in a 2003 episode of “The Simpsons” that his email address was email@example.com.
In 2004, multimedia emails were introduced after the MMS World Congress in Vienna. SPF, the first technology to verify email senders’ identities, was introduced in 2005. Two years later, Google released Gmail to the general public worldwide; that same year, DKIM was adopted by the Internet Engineering Task Force as an anti-phishing security protocol.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, candidate Barack Obama leveraged the power of email by compiled a database of over 13 million email addresses. In 2011, the Associated Press Stylebook officially changed “e-mail” to “email,” making it easier for the 90 million Americans accessing email on a mobile device to type out “email” on their phones without searching for the hyphen.
Even though email got smarter, as evidenced by Google’s introduction of Gmail tabs for smarter sorting and less email overload, email users still made a habit of choosing weak passwords that were easy to hack; a 2011 study found that the most easily broken email password was “password,” followed by “123456” and “qwerty.”
And in 2014, hackers took serious advantage of weak passwords when Sony Entertainment was hacked, releasing hundreds of sensitive emails. The U.S. government blamed North Korea, who denied responsibility.
Email has certainly evolved over the past 44 years as can be seen further in this infographic from email marketing provider Reachmail, and it will continue to do so over the next 44. You’ve got mail, America!