Email > Email History >
arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Who invented email? In an
extreme example of a kid pretending that nothing ever happened before them,
a Shiva Ayyadurai claimed to be the inventor of email for several years, convincing
a fair number of people, until the story collapsed when
it became widely known in 2012.
As a high school kid in 1978, many years after email was in wide use, Ayyadurai
wrote about 50K lines of FORTRAN to emulate an inter-office
mail system, naming his program EMAIL. In 1982,
he sent his program to the US Copyright Office,
and entered the letters "EMAIL" in the Title box on the form. He then
claimed this meant time magically reversed, and he had retroactively invented
the real email years before.
In the interests of truth and crediting those that actually did the work,
the key facts of this case are summarized below for researchers,
media, and any other interested parties:
- History. The true story of how email was invented is
described on the Email History page, including review from
several of the participants. It started in the 1960's, with the '@' sign
then improved over many years by many people, and had no
Ayyadurai at any time, a toddler when it all began.
- Documentation. The Internet reference A
Mail Box Protocol was also published in 1971, describing some of
the technical details of email, seven years before Ayyadurai's
widely referenced document RFC
733 was published in 1977, just before Ayyadurai
started his work, showing the rich technology that already
existed, including all the email headers he later claimed
to have invented.
- Smithsonian. The story fell apart after the Smithsonian
somehow ended up acquiring some of Ayyadurai's printouts on 2012-02-16,
and one week later
had to issue a clarification,
... collected a selection of materials from Shiva Ayyadurai of MIT.
In accepting these objects,
the museum did not claim that Ayyadurai was "the inventor of email" ...
Exchanging messages through computer systems, what most people call "email,"'
predates the work of Ayyadurai.
- Washington Post. Also had to issue a correction,
version of this article incorrectly referred to V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai
as the inventor of electronic messaging. This version has been corrected.
previous, online version of this story also incorrectly cited Ayyadurai's
invention as containing, "The lines of code that produced the first
'bcc,' 'cc, 'to' and 'from' fields." These features
in earlier documentation separate from Ayyadurai's work.
- MIT. The same week, on 2012-02-21, corrected both
his title and claims, stating:
A brief published on Jan. 11 incorrectly titled Shiva Ayyaduri
and credits him with the first copyright to email. He is a faculty lecturer.
while he holds a copyright from 1982 titled “EMAIL,” Ayyaduri
is not the inventor of email, which began in the 1960s.
And his Wikipedia page notes
Many people helped build email, and the Internet itself, who will never receive
All the more reason that credit not be given, or taken, incorrectly when
it is known.
After the above controversy unfolded,
MIT disassociated itself from Ayyadurai's EMAIL
MIT also revoked
at the bioengineering department.