Did Fran Drescher’s husband really invent email?


When Fran Drescher married Shiva Ayyadurai earlier this month, he was described as the “inventor of email.” Is that really the case?

Of course, everything about this is highly complicated and not straightforward. Ayyadurai says he invented email in 1978 when he was only 14 years old while working at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. The biggest problem with this assertion is that seven years earlier, in 1971, an engineer named Ray Tomlinson figured out how to send messages between two computers. He’s also the one responsible for using the “@” in the email address. It wasn’t used much in computing back then, so using it for electronic message addresses was less confusing than using a commonly used symbol.

Ayyadurai responds to this claims on his site inventorofemail.com. He says that what Tomlinson invented was really more a “very rudimentary form of text messaging” for sophisticated computer programers, and not for the every day office worker. He also said that Tomlinson used the @ symbol to separate the two communicating computers, and not the username from the domain name.

In 2012 The Washington Post published a profile about Ayyadurai because The Smithsonian had just “acquired the tapes, documentation, copyrights, and over 50,000 lines of code that chronicle the invention of “EMAIL.” Gizmodo followed up with a scathing piece about Ayyadurai, and The Washington Post issued a clarification, and, later, a correction about their article.

In part, The Washington Post said, “Dr. Ayyadurai was not honored for inventing electronic messaging. The Smithsonian National Museum of American History incorporated the paperwork documenting the creation of his program into their collection. A previous version also incorrectly stated that had Ayyadurai “pursued a patent, it could have significantly stunted the technology’s growth even as it had the potential to make him incredibly wealthy.” At the time, patents were not awarded for the creation of software.”

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