CRF Blog

The Accidental History of the @ Symbol

by Shruti Modi

In The Accidental History of the @ Symbol for Smithsonian, William F. Allman explains how the once little-used @ symbol has become widely used and very important in the electronic world.

The symbol’s modern obscurity ended in 1971, when a computer scientist named Ray Tomlinson was facing a vexing problem: how to connect people who programmed computers with one another. At that time, each programmer was typically connected to a particular mainframe machine via a phone connection and a teletype machine — basically a keyboard with a built-in printer. But these computers weren’t connected to one another, a shortcoming the U.S. government sought to overcome when it hired BBN Technologies, the Cambridge, Massachusetts, company Tomlinson worked for, to help develop a network called Arpanet, forerunner of the Internet. [more]