At the risk of setting some folks off, I'd like to institute a claim
that I was involved one of the very first e-mail projects in history.
Recently, I saw a couple of alpha geeks arguing over which one of them
wrote the first e-mail program, based on full functionality versus first
actual use, and some other technical considerations. I was interested,
and kept watching. I was totally shocked when they started talking
about the dates involved (no, not dates with women -- get real.) because
they were in 1975 and 1976. I was wondering what it was that caused
them to ignore things about which I know...
I know that Fernando Corbato's group at M.I.T. developed something
like e-mail, which was functionally identical to the system we
developed, in 1965. It required all users to use the same computer
system. I also know that, in 1971 or 1972, about the time we did our
project, Ray Tomlinson developed the first e-mail system that sent mail
between computers, incidentally using the "@" character to signify the
beginning of the host name. But, when we were working on our program,
we knew nothing of either of these projects.
When I was in my senior year of high school, around Novmber of 1971,
I "took over" the computer that served our school district. I hacked
through, and figured out the scheme used to create passwords for the
various schools. Therefore, I could log into the area of all of the
schools, with one or two exceptions, whose codes I either figured out or
"James Bonded" over the next couple of weeks, while I simultaneously
learned all the system administration functions and commands. (ASR-33
paper tape, set to punch, short strip of tape, positioned to curl up
inside the mechanism - viola! Key logging...) Much to my surprise,
however, when I broke in I found convincing evidence that there were not
one, but two other people who did the same thing at, apparently, EXACTLY
the same time. Before long, we were all talking on the phone, and got
One of the others was named Chet Heiber, also a senior, and after I
graduated, I never saw him again. The other guy was Max Rubow, a
junior, who remains a close personal friend to this day. On the
computer, we would leave text files for each other with suggestive
names, in various directories. Soon, we found one directory which was
given to a school which didn't have anyone interested in the computer,
leaving an empty directory, which we appropriated.
I was grousing about our system of messaging one day, and Max
challenged me to come up with a better way. Okay, I said, and started
describing a database of records with sender, recipient, "has been
read", and time/date stamp fields. I got into it, and actually, on the
spot, fleshed out a pretty good working arrangement for e-mail. Max was
impressed. Much to my surprise, about two weeks later, he approached me
with a program (which almost worked) to implement what I had been
blue-skying with him. We worked together on the system, and actually
had it working, and used, before I graduated in June of 1972. Over the
next year, without me, Max polished it up, and had a very good, stable,
and functional system which stored every sort of information available
to a running HP-2000B BASIC program in the file. It was, actually,
full-featured e-mail, albeit limited to one machine.
While I had the original inspiration, Max wrote the vast majority of
the code. I helped out for a couple of months before I graduated, but
my estimate is that less than 10% of the code was mine by the time it
worked, and even less, after all the enhancements the next year brought.
Now, if these jokers can argue over whether their 1975 or 1976 programs
were first... why can't I argue that our 1972 program was first? I
STILL want to know how they passed over Tomlinson and Corbato...
Anyway, I have, somewhere, a spool of paper tape from a Teletype
33-ASR punch which contains a version (I'm not sure WHICH version) of
the READER program. I would imagine that this is relatively easy to get
moved into the modern world. Yes? I'd kind of like to get all my old
stuff, hollerith cards, paper tape, HP store tape, etc. on a disk...
Warren E. Wolfe
wizard at voyager.net