Email turns 32: How an Indian-born inventor created electronic mail as a 14-year-old

email-3On August 30, email turns 32. How did this quick and free method of message-transfer come into being? The credit goes to an Indian American VA Shiva Ayyadurai who developed a full-scale emulation of the interoffice mail system which he called “email”. He received official recognition as the inventor of the computer programme from the US government on August 30, 1982.

VA Shiva Email inventorBorn on 2nd of December, 1963 to a Tamil Family in Bombay, Ayyadurai was only 14 when he invented the email system. Studying at Livingston High School in New Jersey, Ayyadurai began his work on the email system for the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. The interoffice mail system was copyrighted as, at that time, there was no other way to protect software inventions, Huffington Post reported. Nowadays, software inventions can be patented through the USPTO, but Ayyadurai had to settle for the copyright.

So where did he get the idea for emails? Ayyadurai took cues from the way mail was being transported internally in offices for designing the email system. He tried to replicate the ‘Pneumatic Tube System’ which was then commonly used to send interoffice mails across offices. The Pneumatic Tube System used a physical network of tubes that would transport typed mails to secretaries. Each secretary would also have an Inbox, Outbox, Drafts, Carbon Copy Paper, Folders, Address Book, Paper Clips (for attachments), etc., which they used to create and process incoming and outgoing mail.

He also observed the common template that followed in those mails such as fields for “To:,” “From:,” “Subject:,” “Date:,” “Body:,” “Cc:,” “Bcc:”, and incorporated the same in his version of the electronic mail. Ayyadurai conceived an electronic version of the system which was written in FORTRAN programming language.

Based on his work, Ayyadurai won a Westinghouse Science Talent Search Award for high school seniors in 1981. The official US copyright notice for ‘Email’ is now with the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History (SINMAH).

However, the claims Ayyadurai made for the invention led to controversy over his place in the history of computer technology, with some other people claiming to have invented email.

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