Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

The History of @

A bunch of arrobas or even some petite snails!

An At By Any Other Name Still Gets Email Delivered

Checking the library and the Internet will provide you with several histories of the @ symbol. Each of the sources state their version with complete confidence and authority.  (That’s how false history and urban legends get started. )

I am putting my trust in this well documented account: In 2000, Giorgio Stabile, a professor at La Sapienza University in Rome, found correspondence written in 1536 by a Florence merchant, Francesco Lapi, describing three treasure-filled ships that had recently arrived from Latin America.  Lapi wrote with mercantile script which had been developed prior to that time and which often involved wrapping a letter with a flourish to indicate a longer word.  He used a wrapped a to denote an amphora, which was a measurement based on the size of terracotta containers and which was also used as an equivalency measurement.  The wrapped a might have been used before then, but no earlier examples have been found.

Arroba symbol

Over time the wrapped a was used in commercial transactions to mean at the rate of, at each or for each. (12 @ $2.00). The first Underwood typewriter in 1885 contained the commercial symbol @, which most referred to simply as at, at each or commercial at. The symbol is also sometimes used in casual handwriting as a way to shorten the two-letter word at to one letter.

In 1971, Ray Tomlinson, a computer engineer was working with a team to develop a network between computers. Although developing a mail system was not the specific purpose of the project, it was part of the work. He needed to find a way to separate an electronic mail recipient from the host computer name. (The two large computers were actually side by side in his research area).  The word at made sense and the at symbol on the keyboard seemed obvious. It’s been used that way billions of times since then.

KA-10 computers used for the first network email

So, that is how the @ symbol evolved. Quite an evolution!  For the story of what the symbol is now called in other languages, check out an article about the various names for Señor Lapi’s quick version of amphora, which started it all.

October 8th, 2009 Posted by | Personal and Professional Development, Training, Technology, Blogs, A/V etc. | 7 comments