44 years ago, Raymond Tomlinson was working on ARPANET (the U.S. Government's precursor to the publicly available Internet), and invented email. It was a pretty big deal because up until that point, messages could only be sent and read on the same computer. This allowed a user and a destination separated by the & symbol. When he showed colleague Jerry Burchfiel, the response was:
Don't tell anyone! This isn't what we're supposed to be working on.
The first email Ray Tomlinson sent was a test e-mail Tomlinson described as insignificant, something like “QWERTYUIOP”. Fast forward today and there are over 4 billion email accounts with 23% of them dedicated to businesses. It's estimated that there will be approximately 200 billion emails sent this year alone with a continued growth of 3-5% every year according to the Radicati Group.
History of Email Design Changes
Email Monks has put together this great video on what features and layout support have been added to email over the years.
My only wish for email is that clients like Microsoft Outlook would upgrade their support for HTML5, CSS and video so that we could rid ourselves of all the complexities of getting emails to look good, play well, and fit across all screen sizes. Is that too much to ask?