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Called “the snail” by the Italians, and “the monkey” by the Dutch, the @ symbol was first documented in use in 1536.

Our elegant @ has been inducted into the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art.

In 1971, Ray Tomlinson was working at BBN Networks (where he still works) on developing a communication system (between programmers so they could be connected across their computers) for Arpanet, a precursor to the Internet.  He needed a key on his Model 33 teletype keyboard which was not already in use by the programmers.  And the @ sign was brought forward from its obscurity.

Here’s a gem from the Smithsonian Magazine online:

And here is a post from Ray Tomlinson himself on this first use of the @ symbol:

I must say I am delighted to find these stories, and grateful.