The secret history of the “@” symbol

April 20, 2018

Luis Domingo/Mic

“@”, commonly known as the “at” sign, has become ubiquitous in our internet-addled age. But it has actually been used for hundreds of years.

Luis Domingo/Mic

1536

The symbol reportedly debuted during the Renaissance: Francesco Lapi, a wine merchant in Florence, Italy, used “@” to denote units of volume called “amphorae.”

Luis Domingo/Mic

1500s

The “@” sign then evolved to signify “at the rate of” for trading purposes. Bookkeepers used it to label quantities like, “10 bags of rice @ $5.”

Luis Domingo/Mic

1800s

Typewriters did not originally contain the symbol, according to reports. But it was added on as typewriters became popular with accountants and bookkeepers.

Luis Domingo/Mic

1971

Use of the sign gained momentum after engineer Ray Tomlinson created email. He needed a symbol to link a message from one user’s computer to another.

Luis Domingo/Mic

“@” was chosen because it was rarely used and had no significant meaning, according to Shady Characters. It was also the only preposition on the keyboard.

Luis Domingo/Mic

2006

The creation of Twitter in 2006 expanded its use as part of a social media handle and a reply mechanism. But the platform did not originally have this feature.

Luis Domingo/Mic

2006

On Thanksgiving Day, two Yahoo programmers began using “@” to direct comments to followers, Fast Company’s Co.Design reported. Twitter adopted it shortly after.

Luis Domingo/Mic

Today, “@” is used to denote our own “digital identities” on many social media platforms. It’s gone from being used among merchants to being used worldwide.