This Is How People Sent Emails Back In The ’80s

I do remember home computers in those days and I do not miss them! If you were using online home computers in the 1980s, this video from the archives of Thames TV is a reminder of how we used to send and receive email messages long before the invention of the World Wide Web. Ah, the sweet sound of a dot matrix printer.

My favorite line from the video is when the television interviewer asked, “Why did you buy a computer?” I cannot imagine anyone asking that question today.

This interview was first shown on Thames TV’s computer programme ‘Database’ in 1984. You can view at or in the video player below:


Very interesting and nostalgic, but I remember the modems even earlier than that design, where one had to place the standard telephone handpiece, still usually called “the receiver” by most folks although actually it was/is a combined receiver and transmitter, into a cradle built into the top or side of the modem) rather than plugging the phone line into the modem.


    I remember the acoustic couplers well. Here is a picture of my first

    That was back in the mid-1970s. I didn't have a home computer at the
    time. I used the acoustic coupler with a "dumb terminal" to connect
    to my customers' timeshare mainframes.


    Remember the old TI terminals with a keyboard, 110-baud acoustic coupler modem and that stupid thermal paper that would turn black if you left a roll of it on your dashboard?


Dunno if I *really* want to jump in on this and reveal my advanced years, but … The only folks at the time who had anything even remotely resembling email as we know it were places like UC Berkeley or MIT or Bell Labs and they were all connected by (D)ARPAnet. Email was transmitted using, shudder, UUNET, and it wasn’t until Bill Joy and the UCB bunch developed sendmail that things really began to take off.

Oh, and my first computer was an IBM 640 with 4k core and rotating drum memory .. remember those?


Long before we had communications modems, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, our large aircraft manufacturing company used a huge IBM 360 mainframe. We didn’t even have terminals; all input/output was done via punched cards. We would fill out 80 column transmittal sheets by hand, and our keypunch operators would convert them to card decks for data input. The card output had a line of print along the top of the card, but I became adept at reading the punched cards even without the print line. Things certainly have changed!


Ihave had the same email address since 1988. I could not use all the letters in my last named because we were only allowed 8 letters for our email address. We used Prodigy back in the 80’s for all genealogy connections of any kind. It was hit and miss by names and catagories. I am still in touch with some of the folks I met on Prodigy back then, nearly 30 years ago. We were constantly thrown off line when the phone connection was disconnected, as shown above. The monitor was as big as the desk. The Keyboards were clunky. We could not take our computers to the libraries so we had to copy everything and bring it home. I am still building on those family files, still completely details as more and more is available on line. I did not want to change my email address because mine has been used for contact so long I was afraid that people could not find me. And yes, I still hear from someone who found my email address posted in places 10,20, and 30 years ago.


One thing that hasn’t changed is the password. You can see him entering “1 2 3 4”


Also a bit of nostalgia with the dial phone. Guess this was after “party lines!”


We used to use a phone in an acoustic coupler cradle on a teletype terminal back in the mid/late 70’s; Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium had all of the high schools set up to timeshare through the UofM’s mainframe.


I still have a commodore Vic 20 in the basement. I also have a 1990 computer, I forget the brand IBM I think. It still works. It has not been “on line” in 15 years. It is only set up for phoneline service. by the way I have to dot matrix printer also. wonder whee I can get a new ribbon for it?


Wow, there are a lot of old people on here. Seriously, though, I was using a dot matrix printer for work until just a few years ago. Four or five I think. A coworker had an acoustic coupler which he still used occasionally. I was one of the few who knew what it was. We had one for our Ti99-4A way back when. We also had a connected tape drive for saving and loading programs. Ah! The memories: listening to the buzz and beeps and squeals of two computers talking, wondering if our program (not app) would successfully load from the tape, making “Frogger” type games with bit-mapped graphics. Now I have a computer that is significantly more powerful in my pocket.


I had a computer, if you could call it that, in 1970. The company I worked for, TRW, purchased it at a show. It was placed on my desk. Input was a magnetic card, slightly longer and narrower than an IBM card. Output was a printer with adding machine paper. I wrote a program to compute the monthly balance on our house loan through to 1979 when it would be paid off and compute the total interest paid for the yearly tax deduction. I used the printout to compare with the statement from the Savings and Loan Association. I once had found a mistake on their statement and had it corrected.

I also wrote programs to compute income from savings bonds and to convert octal to decimal and decimal to octal. Other than that, I did not have much use for the machine.

I can’t remember the name of the company that made the machine, but it might have been Olivetti-Underwood.



May I mention the precursor to all of this internet silliness? When I was in college (1972-1976) I was an author on the PLATO network. Although PLATO was based at the University of Illinois and I was at Southern Illinois University, I could interact with people at PLATO all over the world. How could I interact, you ask? Well, we could send e-mail, post messages on bulletin boards, play multi-user real-time games with each other, and use it for educational purposes (which I did for an independent research project.)
PLATO had nice graphics displays, touch-screens, music synthesizer and a few other bells and whistles.

This was the internet before the internet existed.


What a fun memory trip! I first emailed in 1988, when I went to work for WordPerfect in Orem, Utah. My first PC had DOS 3.0, and WordPerfect 4.2 with a 10 mb hard drive. Before that, my family had had several computers, including the first Mac.
My brother got me the Personal Ancestral File (PAF) program and I put my pedigree on that about the same time. However, my mother did not want me to use the computer for genealogy because she could not work with me, not understanding the device. After she died I took a PAF class and became associated with the Utah Valley PAF Users Group. I edited their newsletter for many years. I’ve been editing for various family history organizations ever since.
Why did I buy a computer? I was a lousy typist, and loved being able to correct my mistakes without WhiteOut.


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