First let me say thanks for the question. The answer to this proved
to be a lot more interesting then I originally thought it was going to
To answer this question I have broken it into two parts. First, what
is the history of the @ symbol itself, since it has existed long
before email ever came into play. The second is who picked the @
symbol to be used in email addresses. Since you refer @ as an
internet symbol I assume this is what you were originally looking for.
The answer to the second question is a lot easier then the first. The
@ symbol was plucked out of relative obscurity by Ray Tomlinson in
The actual origin of the symbol appears to be unknown. Its usage has
changed throughout the years, meaning everything from units of weight
or volume to its use in pricing ("at the price of"). It first began
to appear on keyboards from about 1880 onwards.
"Its use in business actually goes back to late medieval times. An
Italian academic, Giorgio Stabile, a professor of the history of
science at La Sapienza University, claimed recently to have found
evidence of its use in the records of Florentine merchants nearly 500
"Previously, the symbol had been thought to be a contraction for the
Latin word ad, meaning ?to, toward, at?; it was thought that in
cursive writing the upright stroke of the d had curved over to the
left and extended around the a so that eventually the lower part fused
with the a to form one symbol.
Whatever its source, in northern Europe the symbol seems to have soon
adopted its modern sense of ?at the price of?. It was used in accounts
or invoices to give the unit price of something (?3 yds of lace for my
lady @ 1/4d a yard?)."
"A more recent idea concerning the history of the @ symbol has been
proposed by Giorgio Stabile, a professor of history in Rome. He claims
to have traced the symbol back to the Italian Renaissance in a
Venetian mercantile document signed by Francesco Lapi on May 4, 1536.
The document talks about commerces with Pizarro and in particular the
price of an @ of wine in Peru. The symbol is still called arroba in
Spanish and Portuguese, and it represents a unit of weight with the
same name (1 arroba = 25 U. S. pounds), an old (Antonio Nebrjia,
Salamanca, 1492) Spanish/Latin dictionary translates arroba with
amphora. Under this view, the symbol was used to represent one
amphora, which was a unit of weight or volume based upon the capacity
of the standard terracotta jar. The symbol came into use with the
modern meaning "at the price of" in northern Europe."
"The history of the @ is little confused and there are many theories
about its origin. The Latin word "ad" which means appropriately
enough: "at" or "to" is often given as the obvious origin of @ as an
'ad' ligature.Historical documentation does not seem to support this
theory.The @ sign has most often been used over the last several
hundred years to indicate a "commercial at" or "at the rate of". The
symbol has been traced back as far as 1536 for usage in an Italian
trade document. There have been rumors of an earlier use for the
character, but again there is no real evidence as such. The symbol
continued for use in commercial trade but took on a new life in the
1970s for computer programming and with the first e-mail for the first
versions of internet. "
Articles you may find interesting:
A Natural History of the @ Sign
Linguist view of the @ symbol
If you have any question or need something cleared up, please request
a clarification before rating my answer and I will be happy to help.