On Thursday, his name, his 1978 invention documentation and the associated copyright were entered in the Smithsonian permanent collection. The documentation will be archived in the National Museum of American History and put into an online exhibit. The documents will be scanned as soon as this week to be featured on a site under the Smithsonian.org domain. The date for the site launch has not yet been determined.
Ayyadurai's path to the Smithsonian started with a series of articles he wrote about the U.S. Postal Service's decline and his concern that the USPS was failing to innovate. His take: The Postal Service, carrying on the spirit of innovation which led to its creation, should have embraced e-mail years ago.
After a profile in Time magazine and a call from the Postal Service Inspector General asking for his ideas, Ayyadurai's alma mater, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, called to insist that it would be improper for the university to take the documentation of his work, and that it belonged in the Smithsonian. Conversations began, eventually leading to the Smithsonian's latest addition and the celebration Thursday.
"My mom just passed away. So, it was unfortunate she wasn't there," said Ayyadurai during an interview at the Washington Post Thursday afternoon. "She represented for me a woman who came from very, very meager backgrounds — struggled to come here and then become a mathematician herself at a time when women weren't supposed to get an education and work at a university as a systems analyst.”
“I think,without my mom,” he continued, “I would not have, as a young person, been introduced to that environment and had the opportunity to work there."
Ayyadurai recounted how a family friend who had heard of MIT recommended that he apply. Reluctant, Ayyadurai filled out his application in pencil, with the family friend standing over his shoulder to make sure he finished.
"I didn't even know about MIT until two weeks before I applied," said Ayyadurai.
When he arrived he entered an environment still shadowed by racism. It was the beginning of the Reagan Administration, and the campus, like the rest of the nation, was still struggling to integrate. And there was another problem: "The people there didn't seem very happy," said Ayyadurai.
"I came in having developed this e-mail system, and when I went to my classes I was very bored. ... I, essentially, got involved in a lot of radical politics," he continued.