Brian Reid, while at CMU or shortly after going to Stanford wrote a mail reading program called MHE for Gosling Emacs. It had much the same structure as MH-E (i.e., invoked MH programs), though it was simpler and the commands were slightly different. Unfortunately, I no longer have a copy so the differences are lost in the mists of time.
In '82–83, I was working at BBN and wrote a lot of mlisp code in Gosling Emacs to make it look more like Tennex Emacs. One of the packages that I picked up and improved was Reid's mail system. In '83, I went back to Berkeley. About that time, Stallman's first version of GNU Emacs came out and people started to move to it from Gosling Emacs (as I recall, the transition took a year or two). I decided to port Reid's MHE and used the mlisp to Emacs Lisp translator that came with GNU Emacs. It did a lousy job and the resulting code didn't work, so I bit the bullet and rewrote the code by hand (it was a lot smaller and simpler then, so it took only a day or two).
Soon after that, MH-E became part of the standard Emacs distribution and suggestions kept dribbling in for improvements. MH-E soon reached sufficient functionality to keep me happy, but I kept on improving it because I was a graduate student with plenty of time on my hands and it was more fun than my dissertation. In retrospect, the one thing that I regret is not writing any documentation, which seriously limited the use and appeal of the package.
In '89, I came to Wisconsin as a professor and decided not to work on MH-E. It was stable, except for minor bugs, and had enough functionality, so I let it be for a few years. Stephen Gildea of BBN began to pester me about the bugs, but I ignored them. In 1990, he went off to the X Consortium, said good bye, and said that he would now be using xmh. A few months later, he came back and said that he couldn't stand xmh and could I put a few more bug fixes into MH-E. At that point, I had no interest in fixing MH-E, so I gave the responsibility of maintenance to him and he has done a fine job since then.
Jim Larus, June 1994