Free webmail services such as Hotmail, Yahoo, Gmail are pretty much the norm in particular amongst home users but also businesses who either do not have a corporate email account or need something personal.
Where did it all start and who was first? Ideas more or less come to many people at the same time. Some people have them earlier than others and some a little later. It is difficult to say who is first these days. Many ideas have come and gone, some have been too early for their time and others have not had the right mix of luck and product.