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Douglas C. Engelbart (1925–2013), Bill English (dates unavailable)
Douglas Engelbart, a pioneer in the field of human–computer interaction, is generally credited with inventing the mouse in the early 1960s, producing the first prototype in 1964 and introducing it to the public in 1968 during what has come to be known as the “Mother of All Demos.” He patented it with Bill English, a coworker at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI). Engelbart’s idea contributed to the already-evolving pursuit of corresponding a user’s hand motion to a specific location in two-dimensional space as visualized on a computer screen. In the 1967 patent, Engelbart described the mouse as an “X-Y position indicator for a display system.”
The early origins of the mouse can be seen in Ralph Benjamin’s roller ball, recognized as the origin of the modern trackball. Unlike the trackball, which was stationary and required users to move their hands and fingers over it, the mouse necessitated the entire device to be repositioned. Engelbart’s mouse consisted of a wooden box with three buttons on top and two wheels underneath positioned at right angles to control horizontal and vertical movement. As the wheels rolled, the distance and location were captured as binary code in the computer, which was translated into visual output on the screen. Engelbart invented the mouse to control the navigation on a groundbreaking computer collaboration system he designed called the oN-Line System (NLS).
Xerox Corporation’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) further evolved the mouse after Bill English left SRI and went to work for PARC in 1971. Xerox was the first to commercialize the mouse, selling it as part of the Star 8010 Dandelion computer system. It was Steve Jobs, however, who finally brought the mouse mass commercial success by simplifying its design and packaging it with the famous Apple Macintosh® computer.
Engelbart’s mouse was part of a larger vision he had to make computers more interactive and accessible to everyone.
SEE ALSO “As We May Think” (1945), Trackball (1946), Mother of All Demos (1968), Xerox Alto (1973), Macintosh (1984)
Replica of Engelbart’s mouse prototype, built by engineer Bill English, 1964.