Demarest : The Birth of the Computer Mouse


The computer mouse celebrated its 40th birthday on Dec. 9, 2008. Its inventor was Doug Engelbart, a researcher at the Stanford Research Institute.

While at a computer graphics conference in 1961, Engelbart was thinking about a way to create a pointing device for use with interactive displays and cursor control. One idea he came up with was to use a box with wheels, with one wheel turning horizontally, the other turning vertically and have them each transmit their X-Y rotation coordinates.
He nicknamed the device a mouse because of wire coming off the front of it, to him, resembled the tail of a mouse.

The original prototype was made of wood, had two wheels and one button. The team soon discovered, then resolved, a design flaw that had the wire coming out of the front of the mouse: It was getting tangled up with the user’s arm.

In 1965, Engelbart’s team was awarded a contract from NASA to test the efficiency of various types of pointing devices and tested them against his mouse. For example, one device had an under-the-desk device controlled by the user’s knee. Another was a hand-operated gyro-style device. Engelbart’s mouse won hands down.

Engelbart applied for a patent in 1967 and received U.S. Patent # 3,541,541 in 1970 for the “X-Y Position Indicator for a Display System,” developed by him and his lead engineer, Bill English.

The next design had the wire coming out of the back of the device and had three buttons.

On Dec. 9, 1968, Doug Engelbart appeared on stage at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco to give a presentation on his new device in front of an awe-struck and packed audience.

Unbelievably, Engelbart never received any royalties for his invention. He stated in an interview that, “SRI patented the mouse, but they really had no idea of its value. Some years later, I learned that they had licensed it to Apple for something like $40,000.”

Imagine that.


Photo credits: SRI International and Stanford Special Collections

For more information:
Stanford’s Mouse Site

The Doug Engelbart Institute


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