Douglas Engelbart, Inventor of Computer Mouse, Dies at 88

Douglas Engelbart, the man who invented the computer mouse, died on Wednesday. Mr. Engelbart was 88 and died of kidney failure, according to The New York Times.

Douglas Engelbart

Douglas Engelbart in 2008
Source: Published Under Wikimedia Creative Commons

The mouse was first envisioned in the early 1960s, and it was shown to the world—or at least a small group of computer scientists—in December of 1968. In a 90-minute presentation, Mr. Engelbart demonstrated hypertext, video conferencing, a window-based display, all with the help of a mouse.

This was heady stuff at the time. Computers were punch-card driven monstrosities that stored data on tapes. Mr. Engelbart's team at what was then called Stanford Research Institute was all a-gaga over crazy things like mice, CRT displays, and some crazy thing called a modem.

Stanford Research Institute was eventually renamed SRI, a company that exists today. Apple fans may best know SRI through a little something-something they whipped called Siri. Apple purchased Siri from SRI and has used the technology as the heart of its voice-control abilities in iOS.

Back to the mouse, the research done by Mr. Engelbart and his team at SRI made its way to Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), where it was commercialized as the Xerox Star. The Star was expensive and not very practical, but it was very cool and caught the eye of a young Steve Jobs.

Mr. Jobs talked Xerox into allowing his Apple engineers to spend some time at the PARC and learn about the Star, the graphical user interface, and the mouse. Those engineers were working on a new product at Apple called Macintosh.

One of the amazing things about that story—and something that Apple haters don't understand and frequently get wrong—is that Apple had permission to take what they learned at the PARC back to Apple. Better yet, Steve Jobs actually talked Xerox into paying Apple for the privilege—in exchange for the visits and the opportunity to pick the minds of the brainiacs at the PARC, Xerox was allowed to buy $1 million in pre-IPO AAPL stock.

None of that would have happened when and where it did without Mr. Engelbart's research at Stanford Research Institute (among other things).

In 1967, Mr. Engelbart filed for a patent on its mouse—actually, an "X-Y position indicator control." That patent—3,541,541—was granted in 1970. Here's an image included with the patent application:

Mouse Patent Image

The abstract for the patent described the invention as, "An X-Y position indicator control for movement by the hand over any surface to move a cursor over the display on a cathode ray tube, the indicator control generating signals indicating its position to cause a cursor to be displayed on the tube at the corresponding position."

Rest in peace, Mr. Engelbart, and thanks for everything you did.

Bloomberg has an excellent obituary full of his accomplishments, inspirations, and other background info.