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The Creator of the Computer Mouse Never Received Any Royalties

Though Engelbart revolutionized computing in 1967 with the invention of the mouse, he never received any royalties from his creation

The first mouse, created from Engelbart’s sketches. Photo: SRI International

Douglas Engelbart, inventor of the computer mouse, passed away earlier this week in his California home, The Register reports. He was 88. Though Engelbart revolutionized computing in 1967 with the invention of the mouse, he never received any royalties from his creation. Only recently, in the 1990s, was he given recognition for his integral role in shaping modern computing.

In 1967 Engelbart filed Patent No. 3,541,541 for “X-Y position indicator for a display system,” a wooden shell with two wheels and a long tail – hence the nickname given to the device by the team. A year later Engelbart demonstrated the mouse at what became known as “The Mother of All Demos.”

During the 90-minute presentation Engelbart used the mouse, a keyboard, and video projection screen to demonstrate how to build a networked series of terminals that let scientists share code, create and edit documents that contained links to prior research, while using a CRT monitor that could display separate applications running in their own window.

In those early days of computing, Engelbart’s presentation was largely dismissed as far-fetched. His vision of multiple windows and text editors seemed like fantasy. The New York Times writes:

The technology would eventually be refined at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center and at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Apple and Microsoft would transform it for commercial use in the 1980s and change the course of modern life.

It took until the late 1980s for the mouse to become the standard way to control a desktop computer.

But, the Times writes, Engelbart was always convinced of the potential impact of computers and thought that shared computing power would boost people’s “collective I.Q.” Late in his life, his vision was finally acknowledged and he collected several significant awards, including the Turing Prize and the US National Medal of Technology.

More from Smithsonian.com:

The Demo That Changed the World 
Have You Hugged Your Computer Today? 

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