Douglas Engelbart who passed away recently is best remembered for his contribution to the invention of the computer mouse.

The computer mouse is now an indispensible part of the machine. Did you ever have to experience a non-functioning mouse? Or have you worked your computer without a mouse? Worse still, what if there had been no computer mouse, ever? You would have to look for the appropriate key on the keyboard whenever you wished to perform any function.

To make things easier, you have the innocuous mouse to help manoeuvre your way efficiently and quickly. The inventor of this iconic device was Douglas Engelbart. He died on July 2, at the age of 88.

He was born on January 30, 1925 in Oregon, U.S. He grew up on a farm near Portland. Engelbart studied electrical engineering and took two years off during World War II.

At this time, Engelbart read an article written by Vannevar Bush, an engineer, inventor and science administrator, titled “As we may think”. The article spoke about making knowledge widely available and a machine that would aid human cognition. After the war, Engelbart took up a position at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) the predecessor of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). But he still had an unfulfilled dream — a machine to aid human cognition.

Engelbart went on to pursue a Ph.D. in the University of California, Berkeley, U.S. He then joined the Stanford Research International (SRI) and established the Augmentation Research Center at the SRI, where a prototype for the internet was developed.

In 1968, he introduced the mouse at an interactive computing session in San Francisco. His version of the mouse consisted of two metal wheels encased in a wooden shell. This presentation is popularly referred as “the mother of all demos”.

A mouse?

Have you ever wondered why this device is called a “mouse”?

Well, it is because the people (including Doug Engelbart) who were working on creating the device thought that the wire attached to the petite device resembled a mouse.

Engelbart said, “We set up our experiments and the mouse won in every category, even though it had never been used before. It was faster, and with it people made fewer mistakes. Five or six of us were involved in these tests, but no one can remember who started calling it a mouse. I’m surprised the name stuck.”

This invention came into being at a time when computers were gigantic machines, unlike the ones we use today.

The mouse, however, became popular only after Engelbart’s patent expired in the mid-1980s. Since then, around one billion of these devices have been sold.

In 2000, Engelbart was awarded the National Medal of Technology for “creating the foundations of personal computing”.