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The Complete Story of the Computer Mouse

written by: Cindy Marcelle•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 1/28/2012

Programmer Douglas Engelbart, engineer Bill English, and Apple’s Steve Jobs could appropriately be named the “three computer mice." Engelbart’s concept, English’s design, and Jobs' marketing expertise came together to make the mouse the standard accessory it is today.

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    Who knew the computer mouse was patented in 1970? Although the mouse is a device that most consumers use passively, the computer mouse has been around for over thirty years now.

    The mouse, which got its name because the cord that once connected the cursor moving device to the computer made the gadget look like a mouse with its tail extended, was originally invented by Douglas Engelbart, the same man who helped develop the Internet, and was first demonstrated at the 1968 Fall Joint Computer Conference with Bill English, his fellow developer. The two came together at the Fall Joint Computer Conference to demonstrate to the world the predecessor to today’s computer mouse, and they did so on a 192 kilobyte mainframe computer that was located an impressive 25 miles away. English, chief engineer, and Engelbart, head of the program, were working at the Engelbart’s Augmented Human Intellect Research Center at the Stanford Research Institute when they patented the “X-Y Position Indicator For a Display System (#3,541,541, 11/17/70)."

    The device used two metal wheels to mark the X-Y coordinates of the user's hand and sported a lovely wooden box décor. The X-Y Position Indicator was originally designed to work with windows type software but wndows were deemed un-patentable. While the mouse received its patent, it didn’t catch on and computer users still used their arrow keys to manipulate the on screen cursor. A few joysticks and graphics tablets hit the market, but they were very big and very expensive and needed an expansion board or card to accommodate the accessory. It would be 15 years before the invention would take off.

    Engelbart was no stranger to inventions, and by 1970 he held quite a few patents. His achievements included development on hypermedia, groupware, email, computer video teleconferencing, prototype windows, and the Internet. Born in Portland, Oregon in 1925, Engelbart grew up on a farm and graduated from Oregon State University with a degree in electrical engineering. After a tour in the Navy during WWII, he obtained his PhD from the University of California at Berkley. Today Engelbart runs the Boot Strap Institute in California.

    Bill English came to the Augmented Human Intellect Research Center at the Stanford Research Institute in 1963 and after working on the X-Y Position Indicator he later moved to Xerox, where he developed the Xerox PARC, a device that built upon his previous work with Engelbart.

    In the late W's Xerox enhanced Engelbart’s invention with the Xerox PARC, and the mouse exchanged its two wheel system for the now classic rolling ball. The PARC did slightly better on the market, but the product’s high price tag of $400 left a sour taste in users' mouths. Oh, and don’t forget the $300 interface you needed in order to use the mouse.

    Today’s mouse was introduced by Steve Jobs, CEO and co-founder of Apple Computers and Pixar Studios. Before he helped found Apple he dropped out of Reeds College in Portland Oregon after one semester to backpack through India in search of spiritual enlightenment. Although “Jobs has been criticized as America’s roughest, toughest, most intimidating bosses [,](Angelelli, 1994)" the marketing master behind the mouse takes a $1 per year salary and still lives in Silicon Valley with his wife and three children.

    Jobs, once a young employee at Xerox, saw potential in the PARC and brought the concept to his new computer company where he developed the mouse into what we now know it to be. Jobs knew the price tag was to high for his target audience, the personal computer user, and set out to construct a similar design out of affordable materials. His lightweight plastic design, which was first packaged with the Apple II Macintosh series, launched the mouse into household status. Steve Jobs did for the mouse what Bill Gates did for PowerPoint presentation, and when Apple bundled mice with their products, the “mercurial, egomaniacal…micromanager" revolutionized how users communicated with their computers.

    Apple got the market rolling in 1984 when they started including both the mouse and the needed interface with all new computers. With the advent of the Apple II, Jobs introduced the Macintosh system which used a window interface containing icons representing the function or program to be accomplished, and the mouse allowed users “to move a cursor onto the icon and press a mouse button to execute the function or program. (Angelelli, 1994)"

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    After Apple

    Jumping on the bandwagon, IBM started packaging select computers with mice, and users who wanted to purchase their own cursor moving device still faced a $50 - $100 price tag, but it was considerably less expensive than the previous PARC.

    In the early 1990s the mouse became common place and the price started to drop, and by the mid 1990s computers were including a second USB port solely for the mouse. Mice started coming in a plethora of designs as marketing swung the product from a needed accessory to a must have desk ornament.

    Back in the late 1980s mice became a necessity when computer programs phased out users ability to move their cursor with their arrow keys. Mouse broke? Dog ate the cord? Buy another one. But in the mid 1990s computer programmers added the arrow key manipulation back and today we were free to manipulate our cursor as we choose.

    While the mouse may have gotten its name from the cord attaching it to the computer, modern mice have shed their tails and opted for a sleeker, cordless style. Wireless, LED, and ergonomically designed mice are just some of the thousands of designs available to consumers. Like ladybugs? There’s a mouse for you. Wanna see how your mouse looks inside? Clear mice put you right into the action. At over thirty years old, the mouse is arguably the most purchased and most recognizable computer accessory on the market.

    Steve Jobs, Bill English, and Douglas Engelbart each contributed to the computer technologies in his own right, and each deserve acclaim, however, together the three created and marketed one of the greatest computer inventions of all time and revolutionized worldwide use of personal computers.


    - – “The Earliest Computer Mouse"

    - - "The Computer History Museum"

    - - “Computer Mouse History Timeline" By: Z. Perry

    - - “The Great Idea Finder" – The Computer Mouse

    - – Inventors of the Modern Computer: The History of the Computer Mouse and the Prototype for Windows – Douglas Engelbart By Mary Bellis

    - “Apple Bios" - Steve Jobs Bio

    - - “The Great Idea Finder"

    -,28804,1733748_1733758_1736089,00.html – The 2008 Time 100: Steve Jobs By Barbra Kiviat

    Steve Jobs Biography By Lee Angelelli. Department of Computer Science, Virginia Tech., 1994

    - - “Internet Pioneers: Doug Engelbart"

    Works Cited:

    Lee Angelelli. Steve Paul Jobs. Department of Computer Science, Virginia Tech, Fall 1994.

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