There are many unsung heroes of the technology world. These people have greatly impacted our lives, but never got the same limelight and high profile as the usual suspects of today’s tech world such as Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs.
We’ll be taking a closer look at some of these historical individuals, starting today with the man who invented the computer mouse.
Name: Dr Douglas Engelbart
Invention: The Computer Mouse
Many people mistakenly believe that the mouse was invented by Apple. Others believe that Steve Jobs stole the idea from Xerox, where the mouse was used on an early office PC called the Star. But in truth, the mouse was first conceived of by Doug Engelbart in the early 1960ƒš‚’s, then a scientist at the Stanford Research Institute.
At a time when personal computers were unheard of (and long before Steve Jobs was even born), scientists operated refrigerator-size apparatuses via clunky light pens, which had to be pointed at screens to move a cursor. Engelbart figured there must be a simpler way to negotiate the binary world, and after 12 years of painstaking research and development at Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park, Calif., he unveiled an ingenious solution. The device was encased in wood and employed a sort of wheelbarrow-shaped design instead of a trackball to move the cursor.
Born in 1925, Engelbart grew up during the Great Depression near Portland, Oregon. He finished high school in 1942, and then studied electrical engineering at Oregon State University. During World War II, he took a break from his studies to serve in the Navy, which sent him to the Philippines for two years as an electronic/radar technician. In 1948 he received his B.S. degree in electrical engineering and went to work for NACA Ames Laboratory (forerunner of NASA). He then applied to the graduate program in electrical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley and obtained his Ph.D. in 1955. He stayed on at Berkeley as an acting assistant professor but a year later he left to work for Stanford Research Institute, or SRI Intl.
The Mother of All Demos
On December 9, 1968, Douglas C. Engelbart and the group of 17 researchers working with him in the Augmentation Research Center at Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park, CA, presented a 90-minute live public demonstration of the online system, NLS, they had been working on since 1962. The public presentation was a session in the of the Fall Joint Computer Conference held at the Convention Center in San Francisco, and it was attended by about 1,000 computer professionals. This was the public debut of the computer mouse. But the mouse was only one of many innovations demonstrated that day, including hypertext, object addressing and dynamic file linking, as well as shared-screen collaboration involving two persons at different sites communicating over a network with audio and video interface.
He never received any royalties for his mouse invention, partly because his patent expired in 1987, before the personal computer revolution made the mouse an indispensable input device, and also because subsequent mice used different mechanisms that did not infringe upon the original patent. During an interview, he says “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.” Financial reward came in 1997 he was awarded the Lemelson-MIT Prize of $500,000, the world’s largest single prize for invention and innovation. He won many awards over the years, and in 1998, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.Google+