Inventor Douglas Engelbart was working at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) in the 1960s when he came with an idea: He imagined that in the future, people would interact with a computer using a video screen and manipulate the information onscreen by using some sort of device.
“I knew enough engineering and had enough experience as a radar person to know that if a computer can punch cards or print paper, it can draw anything you want on a screen,” Engelbart told CNN in 1997.
Trying to convince fellow scientists he was onto something turned out to be the most difficult part of the project: “Sometimes I reflect on how naive somebody has to be in order to get visions—and plug away at them—that ultimately proceed, and how many other people with visions that are as naive just fall off the cliff.”
It wasn’t long before he had a working prototype and someone on his team gave the gadget the title of “mouse.” Engelbart didn’t remember who named it, but it was assumed it got the name because of its small size and the squiggly wire that came out of one end.
Housed in a hand-built wooden box, the original mouse had a tiny red button and two metal wheels jutted out of the bottom. It looked more steam-punk than tech-inspired.
Engelbart invented and patented the “x-y position indicator” and ultimately got a $10,000 check for the invention. Later in 1997, he also received a $500,000 award for American innovation.
But he didn’t just create the computer mouse. Englebart worked at SRI from 1957 to 1977 and helped develop other technology innovations like online processing, multiple windows and context-sensitive help.
Recently, Engelbart passed away at the age of 88. He leaves behind an incredible legacy, including the Doug Engelbart Institute, a nonprofit devoted to solving complex world problems.
You don’t have to be a programmer to have an impact on the world of computing, Engelbart’s background was primarily engineering, and by learning electrical engineering, he was able to change the world.