Inventor of computer 'mouse' finally cashes a big check
April 9, 1997
Web posted at: 11:08 p.m. EDT (0308 GMT)
In this story:
From Correspondent Brian Jenkins
NEW YORK (CNN) -- He can't recall which member of his team
first nicknamed the hand-held device with a cord a "mouse,"
but it was Doug Engelbart who invented and patented what he
called the "x-y position indicator."
Hundreds of millions of computer "mice" have been made since
then, but Engelbart got only one check for his invention --
Now, as the recent winner of the third annual Lemelson-Mit
Prize for American Innovation, he's picking up $500,000.
"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," Engelbart says.
A radar technician during World War II, Engelbart worked at
the Stanford Research Institute during the 1960s. It was
there that a vision of people sitting in front of a video
screen, interacting with a computer, came to him.
"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," he
At a 1968 computer conference in San Francisco, Engelbart
spelled out his vision.
"If, in your office, you, as an intellectual worker, were
supplied with a computer display backed up by a computer that
was alive for you all day and was instantly ... responsive to
every action you have, how much value could you derive from
The answer, apparently, was, "Not much." None of the makers
of mainframe computers listening to his presentation
responded or showed any interest in his ideas.
"I'd be treated like a leper," he recalls.
But Engelbart persisted. He came up with concepts that led to
windows on the computer screen as well as online publishing,
video-conferencing, e-mail and software that allows several
people in different locations to work on one document at the
And when the first personal computers came out in the early
1980s, Engelbart's response was "a funny feeling of 'Why did
it take so long?'"
It took another decade for the PC industry to embrace the
Internet. Engelbart recalls the reason one computer company
executive gave for ignoring the power of networking.
"He said, 'Nope, I don't want to get tied with other people,
because they'll usurp resources and it'll get complicated.'"
"I said, 'I know, but that's like having this very fancy
office, but no doors.'"
Now, Engelbart and his daughters run the Bootstrap Institute,
helping companies and organizations build doorways to others
in their fields.
His $500,000 prize, he says, will help him keep bringing
people together via computer into the new millennium.
Related site:Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.
Watch these shows on CNN for more sci-tech stories:
CNN Computer Connection | Future Watch | Science & Technology Week
© 1997 Cable News Network, Inc.
All Rights Reserved.