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History of the Mouse

Mice have come a long way.

What once used to be an afterthought in the computing experience is now an experience all its own. Manufacturers like Raven specialize in creating multi-function, highly-personalized gaming mice that can control armies, teams and other crucial elements of a video game.

But the mouse hasn’t always been this complex. In fact, the first mouse ever invented was made from metal and wood.

Want to learn more? Keep reading.

The Humble Beginnings of the Mouse

Early computers, as you probably know, didn’t have the intuitive graphic user interfaces you see now in the latest version of Windows and iOS.

Because of this, the mouse wasn’t really a necessary tool. But that changed in 1964 when a guy named Douglas Engelbart invented a “mouse” built with a wooden shell, two metal wheels and a couple of circuit boards.

Engelbart has his own website these days (and rightly so) that details how he came up with the idea. He was sitting in a meeting in 1961 wondering how he could make computing more interactive. As a researcher at Stanford Research Institute, he had all the resources necessary to create what he wanted.

He realized that if he ran two wheels together across a table (one horizontal, one vertical), a computer could track the movement by plotting dots on x and y axes.

About a year later, Engelbart received a grant at SRI International, a non-profit research institute in Menlo Park, CA, to launch “his dream research initiative,” according to the site.

Part of that research was creating a way for humans to fluidly interact with their computers. The mouse was just one of several devices created to meet this end. Near the end of the project, Engelbart and his team voted on the best device. The mouse won, hands down.

The other devices, though forward-thinking for the time, were much chunkier (click here to check them out). The mouse provided an elegant, accurate solution. An engineer named Bill English built the mouse based on Engelbart’s design.

 The Development of the Mouse

The pace of technological innovation would make you think that another mouse was on its way as soon as Engelbart came out with his creation. However, that wasn’t the case.

Another mouse wasn’t invented in the United States until eight years later, when English created the “ball mouse”, a style of mouse that reigned through the 70’s, 80’s and better part of the 90’s. English worked for Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Centre and is often mistaken as the inventor of the mouse.

In fact, English’s early designs were an integral part of Steve Jobs’ innovation of the personal computer. The New Yorker tells a story of Jobs visit to Xerox’s Palo Alto labs. Jobs was there to see Alto, Xerox’s advanced computer that boasted a mouse, user-interface windows and word processing.

“Jobs, meanwhile, raced back to Apple, and demanded that the team working on the company’s next generation of personal computers change course,” the articles reads. “He wanted menus on the screen. He wanted windows. He wanted a mouse.”

The rest, as they say, is history. Apple created the Macintosh, “perhaps the most famous product in the history of Silicon Valley.”

The Entry into the Modern Area

Optical mice appeared earlier than you think.

A researcher at MIT by the name of Steve Kirsch was developing a LED-lit mouse in the early 80’s. The mouse’s light would track across a “mouse pad” laced with grid lines printed with special ink designed to absorb infrared rays.

At the same time, a Xerox researcher named Richard F. Lyon was developing his own optical mouse. Whereas Kirsch’s mouse understood its location by the mouse pad, Lyon’s mouse calculated its position based on internal mechanics.

Over the next few years, researchers developed computing units that could process images faster and faster, meaning mice could be home to small cameras that could take rapid photos to determine its movements.

Microsoft Steals the Show

Most experts point to Microsoft as the inventor of the first truly popular optical mouse. Their IntelliMouse is pretty similar, in a basic sense, to the mice we see today: two buttons and a scrolling wheel. Hewlett-Packard helped develop the mouse.

Microsoft announced the optical mouse in an April 19, 1999 press release. Their opening line was classic, and a great way to wrap up this post

“Mouse balls and mouse pads are scurrying for the analyst’s couch in search of a new purpose following Microsoft Corp.’s introduction today of the most radical computer mouse technology and design advancement in the 30-year life of the mouse.”


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