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He just wouldn’t believe it until he got to SRI and saw it for himself.” Despite very publicly debuting the mouse to the best minds of the computing world in 1968, Engelbart’s part in its invention, and even the monumental presentation itself that greatly influenced so much of the coming decades of computer development, were largely forgotten.And so it was that, like so many other inventors before him, Engelbart did not receive the credit for his invention (initially), and Bill English even still receives little credit to this day.For the full story of the invention of the computer mouse, we’ll begin by backtracking slightly to a British engineer whose invention was subsequently classified as a military secret and hidden from the public.That engineer was Professor Ralph Benjamin who, while working for the Royal Navy Scientific Service, invented a device that functioned in an almost identical fashion to a trackball mouse way back in the mid 1940s. Benjamin, he was tasked by the Royal Navy with helping develop something called the , an early computer system that could calculate the theoretical trajectory of monitored aircraft based on the inputs of a user.Further, at a time when the idea of a personal computer was a little outlandish, he also demoed how such a system could be used for various personal computing needs, like maintaining a grocery list with robust organizational features built into the word processor to manage such lists.(You can watch highlights of this phenomenal time capsule of a presentation here.) Before the presentation, some who’d heard of what Engelbart was working on had dubbed him a “crackpot”.In 1966, Engelbart and English approached NASA asking them to fund a study to determine which input device was the most intuitive and efficient for controlling a cursor.According to Engelbart, the devices proposed to be tested, besides the mouse, were the “light pen… The space agency agreed and a series of tests were carried out.
However, demonstrating a system amazingly far ahead of its time left some skeptical that his team’s “o NLine System” (NLS, developed with funding from DARPA) could actually do what they’d demonstrated.
Engelbart noted of the tests, “We set up our experiments and the mouse won in every category, even though it had never been used before [by the test subjects].
It was faster, and with it people made fewer mistakes.
The cursor on the screen was controlled by a simple joystick mechanism that Benjamin felt could be improved.
After some tinkering, he came up with something he dubbed the “Roller Ball” which functioned almost identically to a standard mechanical mouse, with an outer ball that would in turn manipulate two rubber coated wheels inside, one for the X axis and one for the Y.