Tracking the Birth of the Mouse

The first computer mouse was like a Model T: cute and clunky, but it got us where we were going. That initial pointing device was built by researchers at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) in the early ’60s under the direction of personal-computing visionary Douglas Engelbart. Designers experimented with joysticks, trackballs, light pens, and even knee-pointing devices and head-mounted nose pointers.

But the mouse won out. Engelbart, now 73 and running a business think tank, doesn’t know who thought up the name, but says the device just looked like a mouse with a tail. Despite his patent, he received only $10,000 for his invention — but he still has the original. ”The Smithsonian made noises about it,” he says, ”but my wife said, ‘No way! That belongs to our family.”’ It remains in a cupboard at his house in Atherton, Calif.