Skip to main content

    Douglas Engelbart, visionary who invented the computer mouse, dies at 88

    Douglas Engelbart, visionary who invented the computer mouse, dies at 88

    Share this story

    Douglas Engelbart, best known as the inventor of the computer mouse, has died at age 88. During his lifetime, Engelbart made numerous groundbreaking contributions to the computing industry, paving the way for videoconferencing, hyperlinks, text editing, and other technologies we use daily. The Computer History Museum was first to report the news via Twitter, and Stanford Research Institute has since confirmed Engelbart's passing to The Verge.

    Perhaps the pioneer's most well-known moment came on December 19th, 1968, when he demonstrated the "mouse" — an unheard of concept at the time — before an audience at Brooks Hall in San Francisco. As we wrote back in March, he went on to demonstrate other technologies taken for granted today:

    He showed off WYSIWYG editing with embedded hyperlinks; he combined text with graphics. He speculated about the future of ARPANet, then barely on the horizon of technical possibility, which he believed would soon allow him to demonstrate NLS anywhere in the country. After all, he was already videoconferencing with his colleague behind the scenes in Menlo Park, some 30 miles away.

    That presentation, commonly referred to as "the mother of all demos," would serve as inspiration for countless up and coming technologists in the earliest days of computing. "We weren’t interested in ‘automation’ but in ‘augmentation,’" Engelbart would say later. "We were not just building a tool, we were designing an entire system for working with knowledge."

    As it turned out, Engelbart wasn't a fan of his creation being dubbed a "mouse." In a recent profile by The New York Times, his daughter Christina revealed it was actually fellow researchers that came up with the name. "It was just what they called it affectionately," she said. Engelbart referred to it as the "X-Y position indicator for a display system" but unsurprisingly, the simpler monicker proved more popular.

    President Bill Clinton honored Douglas Engelbart with the National Medal of Technology and Innovation in 2000 — an esteemed recognition of all that Engelbart accomplished in his lifetime. Specifically, the medal recognizes Engelbart "for creating the foundations of personal computing including continuous, real-time interaction based on cathode-ray tube displays and the mouse, hypertext linking, text editing, on-line journals, shared-screen teleconferencing, and remote collaborative work."

    Christina Engelbart confirmed her father's death in a message to professor David Farber's "classic computers" email list. "His health had been deteriorating of late, and took turn for worse on the weekend," she wrote.