Why is the pointing device used for computers called a mouse? Who invented it?

The computer pointing device called mouse was invented by an American engineer named Douglas Engelbart (see photo below) in 1963, which was before the personal computer built with a keyboard and a monitor was introduced in 1977. The pointing device got the name “mouse” because Engelbart saw that its cord attached to its back looks like a tail. The earliest designs of the computer mouse had its cable located at the back, while the modern designs had the cable at the front so that the user won’t be able to touch it, and in turn, irritated by it. However, before Engelbart realized that the cord should preferably be connected at the front side of the device, the nickname “mouse” had already stuck with it.

Predecessors of the computer mouse

Even though Engelbart invented the computer mouse, there are several devices that served as predecessors for his creation and have similar functions and features. The earliest similar invention was the trackball, a pointing device for the Comprehensive Display System (CDS) that was used as the fire-control radar after World War II. The trackball was invented by British scientist Ralph Benjamin in 1946 as a way for soldiers to have an easier time controlling the radar. During the time of the trackball’s invention, Benjamin was tasked by the British Royal Navy Scientific Service to create radar controllers for ease of use. A patent for the prototype trackball was applied in 1947, although the British army wanted to keep the invention a secret.

Unrelated to Benjamin’s invention, another trackball was also invented in 1952 by Kenyon Taylor, who worked as an electrical engineer for the Royal Canadian Navy. The trackball was used for the Digital Automated Tracking and Resolving (DATAR) system in 1952, and it has almost the same concept as the one developed by Ralph Benjamin.

Development of the mouse

Despite these early mouse-like creations, it was Engelbart who is regarded as the inventor of the computer mouse, mainly because its functions are similar to the modern mouse that we are familiar with today.

Engelbart, with the help of American computer engineer Bill English, was able to create a prototype for the mouse in 1964. It was also in the same year when they decided to give it the nickname “mouse” because of how its cord looks like a tail. In 1968, Engelbert was finally able to demonstrate the features of the mouse in a presentation that would eventually be known as “The Mother of All Demos” because of how it introduced several key developments and improvements to the computer. Unfortunately, Engelbart didn’t receive royalties for his invention since the company he works for to create the device, Stanford Research Institute (SRI), owns the patent for it. The patent applied by SRI then expired, allowing other companies to create their versions of the mouse.

Xerox is the company that is most notable for being one of the first who utilized the mouse in their modern computers. The first Xerox computer that used a mouse was the Xerox Alto that was launched in 1973. However, the most popular Xerox computers with a built-in mouse were the Xerox 8010 released in 1982, as it sold more units and was considered to be one of the best computers in the market during that time. In the same year, a small company named Logitech introduced its first hardware mouse called the P4, which would eventually become the go-to mouse for office workers in the 1980s. The year 1982 also brought another change in the computer industry, as Microsoft engineered their Microsoft Word program to be mouse-compatible, which also prompted them to build the first mouse-compatible personal computer. Believing that there are no mice that can maximize their software’s potential, Microsoft developed their own mouse in 1983. Microsoft’s mouse then became very popular, and the huge sales number of the said product resulted in the creation of the company’s hardware division.

Today, the mouse still serves as one of the most important peripherals of the computer along with the keyboard. Without the mouse, one wouldn’t be able to navigate through websites, let alone the computer’s user interface. Improvements to the mouse have been implemented over the years, but the function of the device remains the same.