CHM Stories

CHM Acquires Original SRI Mouse

A Mouse in the Exhibit

In the early 1960s, Douglas Engelbart established a lab at Stanford Research Institute (now SRI International), aiming to enhance human intellect through technology. His laboratory prototyped key aspects of modern computing, such as the groundbreaking oNLine System, which pioneered word processing, hyperlinks, online collaboration, and more.

Engelbart’s vision for a partly graphical interface required a pointing device. Computer engineer Bill English designed the first computer mouse in 1964, crafted from redwood by the SRI machine shop. Patented in 1970, the device revolutionized computer interaction, freeing users from costly light pens. Its legacy remains a foundational element of modern computing.

The SRI mouse replica. Can you tell the difference?

Until now, the mouse on display in CHM’s Revolution exhibit was a faithful replica created by the original maker, Bill English. It will be replaced by the original mouse.

SRI is happy to donate the original prototype mouse to CHM, both for public enjoyment and so that it can be preserved for generations to come.

— Mike Freedman, VP of Communications at SRI

The Mother and the Mouse

In 1968, Engelbart and his staff put on what became known as “The Mother of All Demos” to showcase what they had been working on at the lab to computing professionals at a conference in San Francisco.

The demo presented many of the features of modern computing for the first time, including live videoconferencing, word processing, windows, document sharing, and of course the mouse. Engelbart describes how the mouse works in the video below (timecode, 2:36).

Excerpt from Doug Engelbart’s “Mother of All Demos,” December 9, 1968.

More on the Mouse

Creating the Mouse

Bill English and Doug Engelbart discuss the mystery of the mouse’s name, its competitors, and the design, testing, and experiments with the mouse at SRI thirty years later.

Sharing the Mouse

After leaving SRI, Bill English went to work at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in 1971, where he developed a ball mouse for their groundbreaking early personal computer, the Alto.

Can you find the mouse in the 1979 Alto commercial?

Image: Alto computer; note the mouse in the lower right.

Selling the Mouse

After a well-documented visit to SRI by Steve Jobs and other Apple engineers, a mouse was developed to accompany the Lisa and Macintosh (pictured) computers. Learn more about the commercialization of these groundbreaking computers here.

A 1983 ad for the Lisa read: “To tell Lisa what to do, all you have to do is point to the appropriate picture using a clever palm-sized device called ‘a mouse.’ As you move the mouse on your desk, the pointer moves on Lisa’s screen.” 

See the ad in the collection.

Preserving the Mouse

You can get lost exploring down a rabbit (mouse?) hole in the exhibit, which has lots of information about the mouse, including the patent drawings for the original mouse and early trackball devices.

Check out the online exhibit section here.

Image: Mouse interior. Photo by Mark Richards.

The Magic Mouse

Doug Engelbart using his mouse.

In a 2001 panel discussion, Engelbart described the mouse as “an evolutionary tool.” He went on to explain: “The mouse is sort of like giving a person good contraction and mobility … like a surfboard or guys using a skateboard—it’s just magic to watch how they can work.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Next time you’re at CHM, stop by and say “hi” to the original SRI mouse.

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