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‘A little brown box with buttons’: Remembering William English, computer mouse co-creator

01 September 2020

In my column this month, I thought we could take a look at and celebrate the life of one of the key engineers who helped create the computer mouse – William English – who sadly passed away on 26 July at 91 years of age.

English was born in 1929 in Kentucky and studied electrical engineering at university before joining the US Navy. 

Whilst working with his colleague, Doug Engelbart, on early computing at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI International), English became the first person to use a mouse when he built a prototype in the early 1960s. It was Engelbart who envisioned a mechanical device moving a cursor across a screen, selecting images or symbols, yet it was English who brought this vision to life. 

Through a series of tests, English demonstrated that his device could navigate a screen faster than any other device at SRI International. According to the BBC, his first version was a wooden block with a single button. Underneath, two rolling wheels at 90º angles would record vertical and sideways movement. 

Read the full article in the September issue of DPA.

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