Co-Creator Of Computer Mouse, Bill English, Dies

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Another departure of a true computing pioneer, after Bill English, co creator of the computer mouse, passes away in California

The second of the two men responsible for the arrival of the computer mouse, William (Bill) English aged 91, has died.

Bill English was an engineer and he build the world’s first computer mouse, based on the idea of his colleague, Douglas Engelbart, who had imagined the device in 1961.

Engelbart had passed away in 2013 at the age of 88, and to many he was the public face of the mouse and other collaborations between man and machine.

Douglas Engelbart


Mouse co inventor

But it was English who was the engineer that translated his ideas and build a working prototype in 1963, working from Engelbart’s first sketches of a graphics manipulator device in 1961.

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

English eventually joined Engelbart’s research project at the Stanford Research Institute in the 1960s, where he build the device.

The mouse prototype was essentially a block of wood with a single button, and two rolling wheels underneath it that were situated at 90-degree angles, so they could record vertical and sideways movement.

The device was later patented by SRI, and licensed to Apple for $40,000.

It appeared on the market in 1983, as a companion to Apple’s Lisa personal computer. The patent ran out in 1987, before mice gained popularity, meaning that English and Engelbart made very little money from their invention.

Read about the full history of the mouse, in Silicon UK’s Tales in Tech History piece.

English was also largely credited with creating the graphical user interface (GUI) system used by almost all modern computers.

He left the Stanford Research Institute in 1971, before moving to the famous Xerox Parc research centre.

English went on to replace the wheels on his prototype wooden mouse with a rolling ball.

The rolling ball mouse (long before optical devices) was a familiar instrument to many computer users since the 1980s.

Memories of the device will forever be linked with having to undertake regular cleaning of the rolling ball and its contact rollers.

The death of English was confirmed to US media outlets by his wife Roberta. He died of respiratory failure on 26 July in California.

Author: Tom Jowitt
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