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One Of The Coolest Inventors Ever: Douglas Engelbart!

In the computer world, there are so many technologies that it is hard to keep up with all of them.  Indeed, you might be surprised to learn that 3Dconnexion recently shipped its one millionth 3-D computer mouse; clearly it is not an obscure product, but somehow it has never drawn mainstream media attention.  Creations like the 3-D computer mouse are the result of tireless research and development by inventors.  In the case of the 3-D computer mouse, the ultimate design was the result of the efforts of Douglas Engelbart.

Douglas Engelbart is an American inventor whose life changed dramatically when he read an article on how important the free dissemination of information is to advancing human knowledge.  After he returned from World War II, he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Oregon State College.  While Douglas Engelbart had a general idea of what he wanted to do with his life – make the world a better place – he did not have a practical idea of what to do.  Thinking back to the article he read while stationed in the Philippines, Engelbart decided that computers might be a way to share information and he returned to school for more education.

Armed with the desire to change the world by connecting computers and creating a channel for the free flow of information, Douglas Engelbart attended the University of California at Berkeley in 1951.  By 1953, Engelbart had earned his Master’s of Science in Electrical Engineering.  Two years later, he earned his Ph.D., which was made easier by the fact that he helped to construct the CALDIC for the California Digital Computer project.  After earning his Ph.D., Dr. Douglas Engelbart went to work at the Stanford Research Institute where he developed magnetic devices and was instrumental in miniaturizing electronic computer components.

At the Stanford Research Institute, Engelbart met Hewitt Crane, whose work influenced much of Douglas Engelbart’s.  While Engelbart patented many of his inventions through the SRI, he also advanced his social agenda, promoting the spread of information and the desire to connect the great minds of the time by allowing them to connect over a computer network.  That desire brought him to the attention of ARPA, which evolved into the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.  While working on the ARPANET, the first incarnation of the Internet, Douglas Engelbart and Bill English patented the computer mouse!  Without Douglas Engelbart, we would not have computer mice or the Internet.

While Douglas Engelbart’s research career continued for decades after the invention of the mouse, following the Watergate Scandal, Engelbart’s philosophies on how computer evolution and social interaction might develop fell out of favor.  Young researchers who were distrustful of centralized organizations took over the DARPA project and worked to develop the personal computer, instead of the communal systems Engelbart envisioned.  Even so, Engelbart continued to innovate, providing the vision for the 3-D mouse and many other products that are still reaching the marketplace now.

In 2000, Douglas Engelbart was honored with the highest technology recognition in the United States, the National Medal of Technology.  Douglas Engelbart’s accomplishments may not have been as splashy or well-publicized as those of Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, but without his work, their advances would likely never have become much beyond ambitious ideas!


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