A Visual History Of The Computer Mouse


As we all go about our day to day activities, it’s easy to get lost in technology and take for granted things that have slowly evolved over long periods of time. Take for instance the mouse on your desk. Whether it’s a standard 2-button mouse with a scroll wheel or a magic mouse with no buttons at all, we’re all a bit spoiled when you think about it.

Dvice recently published a visual history of the computer mouse, which is quite interesting. The first pointing device that relied on hand motions to move a cursor was created by the Royal Canadian Navy in 1952. This trackball device, which is predates all other mechanical pointing devices, was crafted using a 5-pin bowling ball and an array of mechanical encoders that tracked the ball’s movement.

As time went on, other mouse-type devices came and went, but it was 30 years ago yesterday that Xerox unveiled the world’s first optical mouse at its PARC facility. The mouse used LEDs and optical sensors along with specialized mouse pads to track the user’s movements. The tech is primitive compared to today’s offerings, but it’s a nice reminder of the humble beginnings something you use every single day.

Be sure to swing by the Dvice site and take a look at how the mouse has evolved over the years – it’s a great way to kill a few minutes.

18 thoughts on “A Visual History Of The Computer Mouse

  1. as tweeted, behind that PCB at the front, that looks Sooooo… like a Valve (vacuum tube) Shield, surely that wasn`t the case?
    Please tell me it`s an old condensor, and that nobody ever got killed using one after spilling coffee! :D

  2. Interesting article. Somewhere I have a prototype miniature trackball that I got when I worked at TI that was machined out of a solid piece of aluminum. You could actually use it as a weapon! :)

  3. The thing with Xerox is, well, if they had invented sushi they would try to market it as “RAW DEAD FISH!” to the masses.

    Go Xerox, and you may be given permission to save the product of your labor on the most expensive, obscure, backwater, obfuscated format and media possible.

  4. >behind that PCB at the front, that looks Sooooo… like a Valve (vacuum tube) Shield, surely that wasn`t the case?

    Sorry, looks nothing vacuum tube related to me.

    I’m grooving on what looks like a compressed air inlet out front. It looks like the bowling ball rides on an air bearing. The whole assembly looks like it mounts to the underside of a desk, and you need to drill a hole in the desk to let you manipulate the trackball.

    Oh, and there are 4 encoder wheels, even though you really only need 2. Redundancy!

  5. Re: four encoders. I have a feeling they can only measure in one direction, and the ball shifts slightly so it is only in contact with non-opposing wheels. With 50s tech I imagine it would be easier to do it mechanically this way than electronically with quadrature…

  6. Had no idea this was a Canadian invention. Neat. That setup reminds me a lot of those bowling/golf video consoles at bars/pool halls/bowling alleys. Large, heavy trackball mounted in the console just poking out for manipulation.

    Also this history is ridiculous. No mention of the first modern optical mouse (but its successor, the laser mouse gets a call-out)? No mention of the first scroll mouse?

  7. @YT2095; circa 1953, I have no doubt it was a vacuum tube. Why not? A tube must had had been many times more time robust than any transistor available at the time. I Do want a bowling ball sized track ball that use tubular devices. failing that a billet aluminum case for my optical mouse.

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