Douglas Engelbart: Wikis


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Dr. Douglas C. Engelbart

Douglas Engelbart in 2008
Born January 30, 1925 (1925-01-30) (age 85)
Portland, Oregon, USA
Citizenship US
Nationality US
Ethnicity German (father's side), Norwegian and Swedish (mother's side)
Fields Inventor
Institutions Stanford Research Institute, Tymshare, McDonnell Douglas, Bootstrap Institute/Alliance, Doug Engelbart Institute
Alma mater Oregon State College (BS); UC Berkeley (PhD)
Doctoral advisor John R. Woodyard
Known for Computer mouse, Hypertext, Groupware, Interactive Computing
Notable awards National Medal of Technology, Lemelson-MIT Prize, Turing Award, Lovelace Medal, Norbert Wiener Award for Social and Professional Responsibility, Fellow Award, Computer History Museum

Dr. Douglas C. Engelbart (born January 30, 1925) is an American inventor and early computer pioneer. He is best known for inventing the computer mouse,[1] as a pioneer of human-computer interaction whose team developed hypertext, networked computers, and precursors to GUIs; and as a committed and vocal proponent of the development and use of computers and networks to help cope with the world’s increasingly urgent and complex problems.[2]

His lab at SRI was responsible for more breakthrough innovation than possibly any other lab before or since. Engelbart had embedded in his lab a set of organizing principles, which he termed his "bootstrapping strategy", which he specifically designed to bootstrap and accelerate the rate of innovation achievable.[3]


Early life and education

Engelbart was born in the U.S. state of Oregon on January 30, 1925 to Carl Louis Engelbart and Gladys Charlotte Amelia Munson Engelbart. He is of German, Swedish and Norwegian descent.[4]

He was the middle of three children, with a sister Dorianne (3 years older), and a brother David (14 months younger). They lived in Portland in his early years, and moved to the countryside to a place called Johnson Creek when he was 9 or 10, after the death of his father. He graduated from Portland's Franklin High School in 1942.

Midway through his college studies at Oregon State University (then called Oregon State College), just at the end of World War II, he was drafted into the Navy, serving two years as a radar technician in the Philippines. It was there on a small island in a tiny hut up on stilts that he first read Vannevar Bush's article "As We May Think", which greatly inspired him. He returned to Oregon State and completed his Bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering in 1948, a B.Eng. from UC Berkeley in 1952,[5] and a Ph.D. in EECS from UC Berkeley in 1955. While at Oregon State, he was a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon social fraternity.

As a graduate student at Berkeley he assisted in the construction of the California Digital Computer project CALDIC. His graduate work led to several patents[6]. After completing his PhD he stayed on at Berkeley to teach for a year, and left when it was clear he could not pursue his vision there. He then formed a startup, Digital Techniques, to commercialize some of his doctorate research on storage devices, but after a year decided instead to find a venue where he could pursue the research he had been dreaming of since 1951 (see Epiphany).

Career and accomplishments

The first computer mouse held by Engelbart showing the wheels that directly contact the working surface.


Doug Engelbart's career was inspired in 1951 when he got engaged and suddenly realized he had no career goals beyond getting a good education and a decent job. Over several months he reasoned that: (1) he would focus his career on making the world a better place; (2) any serious effort to make the world better requires some kind of organized effort; (3) harnessing the collective human intellect of all the people contributing to the solution was the key; (4) if you could dramatically improve how we do that you'd be boosting every effort on the planet to solve important problems - the sooner the better; and (5) computers could be the vehicle for doing all this.

Several years prior, Engelbart had read with interest Vannevar Bush's article "As We May Think", a call to arms for making knowledge widely available as a national peacetime grand challenge. Doug had also read something about computers (a relatively recent phenomenon), and from his experience as a radar technician he knew that information could be analyzed and displayed on a screen. He suddenly envisioned intellectual workers sitting at display 'working stations', flying through information space, harnessing their collective intellectual capacity to solve important problems together in much more powerful ways. Harnessing collective intellect, facilitated by interactive computers, became his life's mission at a time when computers were viewed as number crunching tools. He went to UC Berkeley to learn everything he could about computers, got his PhD, and was told to be very careful about who he talked to about his "wild" ideas. After a year of teaching at Berkeley as Acting Assistant Professor, he took a position at Stanford Research Institute (SRI) in Menlo Park, hoping one day to pursue his vision there. He initially worked for Hewitt Crane on devices. He and Hew became lifelong friends.


At SRI, Engelbart gradually proved himself with over a dozen patents to his name (some resulting from his graduate work), and within a few years was funded to produce a report about his vision and proposed research agenda titled Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework. This led to funding from ARPA to launch his work. Engelbart recruited a research team in his new Augmentation Research Center (ARC, the lab he founded at SRI), and became the driving force behind the design and development of the On-Line System, or NLS. He and his team developed computer-interface elements such as bit-mapped screens, the mouse, hypertext, collaborative tools, and precursors to the graphical user interface. He conceived and developed many of his user interface ideas back in the mid-1960s, long before the personal computer revolution, at a time when most individuals were kept away from computers, and could only use computers through intermediaries (see batch processing), and when software tended to be written for vertical applications in proprietary systems.

Two Apple Macintosh Plus mice, 1986

Engelbart applied for a patent in 1967 and received it in 1970, for the wooden shell with two metal wheels (computer mouse - U.S. Patent 3,541,541), which he had developed with Bill English, his lead engineer, a few years earlier. In the patent application it is described as an "X-Y position indicator for a display system". Engelbart later revealed that it was nicknamed the "mouse" because the tail came out the end. His group also called the on-screen cursor a "bug", but this term was not widely adopted.

He never received any royalties for his mouse invention. During an interview, he says "SRI patented the mouse, but they really had no idea of its value. Some years later it was learned that they had licensed it to Apple for something like $40,000."

Engelbart showcased many of his and ARC's inventions in 1968 at the so-called mother of all demos.[7]


Engelbart's research was funded by ARPA, SRI's ARC became involved with the ARPANET (the precursor of the Internet).

On October 29, 1969, the world's first electronic computer network, the ARPANET, was established between nodes at Leonard Kleinrock's lab at UCLA and Engelbart's lab at SRI. Interface Message Processors at both sites served as the backbone of the first Internet [1].

In addition to SRI and UCLA, UCSB, and the University of Utah were part of the original four network nodes. By December 5, 1969, the entire 4-node network was connected.

ARC soon became the first Network Information Center and thus managed the directory for connections among all ARPANET nodes. ARC also published a large percentage of the early Request For Comments, an ongoing series of publications that document the evolution of ARPANET/Internet.

Anecdotal Notes

Historian of science Thierry Bardini has argued that Engelbart's complex personal philosophy (which drove all his research endeavors) foreshadowed the modern application of the concept of coevolution to the philosophy and use of technology.

Bardini points out that Engelbart was strongly influenced by the principle of linguistic relativity developed by Benjamin Lee Whorf.[8] Where Whorf reasoned that the sophistication of a language controls the sophistication of the thoughts that can be expressed by a speaker of that language, Engelbart reasoned that the state of our current technology controls our ability to manipulate information, and that fact in turn will control our ability to develop new, improved technologies. He thus set himself to the revolutionary task of developing computer-based technologies for manipulating information directly, and also to improve individual and group processes for knowledge-work.

Engelbart's philosophy and research agenda is most clearly and directly expressed in the 1962 research report which Engelbart refers to as his 'bible': Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework. The concept of network-augmented intelligence is attributed to Engelbart based on this pioneering work.

End of research career and subsequent developments

Engelbart slipped into relative obscurity after 1976. Several of Engelbart's researchers became alienated from him and left his organization for Xerox PARC, in part due to frustration, and in part due to differing views of the future of computing. Engelbart saw the future in collaborative, networked, timeshare (client-server) computers, which younger programmers rejected in favor of the personal computer. The conflict was both technical and social: the younger programmers came from an era where centralized power was highly suspect, and personal computing was just barely on the horizon.

Engelbart served on the board of directors of Erhard Seminars Training. Several key ARC personnel were also involved. Although EST seemed like a good idea at first, the controversial nature of EST reduced the morale and social cohesion of the ARC community according to Bardini's book.

The Mansfield Amendment, the end of the Vietnam War, and the end of the Apollo program reduced ARC's funding from ARPA and NASA. SRI's management, which disapproved of Engelbart's approach to running the center, placed the remains of ARC under the control of artificial intelligence researcher Bertram Raphael, who negotiated the transfer of the laboratory to a company called Tymshare. Engelbart's house in Atherton burned down during this period, causing him and his family even further problems. Tymshare took over NLS and the lab that Engelbart had founded, hired most of the lab's staff including its creator as a Senior Scientist, renamed the software Augment, and offered it as a commercial service via its new Office Automation Division. Tymshare was already somewhat familiar with NLS; back when ARC was still operational, it had experimented with its own local copy of the NLS software on a minicomputer called OFFICE-1, as part of a joint project with ARC.

At Tymshare, Engelbart soon found himself marginalized and relegated to obscurity—operational concerns at Tymshare overrode Engelbart's desire to do further research. Various executives, first at Tymshare and later at McDonnell Douglas (which took over Tymshare in 1984[9]), expressed interest in his ideas, but never committed the funds or the people to further develop them. His interest inside of McDonnell Douglas was focused on the enormous knowledge management and IT requirements involved in the lifecycle of an aerospace program, which served to strengthen Doug's resolve to motivate the IT arena toward global interoperability and an open hyperdocument system[10]. Engelbart retired from McDonnell Douglas in 1986, determined to raise a flag on neutral ground where he could pursue his work in earnest.

Teaming with his daughter, Christina Engelbart, in 1988 he founded the Bootstrap Institute with modest funding to coalesce his ideas into a series of three-day and half-day management seminars offered at Stanford University 1989–2000, which served to refine his ideas while inspiring candidate participants. By the early 1990s there was sufficient interest among his seminar graduates to launch a collaborative implementation of his work, and the Bootstrap Alliance was formed as a non-profit home base for this effort. Although the invasion of Iraq and subsequent recession spawned a rash of belt-tightening reorgs which drastically redirected the efforts of their alliance partners, they continued with the management seminars, consulting, and small-scale collaborations. In the mid-1990s they were awarded some DARPA funding to develop a modern user interface to Augment, called Visual AugTerm (VAT), while participating in a larger program addressing the IT requirements of the Joint Task Force.


Since the late 1980s, prominent individuals and organizations have recognized the seminal importance of Engelbart's contributions[11]:

In December 1995, at the Fourth WWW Conference in Boston, he was the first recipient of what would later become the Yuri Rubinsky Memorial Award. In 1997 he was awarded the Lemelson-MIT Prize of $500,000, the world's largest single prize for invention and innovation, and the ACM Turing Award. To mark the 30th anniversary of Engelbart's 1968 demo, in 1998 the Stanford Silicon Valley Archives and the Institute for the Future hosted Engelbart's Unfinished Revolution, a large symposium at Stanford University's Memorial Auditorium, to honor Engelbart and his ideas. Also that year, ACM SIGCHI awarded him the CHI Lifetime Achievement Award (and inducted him into the CHI Academy in 2002).

In early 2000 Engelbart produced, with a dedicated team of volunteers and sponsors, what was called the The Unfinished Revolution — II, also known as the Engelbart Colloquium at Stanford University, to document and publicize his work and ideas to a larger audience (live, and online). The video archives of both the 2000 UnRev-II: Engelbart's Colloquium at Stanford, and the 1998 "Engelbart's Unfinished Revolution" Symposium, are still available online as of this writing (December 2008). In December 2000, US President Bill Clinton awarded Engelbart the National Medal of Technology, the United States' highest technology award. In 2001 Engelbart was awarded a British Computer Society's Lovelace Medal, and in 2005 he was made a Fellow of the Computer History Museum and honored with the Norbert Wiener Award, which is given annually by Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility.

Robert X. Cringely did an hour long interview with Dr. Engelbart on 9 Dec 2005 in his NerdTV video podcast series. On December 9, 2008, Engelbart was honored at the 40th Anniversary celebration of the 1968 "Mother of All Demos".[12] This event, produced by SRI International, was held at Memorial Auditorium at Stanford University. Speakers included several members of Engelbart's original Augmentation Research Center (ARC) team including Don Andrews, Bill Paxton, Bill English, and Jeff Rulifson, Engelbart's chief government sponsor Bob Taylor, and other pioneers of interactive computing, including Andy van Dam and Alan Kay. In addition, Christina Engelbart spoke about her father's early influences and the ongoing work of the Doug Engelbart Institute. In June 2009, the New Media Consortium recognized Engelbart as an NMC Fellow [13] for his lifetime of achievements.

At present

Doug Engelbart attended Program for the Future 2010 [14] Conference where hundreds of people convened at The Tech Museum in San Jose and online to engage in dialog about how to pursue Doug Engelbart's vision to augment collective intelligence.

The most complete coverage of Engelbart's bootstrapping ideas can be found in Boosting Our Collective IQ[15], by Douglas C. Engelbart, 1995. This is a special keepsake including three of Engelbart's key papers, artfully edited and produced into book form by Yuri Rubinsky and Christina Engelbart to commemorate the presentation of the 1995 SoftQuad Web Award to Doug Engelbart at the World Wide Web conference in Boston that December, honoring his early and seminal contribution to the hypertext systems. Only 2,000 softcover copies were printed, and 100 hardcover, numbered and signed by Doug Engelbart and Tim Berners-Lee. 30 pages, 5.5″×9″ includes Epilogue and details of the Award. Engelbart's book is now being republished by the Doug Engelbart Institute.

Two comprehensive histories of Engelbart's laboratory and work are in What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry by John Markoff and A Heritage of Innovation: SRI's First Half Century by Donald Neilson. Other books on Engelbart and his laboratory include Bootstrapping: Douglas Engelbart, Coevolution, and the Origins of Personal Computing by Thierry Bardini and The Engelbart Hypothesis: Dialogs with Douglas Engelbart, by Valerie Landau and Eileen Clegg in conversation with Douglas Engelbart. [16] All four of these books are based on interviews with Engelbart as well as other contributors in his laboratory.

He is now Founder Emeritus of the Doug Engelbart Institute, which he founded in 1988 with his daughter Christina Engelbart, who is now Executive Director. The Institute promotes Engelbart's philosophy for boosting Collective IQ—the concept of dramatically improving how we can solve important problems together—using a strategic bootstrapping approach for accelerating our progress toward that goal.[17]

In 2005 Engelbart received a National Science Foundation grant to fund the open source HyperScope project. The Hyperscope team built a browser component using Ajax and DHTML designed to replicate Augment's multiple viewing and jumping capabilities (linking within and across various documents). HyperScope is perceived as the first step of a process designed to engage a wider community in a dialogue, on development of collaborative software and services, based on Engelbart's goals and research. The Doug Engelbart Institute is now based at SRI International.

Engelbart has served on the Advisory Boards of the University of Santa Clara Center for Science, Technology, and Society, Foresight Institute, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, The Technology Center of Silicon Valley, and The Hyperwords Company Ltd (producer of the free Firefox Add-On called 'Hyperwords'[18].


Dr. Engelbart has four children, Gerda, Diana, Christina and Norman with his late wife of 47 years, Ballard who died in 1997. He has nine grandchildren.


  1. ^ BBC News Online: The Man behind the Mouse
  2. ^ The Unfinished Revolution II: Strategy and Means for Coping with Complex Problems, Colloquium at Stanford University, Jan–Mar 2000.
  3. ^ About a Bootstrapping Strategy — an introduction with links to source materials.
  4. ^ Lowood, Henry (Dec. 19, 1986): Douglas Engelbart Interview 1, Stanford and the Silicon Valley. Oral History Interviews.
  5. ^
  6. ^ Engelbart Patents
  7. ^ Engelbart, Douglas C., et al. (1968), "SRI-ARC. A technical session presentation at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco, Dec. 9, 1968" (NLS demo ’68: The computer mouse debut), 11 film reels and 6 video tapes (100 min.), Engelbart Collection, Stanford University Library, Menlo Park (CA).
  8. ^ Thierry Bardini & Michael Friedewald, Chronicle of the Death of a Laboratory: Douglas Engelbart and the Failure of the Knowledge Workshop, History of Technology 23, 2002, p193.
  9. ^ Tymshare sold to McDonnell Douglas
  10. ^ About an Open Hyperdocument System an introduction with links to Doug's key writings on the subject
  11. ^ Honors Awarded to Doug Engelbart
  12. ^ Engelbart and the Dawn of Interactive Computing
  13. ^ NMC Fellow award
  14. ^ Program for the Future
  15. ^ Engelbart Books
  16. ^ "The Engelbart Hypothesis: Dialogs with Douglas Engelbart"
  17. ^ Doug's Vision Highlights: Augmenting Society's Collective IQ
  18. ^

Further reading

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Dr. Douglas C. Engelbart (born January 30, 1925, in Oregon) is an American inventor of Norwegian descent, and winner of the 1997 Turing Award. He is best known for inventing the computer mouse (in a joint effort with William English); as a pioneer of human-computer interaction whose team developed hypertext, networked computers, and precursors to GUIs; and as a committed and vocal proponent of the development and use of computers and networks to help cope with the world's increasingly more urgent and complex problems (which Horst W. J. Rittel and others since have called wicked problems).


  • "The key thing about all the world's big problems is that they have to be dealt with collectively. If we don't get collectively smarter, we're doomed."
    • Intelligence in the Internet Age, New York Times, 9/19/05 [1]
  • "The better we get at getting better, the faster we will get better."
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