A Douglas Engelbart-designed computer mouse was auctioned for $178,900

Designed by Douglas Engelbart, the mouse was auctioned with a coding keyset.
Ameya Paleja
The mouse and coding keyset recently auctioned
The mouse and coding keyset recently auctioned


One of the first mouse prototypes designed by computer pioneer Douglas Engelbart sold for a whopping $178,936 at a recently concluded auction, making it perhaps the most expensive mouse sold on the planet. The prototype was sold along with its cord and a serial connector to communicate with the computer.

Gaming companies have often sold computer mice for hefty price tags promising the fastest responses in the game. Alternatively, art studios have taken it upon themselves to embed precious stones and skins on these technological products, amping their valuations.

However, it is at auction houses where the history of the product, its development, and its contribution to the culture determines the valuation of the item and the bid price of the Engelbart mouse is a testament to this.

Mouse used in the iconic demonstration

According to the description provided by the Boston-based auction house, the mouse and a coding keyset pair is much like the ones that Engelbart used in his iconic 1968 demonstration. Famously known as the "Mother of All Demos", this was where Engelbart spoke about a host of things that are common in computing today ranging from hypertext to dynamic file linking, shared-screed collaboration, and of course, the public debut of the mouse.

As demonstrated back then, the mouse in the right hand allowed users to point and click while the coding keyset was meant to supplement the keyboard. The keyset was meant to allow the user to continue typing while using the mouse.

When used in combination with the mouse, the keyset could be used to punch in all 26 letters of the alphabet, punctuation marks, symbols as well as numbers. The three buttons on the mouse played a different role when compared to how we use them today. The buttons were much more like shift and command keys, shifting letters to uppercase or making additional symbols or numbers accessible.

A Douglas Engelbart-designed computer mouse was auctioned for $178,900
Two metal discs determined where the cursor pointed

To locate the position of the cursor, the mouse used two metal discs that corresponded to the X and Y axes. The prototypes came into the possession of David A. Potter, a member of Engelbart's team at Stanford Research Institute (SRI), who also provided a letter of provenance for the auction.

Engelbart's patented technology, however, took over a decade to become mainstream. His research team moved to Xerox PARC in the early 1970s, where they continued improving the technology when it was spotted by Steve Jobs at the end of the decade. After licensing the technology for $40,000, Jobs simplified the design further while also working to reduce its cost.

Four years later, the single-button rollerball mouse was unveiled with Apple's Lisa computer in 1983. The $15 mouse really became a hit with the masses when Apple released its affordable Macintosh, a year later.

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