In the belief that every mouse has a tale, oldmouse.com intends to track the evolution of the computer mouse and its kin along its zig-zag trail of human ingenuity. Most of the mouses featured here live together in Missoula, Montana, gathered from across the US and beyond. A few rare mouses appear in photos courtesy of their owners.
Like its furry namesake, the computer mouse proliferated across societies worldwide by its opportunistic adaptability. Creative human programming propagates its nearly infinite variations. The familiar mouse whose pointer glides through email, documents, or the World Wide Web earned its way to the top of the computer evolutionary tree of input devices (alongside the ubiquitous keyboard).
The mouse is a hand held device which generates digital pulses in response to ball or laser beam movement and buttons or wheels. While distinct from other pointing devices, it expands on concepts developed for other means of inputting data and interacting with computers. The focal point of the mouse is the cursor.
The cursor was nonexistent on the earliest text-only computer telescreens with no cursor arrows. Cursor movement for manipulation of machine display developed long before personal computers, evident in the early 1950s. An early cursor on a video display screen was used in air defense, manipulated by hand wheels [Axel Roch].
Pointing devices emerged for interacting with the cursor on the video screen — light pens, trackballs, joysticks, tablets, and the mouse.
Joysticks succeeded the control stick of anti-aircraft artillery systems that guided rockets. With the addition of electronics, joysticks became the interaction of choice for computer gamers in the 1980s. [Roch]. A Joystick generates analog signals (variable frequency signals) proportional to the X and Y position of the stick, wheel or pedal.
Light pens descend from light guns, which first appeared in the 1930s and were adapted to arcade games [Wikipedia]. In the 1950s light guns served as pointing devices on the defense Project Whirlwind and evolved for use in radar control of airspace. [Roch].
Track balls emerged in 1960s for military air traffic tracking. One early trackball is the 1966 Orbit X-Y Ball Tracker that was installed in a Military Air Traffic Control Tower control panel. Atari first initiated the trackball into gaming for the arcade in 1978 [Wikipedia].
The early JOHNNIAC was used, among other things, to develop digitizing tablets for computer input as early as 1953 [Dave Farber]. CAD users typically used a mouse-like device on a tablet for inputting designs.