Wonder Contributors

Today’s revisited Wonder was inspired by our Wonder Friend Andrew of Midvale, Utah. Andrew was wondering what to wonder about and saw the mouse on the side of the keyboard. So, Andrew submitted the Wonder, “Why is the mouse, called the mouse? Keep WONDERing with us Andrew! 

Way back in 1963, Douglas Engelbart, with help from his friend Bill English, invented the first prototype experimental pointing device — what we now call a computer mouse. Engelbart’s invention was a simple wooden box with one button and two wheels that rolled directly on a hard surface, such as a desk.

The term mouse came from the fact that these devices had long, thin cords attached to their small, compact bodies that made them look a bit like common mice. The name stuck and has been used ever since.

Sadly, Engelbart never received any royalties for his device, because his patent ran out before computer manufacturers began widespread use of mice with personal computers. For years after his invention, computers still relied almost-exclusively on commands to be typed in via keyboard. For example, to open a particular program, you would need to type a command, such as: run <program name>.

It wasn’t until computers began to use graphical user interfaces (GUIs — often pronounced gooeys) that mice became popular as pointing/input devices. GUIs rely on interaction with images, rather than text commands. For example, to open a particular program, you no longer had to type a command. All you had to do was click on an icon, which is a tiny picture used to represent a particular program or computer function. When pointing and clicking via GUIs became popular, computer mice became commonplace.

Today’s computers rely on highly-sophisticated GUIs that require fine motor control of a cursor on a display. There is also touch screen technology, that is used on many mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. Computer mice use advanced rolling balls or lasers to translate the motion of the hand controlling the mouse into movement of the cursor on the computer display.

Many computer mice feature multiple buttons, as well as special features like wheels, to allow users to perform multiple functions at once. For example, clicking the left button of a mouse might position the cursor at a certain point within a document or web page, whereas clicking on the right button of a mouse might bring up an in-context menu of possible actions to perform. Special features, such as wheels, can allow a user to scroll quickly down a web page.

Another thing you might notice about later-model computer mice: many of them have lost their tails! Like so many other electrical devices that have gone cordless, so have many versions of the computer mouse. Instead of transmitting their electrical information to a computer via a cord, cordless mice instead transmit data via infrared radiation or radio waves.

20 Join the Discussion

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars  (19 votes, avg. 3.47 out of 5)
  1. Hey wonderopolis! :)
    Before reading the article , I read your Wonder What’s Next from yesterday and today’s question. To be honest I really thought you meant the animal mouse. Then I read the article and discovered something funny. I was using my mouse to scroll down and learn more about a mouse. :D

    • That’s quite a WONDERful coincidence that you were using a mouse to learn about mice, Torey/MC! We also think it’s awesome that you try to figure out each next day’s Wonder by reading the “Wonder What’s Next” section! That’s using your brain! :-)

  2. What an excellent wonder today. It generated an excellent discussion about technology literacy. The dragons learned about how much you need the computer mouse to do things.

    We loved the “mouse games”, especially the the Red Bugs game. Kind of freaky!

    Mr. Fines & KF Dragons
    Missoula, Montana

    • Hello, Mr. Fines & KF Dragons! We’re glad you liked today’s Wonder! Thanks for “pointing and clicking” your way through Wonderopolis today! :-)

  3. Your video is really cute! I should have know that it wouldn’t have been an actual thing about mice. You have to think out of the box with wonderopolis! :D

    • You know us well, Abby/M.C! We’ve got to work hard to keep all of our awesome Wonder Friends on their toes and wearing their thinking caps! Maybe we should call them WONDER caps instead? :-)

  4. I like the idea of wonder caps-you might have something there. I am impressed with the higher level of comments and how your WONDER friends are pushing their thinking.


    • Welcome to Wonderopolis, thi migia! What kind of things do you WONDER about China?

      Did you know you can nominate your very own Wonder of the Day any time you like? Just click on the “nominate a wonder” link at the top of this page! We are excited to hear about all the WONDERful ideas you have! :-)

  6. Wow, That was an amazing video :) It probably took a long time to make that!! By mice, I thought that you would write about the real mouse instead of the computer one. I think that it’s funny that a computer mouse kind of looks like a real mouse, which was why it was named a mouse! It is also interesting that the person who invented the prototype made it before the first computer! How odd!

    I am stumped on what tomorrow’s wonder is…does it have something to do with hollwood? or maybe how wonders are made (if you haven’t done that allready)

    I can’t wait to see what it will be :) :D

    • Thanks for letting us know that you liked the video for this Wonder, and also for suggesting a future Wonder of the Day® :D!

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Have you ever wondered…

  • What is a mouse?
  • Who invented the computer mouse?
  • What is a GUI?

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Try It Out

Ready to click through to deeper learning about computer mice? Find a friend or family member willing to help you point your way through one or more of the following activities:

  • Do you like using computers? Most kids do. Do you have experience with using desktop computers or laptops? Maybe a tablet even? Have you ever used text commands? Or do you primarily use a mouse? Or do you do everything via touch screen? For a fun activity, find a computer with a mouse and put yourself to the test. Are you a professional mouser? Test your skills with these fun computer games!
  • Did you realize that some modern artists use computers and pixels rather than paint and canvases? It’s true! The digital age opened up a whole new world for artists. If you’re really good with a mouse or just love art, visit The Art Zone for access to over a dozen fun, interactive art games! What can you create with a mouse and a computer? Feel free to share your work with your Wonder Friends by posting examples on the Wonderopolis Facebook page.
  • Up for a challenge? Put on your thinking hat and consult your crystal ball. We want to know what you think the future of computing is. The first computers relied on simple text commands typed in via keyboard. Graphical user interfaces changed the game completely, opening up the way for computer mice and, eventually, touch screens. But what’s next? What’s on the technological horizon? What will the next generation of computers look like? How small will they be? Will we move beyond the touch screen to something else? Take a look into the future and let us know what you think. Summarize your thoughts in a creative, technological way. You could create an image that shows what you think the computer of the future will look like. Or you could create a slide show that expresses your thoughts on how we will use computers in the future. Be creative and share your thoughts with others using today’s technology to deliver your message!


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