Douglas Englebart was born in Oregon in 1925. In the late 1940s, Douglas Engelbart was stationed in the Philippines when he read Vannevar Bush's "As We May Think" in a Red Cross library. He became an early believer in Bush's idea of a machine that would aid human cognition. Later, Englebart worked at Ames Aeronautical lab, and developed the ideas that would form the basis of today's computer interfaces.

His Character:

The grandson of early pioneers of the West, he grew up during the Great Depression on a small farmstead near Portland, Oregon. After graduating from high school in 1942, he went on to study Electrical Engineering at Oregon State University. Setting his studies aside, he joined the Navy during World War II, serving for two years as an electronic/radar technician in the Phillipines.

Doug Engelbart lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife of over 40 years and two cats, and in close proximity to all 4 children and 8 grandchildren. Throughout his life he has enjoyed exercising, hiking, camping, sailing, reading, folk dancing, bike riding (although he has appeased his wife by giving up trick riding), raising ducks, earthworms, and bees, making up science fiction fantasy stories for children, science lectures for his wife when she has trouble sleeping, and any excuse for a family gathering.

His Life:

The National Medal of Technology, the highest award in its class in the United States. On December 1, 2000. The White House bestowed the medal on Douglas Engelbart, essentially for his technological achievements, including the invention of the computer mouse. Still to be recognized is that Engelbart's technological career is but part of a humanitarian career. His dream is to get society to buy into a means of boosting its ability to successfully cope with complex and urgent problems.

He first acted on this dream by entering a PhD program in 1951 to learn about computers. During two decades from 1957 on, he had an opportunity (mostly as Director of his Augmentation Research Center of Stanford Research International) to act on the technological and applied psychological underpinning of his dream. In 1977, commercial forces chiselled out the humanitarian part for seven years running. Then, from 1984 until 1989, while in the employ of McDonnell Douglas as senior scientist, he was able to continue from where he left off.

Seeing no commercial value in Engelbart's work, the company stopped further development work. It was his darkest hour, but bouncing back, Engelbart continued to propagate his ideas through his Bootstrap Institute..

From 1989, he has been increasingly recognized for his contributions mainly, but no longer exclusively, to technology. He has become the recipient of an extraordinarily long string of awards, including the Lemelson-MIT Prize of $500,000, and culminating in the National Medal of Technology. But the all-encompassing part of his struggle continues. And as irony has it, on yet another technological foundation: the "open hyperdocument system" which is drawing most of the interest and support for his ongoing work.


1948 After completing his Bachelors Degree in E.E.he settled contentedly on the San Francisco peninsula as an electrical engineer at NACA Ames Laboratory (forerunner of NASA).
1955 Ph.D. along with a half dozen patents in "bi-stable gaseous plasma digital devices", and then stayed on as Acting Assistant Professor before finally settling on a research position at SRI where he earned another dozen patents in two years working on magnetic computer components, fundamental digital-device phenomena, and miniaturization scaling potential.
1959 Get approval to pursue his own research. He spent the next two years formulating a theoretical framework for a new discipline, which became the guiding force for his seminal work
1963 Englebart finally got the funds to start his own research lab, which he later dubbed the Augmentation Research Center. He began by developing the kind of technology he believed would be required to augment our human intellect, and also to support the bootstrapping/augmentation process. Throughout the '60s and '70s his lab pioneered an elaborate hypermedia-groupware system called NLS (for oNLine System), most of whose now-common features were conceived of, fully integrated, and in everyday operational use, by the early 1970s.
1967 Announced that all the ARPA-sponsored computer research labs, including Engelbart's, would be networked to promote resource sharing. Engelbart was thrilled. He saw the ARPANET as an excellent vehicle for extending NLS provisions for wide-area distributed collaboration. He also saw NLS as a natural to support an online directory of resources, so he proposed a Network Information Center (NIC), which he built up and directed.
1977 Network Information Center (NIC) spins off as an independent operation. Because of this early active role in the formation of the ARPANET community, his site was ( the second host on the network. NLS facilitated the creation of digital libraries and storage and retrieval of electronic documents using hypertext. This was the first successful implementation of hypertext. NLS used a new device to facilitate computer interaction—the mouse.
1968 NLS first demonstrated in public at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in a remarkable 90-minute multimedia presentation, in which Engelbart used NLS to outline and illustrate his points, while others of his staff linked in from his lab at SRI to demonstrate key features of the system. This was the world debut of the mouse, hypermedia, and on-screen video teleconferencing and; selected footage is also on display at the Smithsonian Museum Exhibit on The Information Age).
1989 Engelbart founded the Bootstrap Institute, feeling the time was ripe to pursue in earnest his comprehensive strategy for bootstrapping organizations into the 21st century


Interview with Douglas Engelbart conducted by Jon Ecklund in 1994

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Written by the THINK Protocols team, CS Dept, UT Austin
Please direct comments to Chris Edmondson-Yurkanan.