William Kirk English (January 27, 1929 – July 26, 2020) was an American computer engineer who contributed to the development of the computer mouse while working for Douglas Engelbart at SRI International’s Augmentation Research Center. He would later work for Xerox PARC and Sun Microsystems.

Early life

English was born on January 27, 1929 in Lexington, Kentucky. The only son of Harry English and Caroline (Gray) English, he had two half-brothers from his father’s previous marriage. Harry English was an electrical engineer who managed coal mines and Caroline was a homemaker. William or Bill as known as, attended a boarding school in Arizona and then studied electrical engineering at the University of Kentucky.


He served in the US Navy until the late 1950s, including postings in northern California and Japan. English joined the Stanford Research Institute in the 1960s to work on magnetic Stanford Research Institute, and built one of the first all-magnetic arithmetic units with Hewitt Crane. In 1964, he was the first person to join Douglas Engelbart’s lab, the Augmentation Research Center.

He and Douglas Engelbart share credit for creating the first computer mouse in 1963; English built the initial prototype, and was its first user, based on Engelbart’s notes. English led a 1965 project, sponsored by NASA, which evaluated the best way to select a point on a computer display; the mouse was the winner. English was also instrumental at The Mother of All Demos in 1968, which showcased the mouse and other technologies developed as part of their NLS (oN-Line System). In particular, English figured out how to connect a terminal in the San Francisco Civic Auditorium to the host computer at SRI, and also transmitted audio and video between the locations.

He left SRI in 1971 and went to Xerox PARC, where he managed the Office Systems Research Group. While working at PARC, English developed a ball mouse, in which a ball replaced the original set of wheels. It worked similarly to a moveable ball-based mouse device called Rollkugel, which had been developed by Telefunken, Germany, and was offered since 1968 as input device for their computers.

In 1989, he went to work for Sun Microsystems on internationalisation efforts. He died of respiratory failure in San Rafael, California on July 26, 2020, aged 91.


Source: Wikipedia