This Day in Tech History

On This Day . . .

The Man Who Foretold the Future


December 9, 1968: The ‘Mother of All Demos’ is Held

Imagine giving a demo so revolutionary, so amazing that it would influence entire generations of people for years to come. That’s exactly what happened on December 9, 1968.    [picture above, Douglas Engelbart holds one of his first mouse designs, the body of the device is made of wood]
This demo later came to be known as “The Mother of All Demos” and was presented by Douglas Engelbart. An audience of about 1,000 people witnessed the premiere of the personal computer and it drew a standing ovation from those who recognized the significance of what they had just seen. The demo was years before anyone had dreamed of Microsoft or Apple (Bill Gates was 12 at the time and Steve Jobs was 13).

A prototype of a computer mouse, as designed by Bill English from Engelbart's sketches.

A prototype of a computer mouse, as designed by Bill English from Engelbart’s sketches.

Engelbart, with the help of his geographically distributed team, demonstrated the workings of the NLS (“oN Line System”) and featured the introduction of:

  • the computer mouse
  • shared screen video conferencing
  • hypertext and hypermedia
  • word processing and outlining
  • object addressing and dynamic file linking
  • bootstrapping
  • a collaborative real-time editor with WYSIWYG functionality
  • graphical windows
  • version control
  • context-sensitive help

This demo was also likely the first appearance of computer-generated slides (complete with bullet lists that Engelbart read aloud) ages before PowerPoint came into existence. The demo was the product of nearly 10 years work into ways that computers might be used to help ordinary people work better on intellectual tasks.

Engelbart_03 And by “intellectual,” Engelbart wasn’t thinking of analyzing data on nuclear fission experiments, he was thinking of ordinary office workers whose jobs involved writing memos, looking up information, filing things, communicating with others, persuading groups of people through presentations, and working collaboratively to solve difficult problems. Remember this was 1968!


In many ways, Engelbart’s influence peaked at the conference, and he was a mostly forgotten figure throughout the 1970s and much of the 1980s. However, on the demo’s 30th anniversary in 1998, Stanford University held a major conference to celebrate it and by the time the 40th anniversary was celebrated, Engelbart’s demo was acknowledged as one of the most important events in computer history.

Excerpts from the blog, “Off the Reservation”

“The Demo”, part 1


1733491w645 engelbart



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