Calvin Mooers -- The "Click" Man
(1929-10-24 to 1994-12-01)

Computer History Vignettes
By Bob Bemer

Provision for Off-the-Record Action: (Escape and Hypertext)
1960 -- Bob Bemer, IBM

The Communications of ACM (1960 Feb) published Bemer's paper "A proposal for character code compatibility". It was the genesis of the Escape character (see the key on the upper left of your keyboard) and escape sequences. It was meant first to identify uniquely all the old codes that ASCII would replace, to avoid hardships in the existing world of Babel, and make the adoption of ASCII less painful or daunting.

It was a switching concept then -- "From here on we're going to talk in obsolete UNIVAC code". "And here we switch back to ASCII".

Then we awoke to discover that escape sequences, being so general, had use for other control actions, such as switching colors on the screen, changing type sizes and fonts, and driving the most general type of control actions. Thus they shouldn't be visible or print, so the convention became to suppress display of the command for those actions when the first escape character and its sequence were encountered. From this to hiding the URL address for hyperlink jumps was a trivial step.

Now for the "rest of the story", as Paul Harvey says.

The Hypertext Concept
1960 -- Ted Nelson, Harvard U.

In addition to coining the term "hypertext" for the elements of his vision, Ted Nelson of Harvard University was, from 1960, the ultimate publicist and enigmatic evangelist for new means of computer-aided thinking, by which he did not necessarily mean the Web as we know it now.

Nelson's project was called "Xanadu". Although several parts of it did get to a working stage (programmed in Mooers' TRAC language), it never got to total completion.

A major impetus to the world of personal computers was his book "Computer Lib", written in 1974, before many PCs existed.

The McGraw-Hill book "Fire in the Valley" says that when Nelson and Doug Engelbart were on stage together in 1998, "the audience was viewing the prophets of two rival religions", for Nelson does not admit (from his Japanese website) to this day that the Worldwide Web is how he envisioned his still unfinished Xanadu project to work.

The Point and Execute Concept
1964 -- Calvin Mooers, Rockford Research Inst.


mooers pic
Calvin Mooers

In 1964, Calvin N. Mooers, a man less known for participation in the specification of ASCII than for his coinage of the term "Information Retrieval", which applies 100% to the Internet action of "fetch" and "display" the "item with this name", exposed a programming language called "TRAC", for "Text Reckoning and Compiling". This product of several years of development included what he called the "active function", a hypertext function. From his work on the ASCII committees, he was well aware of, and familiar with, the escape concept.

His paper about TRAC [1] (ACM citation in [2]), had been presented as "TRAC, A Procedure-Describing Language for the Reactive Typewriter", at the ACM Programming Languages and Pragmatics Conference in August of 1965. In it he said:

"These (active) functions permit forms to be moved to and from the main memory ... They also permit one to build a "storage tree ..."
This describes precisely the storage tree of the Web and Internet, where the hyperlinks form a storage tree, and where movements to one file or another of the remembered "tree" are triggered by the "forward" and "back" icon. Of course the "main memory" has been much enlarged by the network design.

His abstract said:

"In TRAC ... one can write procedures ... for treating any [character] string at any time as an executable procedure ..."

On the Web, the hidden "fetch and display this" string that brings you a story from the Manchester Guardian in the UK is such an executable procedure.

See also the TRAC homepage.

No patents were sought by Mooers. He abhorred their insufficient protection, and vowed to use copyrights instead, which he did via his own company, the Rockford Research Institute. Besides, he acknowledged that his work was done under contract to ARPA (contract SD-295), Air Force Office of Scientific Research AF-AFOSR 476, 477, and 462-75, and U.S. Public Health Service Grant GM 10416 - all agencies of the Federal Government, thus paid for by the people of the United States! So it is all in the public domain.

First Live Working Model of Hypertext and Links in Action
1968 -- Douglas C. Engelbart, Stanford Research Inst.

Engelbart is most famous as the inventor of the handheld "mouse". His presentation of his total work, at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco in December of 1968, was so spectacular that Google finds over 1290 references to it. Andries Van Dam dubbed it "The Mother of All Demos", and [3] is that story from his Brown University viewpoint:

An authoritative and dispassionate summary of Engelbart's total technical life is given in the appropriately-named [4], describing the FJCC presentation as:

"... a 90-minute public multimedia demonstration of a networked computer system. This was the world debut of the computer mouse, 2-dimensional dispaly editing, hypermedia -- including in-file object addressing and linking, multiple windows with flexible view control, and on-screen video teleconferencing."

That phrase "in-file object addressing and linking" may be the best-ever description of what "point and click" results in.

But the tendency of some popularized websites is to ignore the facts in favor of what sounds catchy. An example is CNET's series "Unsung Heroes of Computing", in a page called "Douglas Engelbart, Patron saint of point and click" [5]. Ignoring the facts that he is hardly "unsung", and that only the mouse aspect is described there, saying nothing about the mechanism clicked on, is it really true?

An earlier paper (1966 May 12) by Engelbart, "Study for the Development of Human Intellect Augmentation Techniques" [6], is the project summary for:

Contract NAS1-5904,
National Aeronautics and Space Administration,
Langley Research Center,
Langley, Virginia 23365

This document indicates that the project, at original first movie time in 1965, and a year later, although using the mouse, does not obtain the material at a URL in the same manner we do today. Specifically,
1c1b2 A set of "structure jumping" commands were added, enabling a user to select a given statement on the screen and jump directly to any one of the following structurally related statements: ...

1d1c1 The complete "overlay" generability afforded by some modern batch-processing systems is not expected to be appropriate for our needs. We want to have relatively close control of where an overlay is put and when it is loaded or flushed. ...

1d1d2 This has long been on our needs list and is very important to flexible experimentation. Good examples exist in the Culler-Fried system, in the OPS-3 system of Greenburger, et al. (on the MIT MAC system); in the TRAC systems of Mooers and Deutsch, and in recent developments by Ellis and Sibley (RAND Corporation) and Bert Sutherland (Lincoln Laboratories).

So Engelbart was quite aware of, and eventually used, Mooers' "active function" as the actuating device when pointed to by the mouse. (The dictionary of Project MAC, at MIT, also allocates "active function" credit to Mooers).

As an aside relative to the British Telecom fiasco, among five entities noted in this 1966 May report as having been given copies of all movies and slides was the United Kingdom Scientific Mission, represented by F. M. Blanke. So British Telecom could hardly claim ignorance of this prior work.

The movie part of the 1968 demonstration should have given British Telecom pause in their recent and foolish attempt to swallow the WorldWide Web. That's right! A movie showing everything in action just as British Telecom claimed they described in their British patent 8 years later! And in their U.S. patent 21 years later!

Engelbart sought no patents for most of this work, as it was done under U.S. Govt. sponsorship. He did patent the mouse itself, as a low-cost mechanical product.

Markup Language
1969 -- Charles Goldfarb, IBM

"Markup Language", a major component of "hypertext", invented in 1969 by Charles Goldfarb of IBM, was shown to the world as GML in 1970, but never patented (the U.S. Congress had not yet gotten so silly as to permit patenting languages). It was renamed SGML by 1975.

When an Internet file is displayed, one is likely to see its (hyperlink) address (from whence it was obtained) at the top of the screen. Often the final letters are ".htm" or ".html", meaning that it is in HyperText Markup Language form, which is a major component of "hypertext"!.

Thus "HyperText Markup Language", the first word due to Ted Nelson, the second two words due to Goldfarb.

HTML is a curious but effective combination of modified escape sequences and other derivatives that continue the non-display mechanism, but uses (within its particular domain) other usually-printing (and thus keyable) characters as the escape trigger and terminator. Primarily "<" and ">".

It is impossible to give a suitable reference for HTML. Pick one yourself -- from among over 426,000,000 hits that Google gave on April Fool's Day of 2003.


So there you have it -- why I refer to Engelbart as the "point man", and Mooers as the "click man". The "point" facility that Engelbart gave Mooers was just what he needed for the "click" facility. Mooers had described the function, but a more effective execution of the function awaited the mouse hardware.

As for the escape facility that ties this all together, I suppose that someone will now refer to me as the "invisible man"!


  1. Calvin N. Mooers, "TRAC, A Procedure-Describing Language for the Reactive Typewriter" (full text)
  2. Calvin N. Mooers, "TRAC, A Procedure-Describing Language for the Reactive Typewriter" (Citation) CACM 9, No. 3, 1966 Mar, 215-219
  3. Brown U.
  4. Mouse Site
  5. CNET "Unsung Heroes of Computing"
  6. D. C. Engelbart, "Study for the Development of Human Intellect Augmentation Techniques", Quarterly Technical Letter Report 1, (full text) covering the period 8 February through 7 May 1966, Stanford Research Institute Project 5890