Who Invented Cut/Copy and Paste?

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Photo: Erik R. Trinidad (via Firefox)

If you’re reading this on Discovery.com, chances are you know how to use a computer or mobile device. (If you’re reading this on a piece of paper that you had to have someone print for you, you might as well stop reading now.) As the technically savvy — even at the lowest level — you most likely know how to cut/copy and paste words, phrases, or entire paragraphs from one document or text field into another. We do it so often in day-to-day computer life that we take it for granted; it’s merely one of the little things that computers can do. But can you imagine a modern world without cut/copy and paste? You’d have to do a ton of more typing and memorization.

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We can thank one Larry Tesler, the computer scientist who’s credited in history as the inventor of cut/copy and paste, for the time and finger energy saved with this intangible creation. Tesler was one of the computer geeks at Xerox PARC — the innovative research and development center in Palo Alto, California — back in the 1970s, when home computers were just an experimental idea that many believed wouldn’t go anywhere. (In fact, Xerox PARC invented several ideas that many believe Steve Jobs and the early team at Apple “stole” after a visit in 1979.)

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Tesler was working on the programming of the Smalltalk-76 system between 1973-76, and it was on that project that he implemented a method of capturing text into a computer’s internal memory, i.e. “cut”/”copy,” and then inserting it somewhere else, i.e. “pasting.” The verbs were taken from the old idea of manuscript editing, when one had to physically cut words on a page with scissors and paste them elsewhere.

Tesler eventually moved on from Xerox PARC, and has had quite the fruitful life in the technology community over the decades — from working as a computer scientist at Apple, to being vice presidents at Amazon.com and Yahoo!, to working in biotechnology. However, no matter what he’s done over the past thirty years, or what he will continue to do in the future — he’s currently an independent contractor — I’ll always thank him for the cut/copy and paste. In fact, I will honor him now by effortlessly copying and pasting this last sentence. In fact, I will honor him now by effortlessly copying and pasting this last sentence.

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