Just as the wheel, the clipboard on a computer is indeed a very useful invention!

Who came up with such bright idea?

Additionally, did it exist on non-graphical environments as well ?

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  • 21
    I thought you meant the physical clipboard...
    – bob
    Commented May 19, 2021 at 19:27
  • 12
    When we talk about a "clipboard" in a GUI, I think of a space provided by the OS to transfer data between applications in an app-agnostic way. OP, what do you think of all these text-editor examples? Is it what you were looking for, or something more like the Windows Clipboard? Commented May 19, 2021 at 19:31
  • @LawnmowerMan I was thinking more like your first sentence, however, things might not have been as integrated as they are today.
    – aybe
    Commented May 20, 2021 at 0:21
  • 5
    A 'wheel' is a privileged user on Tenex. That must be it!
    – dave
    Commented May 20, 2021 at 1:40
  • 4
    Somebody needs to mention Xerox Parc here, so I am.
    – user207421
    Commented May 20, 2021 at 1:44

7 Answers 7


According to Richard Dale, copy & paste was invented in '73 - '76 by Larry Tesler for Smalltalk-76:

Copy and paste in a modeless editor was invented by Larry Tesler at XEROX Parc for the Smalltalk-76 programming environment, in 1973-76. In Smalltalk, when you selected some text you had a large number of commands you could apply to the selection; 'again', 'copy', 'cut', 'paste', 'doit', 'compile', 'undo', 'cancel', 'align'. [1]

However, as @StephenKitt pointed out, modeless copy & paste was also present in Gypsy, developed in 1975 (also by Larry Tesler) [2]

Moreover, it seems that early word processors also had this capability, although usually using modes:

The earliest editors (designed for teleprinter terminals) provided keyboard commands to delineate a contiguous region of text, then delete or move it. Since moving a region of text requires first removing it from its initial location and then inserting it into its new location, various schemes had to be invented to allow for this multi-step process to be specified by the user. Often this was done with a "move" command, but some text editors required that the text be first put into some temporary location for later retrieval/placement. [3]

However, this wasn't called the "clipboard" at the time, this came far later:

In 1983, the Apple Lisa became the first text editing system to call that temporary location "the clipboard". [3]

So I'd say copy & paste was such an obvious improvement that it came to text editors a soon as they moved from punch cards to memory, but it took until '83 until the concept of a "clipboard" emerged.

  • 5
    Welcome! I was writing this up as you posted this so I’ll discard my answer. Larry Tesler came up with copy-paste earlier than Smalltalk; the first implementation was in his Gypsy word processor. He was inspired by Pentti Kanerva’s handling of delete and insert (or undo). It would be interesting to find out when the first “shared” clipboard was implemented, i.e. one allowing copying and pasting between applications... Commented May 19, 2021 at 8:44
  • Perhaps more accurately, copy-paste was added to Mini Mouse and then Gypsy before being added to Smalltalk, AFAICT. Commented May 19, 2021 at 8:50
  • @StephenKitt That is good to know, unfortunately its quite hard to come up with definite sources, and I'm too young to have experienced that time myself ;) Do you have any reference information about Mini Mouse? Gypsy was somewhat easy to find, but I can come up with hardly any information about Mini Mouse.
    – Polygnome
    Commented May 19, 2021 at 15:53
  • 2
    Designing Interactions mainly, and Larry Tesler’s web site. Commented May 19, 2021 at 16:02
  • @StephenKitt Thanks, those look like treasure troves of information. I'll probably need a while to dig through all that.
    – Polygnome
    Commented May 19, 2021 at 16:04

Honorable mention should be given to TECO, a text editor from the early 1960s. It had a set of containers called Q registers that functioned much the way the clipboard does. Cut and paste operations were easy enough in TECO, although the syntax was obscure.

  • 14
    "Obscure" is such a generous word for TECO commands...
    – TMN
    Commented May 19, 2021 at 16:49
  • 11
    If you give the command "obscure" to TECO, depending upon which files you have open, it may find the cure for cancer. Commented May 19, 2021 at 19:19
  • 2
    Hey, TECO was generous to me, so... Commented May 19, 2021 at 19:22
  • 6
    I'm not sure what Ob does, but scure will certainly search for a cure! Commented May 19, 2021 at 20:57
  • Don't think this really counts as a clipboard, since Q-regs only operated within a single TECO address space. On the other hand, you could make a case for TMPCOR being sort-of a clipboard between apps on TOPS-10.
    – dave
    Commented May 20, 2021 at 0:21

It was certainly around in vi (Unix text editor) that I first used in 1985. Vi is a visual front end to ed, which presumably pre-dates it. The cryptic ‘y’ would yank a line into the clipboard and ‘p’ would paste it. The paste buffer wasn’t shared with any other applications though, so I’m not sure whether that’s what you have in mind.

  • 6
    What's cryptic about y and p? It's better and more memorable than Ctrl+C and Ctrl+X and Ctrl+V. Commented May 19, 2021 at 9:02
  • 19
    @OmarL C stands for copy, X is a cross to ‘delete’, V the head of an arrow to ‘put down’. The latter two are even cross-linguistic, unlike the English-specific ‘y stands for yank, p for stands for paste’ (and ‘yank’ is a pretty uncommon word anyway). Commented May 19, 2021 at 9:19
  • 9
    I think the creators of vi we’re playing Russian roulette to assign functions to the alphabetic keys, but perhaps it makes perfect sense to someone who doesn’t share my mental health issues.
    – Frog
    Commented May 19, 2021 at 10:31
  • 21
    @StephenKitt From the inventor's mouth: ‘I chose “X”, “C” and “V” because they were all together on he keyboard near the Command key. “X” looks like a cross-out. “V” looks like an inverted caret.’ Commented May 19, 2021 at 15:14
  • 7
    @OmarL nah, all these terms suck. Copying? Yanking? Registers? Let's call it the KILL RING instead! Commented May 19, 2021 at 19:22

Did it exist on any non-graphical environments?

I remember when I worked for Canon in the UK, someone (hi, Dave!) had the idea of a mouse with memory. If you cut something (text or a small file), it could be stored in the mouse. You could then that mouse to another computer, plug it in, and paste what was cut. Apparently, there were similar patents in the late 80's that predated it, but I never heard of a product.


How about QED (1967)? It had the M command to move text to a "buffer", whose contents could then be retrieved via \B. Example 2 here is essentially cut/paste:

The commands

Oa \b1\f

first move several lines from the end of the current buffer to buffer 1. Then the lines are inserted at the beginning of the current buffer.


The idea of some buffer isn't far fetched anyway.

Additionally, did it exist on non-graphical environments as well ?

Well, in the mid 70s we used a (line orientated) editor on /370 mainframe that allowed to operate with multiple edit areas - plus one area for temporary copies. Lines could be copied into that area replacing what was there or added at the end of whatever was there. The whole temporary area or parts thereof (using line numbers) could copied back into any of the regular working areas.

So yes, kind of clipboard, but way more power full than simple copy and paste.


The concept has been around a lot longer than the moniker. Cash registers/other mechanical/electronic calculators often had one or more memories you could store the current value or the result of a calculation into, and then recall it for use in other operations. Human calculators often used a scratch-pad for temporary memory.

I'd be willing to bet that the concept of the clip or copy board goes all the way back to the earliest newspaper layout rooms. It's probably not an accident that Apple picked that feature name, given the high percentage of news/media outlets they targeted their marketing towards

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