Today in History – August 12, 1981 – IBM introduces the first PC personal computer for $1,600 base price. The IBM PC was introduced only one year after Bill Lowe, Director of IBM’s Boca Raton division in Florida, was given the go ahead to begin operations. The project was controversial as few believed that an IBM PC would be a commercial success. Others questioned whehter IBM, as a company, had the agility to produce a consumer computer in a reasonable period of time. IBM’s website quotes one analyst with saying that “IBM bringing out a personal computer would be like teaching an elephant to tap dance.” Lowe was up to the challenge by putting together a development team that borke all of the rules at IBM. They operated like a small business and went ouside IBM’s traditional vendors and software developers. When they announced the IBM PC one year later, its delopemnt had been faster than any other product in IBM’s history. Customer response was overwhelming and PCs flew off of the shelves, leading to shortages and backlogs in most stores.
History has always pondered whether the future was propelled by the movement of the masses, the fine control of the elite, or the inevitable flow of society. However, before now no one ever questioned whether history was centered around people. Then comes the great electrical “thinking device”: The Computer. Matured beyond the initial fascinations with the Samuel’s Checkers Program and 2001′s Hal, personal computers finally made the power of computers familiar to the masses. The Apple II first made waves with the hobbyist and then IBM introduced them to world business. Soon the universality of computers became clear to everyone. On Dec 26th 1982, Time Magazine broadcast for the first time that computers, and not people, were controlling the future and named the computer their “Person of the Year” in 1982.
For more information, see the Engineering Pathway’s resources on history of computing and personal computers and computation. For curricular resources, visit the Computer Science Education, the Computer Engineering Education or the Software Engineering Education community sites.