Today in History – January 24, 1984 – Apple Computer unveils the Macintosh personal computer. Apple introduced “the Mac” through its famous “1984″ television commercial that was played at the 1984 Super Bowl. The imagery pitted Apple’s new generation of the people’s personal computer against the Orwellian IBM. The Mac was an innovation breakthrough in computer design with the introduction of the mouse and a graphical user interface at a relatively low price. It was first sold with only a 400kb floppy drive to load the operating system and files, with no hard drive. Less than 50,000 units were sold after its introduction because of the limited memory and radical features. Sales got a big boost when the LaserWriter printer was introduced along with third party publishing software. The early Mac users provided an enthusiastic customer base of early adopters who formed community groups, participated in early testing and developed third part software using Apple’s user-friendly developer’s kit. My husband and I each bought one of the first offerings and have upgraded to new Apple models ever since. The summer of 1984 I accepted a faculty position at the University of California at Berkeley and my husband became an Apple developer and created software for astronomy enthusiasts.
A decade earlier on April 1, 1976, the Apple Computer Company was formed and released the Apple I computer, the first computer with a single circuit board. There was no assembly line as each Apple I was hand-built by Steve Wozniak in Steve Jobs’ parents’ home and required further assembly by the purchaser, including providing AC input voltages, wiring an ASCII keyboard to a DIP connector and wiring the video output pins to a monitor or to an RF modulator if a TV was used. Steve Wozniak showed the first one to the Homebrew Computer Club to get sales going. He had to sell his Volkswagen bus to help keep the company afloat.
Steve Wozniak designed the Apple II personal computer that was released on April 16, 1977, featuring a central processing unit (CPU), keyboard, floppy disk drive, and a $1,300 price tag. The Apple II launched the personal computer revolution. He left Apple in 1981 and went back to the University of California at Berkeley and finished his degree in electrical engineering and computer science there. Since then, he has been involved in various business and philanthropic ventures, including improving computer capabilities in schools.
So how do you build the first personal computer? Wozniak says when he teaches Personal Computer 101 he asks students to go to the Apple I Owners Club, founded in 1977 by Joe Torzewski. The site contains over 120 pages detailing the Apple I computer. It shows you what it was like to actually buy and assemble one. If you’ve never seen an Apple I, check this site out and see how the personal computer revolution began. Want to know more, read Wozniak’s book: iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It.
Check out the Engineering Pathway’s educational resources on Apple computers and history of computing. For more educational resources, see our electrical engineering education, computer science education and computer engineering education community pages. The Engineering Pathway also hosts Engineering Education communities in all ABET-accredited disciplines.