Today in Apple history: Apple ships its first Mac

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Do you remember the first-gen Macintosh?
Photo: Apple

Jan25January 24, 1984: Apple ships its first Mac, the mighty Macintosh 128K.

Bringing a mouse and graphical user interface to the masses, and heralded by an acclaimed Super Bowl commercial that’s still talked about today, the first-gen Mac will quickly become one of the most important personal computers ever released.

Origins of the Mac project

The Mac project dates back to the late 1970s and original creator Jef Raskin. Raskin’s idea was the revolutionary (and, today, decidedly un-Apple) move to build a personal computer, built around a graphical interface, that everyone could afford to buy. The price point he picked out was $500 or less. While that’s equal to $1,650 in today’s money, it was far less than the Apple II, which cost $1,298 in 1970s money. Even a low-cost TRS-80 cost $599 for what was basically a fairly bare-bones computer.

Steve Jobs and Raskin wound up clashing over the direction of the project, due to a disagreement on price vs. quality, and Jobs took over the Mac team. (Raskin wound up releasing a computer based on his original idea, called the Canon Cat a few years later, although it failed to take off.)

Originally, Apple planned to spell the Macintosh as McIntosh, since the name was a reference to Jef Raskin‘s favorite cultivar of apple. Raskin chose to name the project after a type of apple because he thought that giving computers female names was sexist.

Apple had to change it, however, since the name already belonged to a high-end audio equipment company called McIntosh Laboratory. Steve Jobs was able to convince McIntosh to let Apple use a variant of the name, with the two companies agreeing to a financial settlement.

Had this not happened, Apple could have called the computer the “MAC,” standing for “Mouse-Activated Computer” — although some people joked that it actually stood for “Meaningless Acronym Computer.”

Mac signatures
The signatures of the original Mac creators.
Photo: Apple

An iconic computer

The Macintosh wasn’t Apple’s first mass market computer mass market computer (that would have been the Apple II) and nor was it the company’s first machine to use windows, icons and a mouse pointer (that would have been the Lisa).

What it was was a computer that brought together ease of use, a focus on personal creativity, and a belief that there was something better for users than the green-text-on-black-screens that were more or less ubiquitous everywhere else.

The Macintosh 128K (the 128K was your RAM) boasted 8 MHz, featured two serial ports, and was able to accommodate one 3.5″ floppy disc. It ran Mac OS 1.0, arrived with a 9-inch black-and-white monitor, and carried a price tag of $2,500 (the equivalent of around $5,000 today.)

The first Mac actually sold disappointingly for Apple, which is one reason the Apple II product line continued around for the best part of the next decade. It took at least two more iterations before the Mac truly hit its performance and commercial stride with the later SE/30 model.

However, this original computer remains iconic — and for very good reason. Happy birthday, Mac!

Did you own an original Macintosh 128K? What was the first Mac you ever used? Leave your comments below.

Deals of the Day

  • Tim Bouton

    Hi, just for fun I would like to share that I purchased the very first Macintosh ever sold to an individual. I signed up for the Own-A-Mac program in which retail computer salespeople could purchase the Macintosh, Imagewriter dot matrix printer, carrying bag and Microsoft Multiplan; all at a 66% discount. This took place in St. Louis, Missouri on Tuesday, January 17, 1984 — one week before the Mac was introduced to the public. I’ve used Apple products exclusively since then. Man, I wish I still had that original machine. -T. B.

  • LEK56
  • lattermanstudio

    My first Mac :) – I put it to good use as a technical writer. I created installation and operation manuals as a freelance job ‘night job’ – my day job was also as a technical writer at Fairchild where we used IBM PC’s and WordPerfect. On the little Macintosh I could do both the writing and simple graphics on one machine. Later when the LaserWriter came (Plus PageMaker and Adobe Illustrator) out I could create superb work at home :)

  • Antti Ilola

    My first Mac was a used SE around 96′. I still have it.