Today in Apple history: Apple ships the first Mac

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Apple lays out the strengths of the revolutionary Macintosh 128K in an original Mac ad.
Apple lays out the strengths of the revolutionary Macintosh 128K.
Photo: Apple

January 24: Today in Apple history: Apple ships the first MacJanuary 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 had the revolutionary (and, today, decidedly un-Apple) idea to build an easy-to-use personal computer that everyone could afford.

He targeted a price point of $500 or less. While that’s equal to $1,650 in today’s money, it was far cheaper than the Apple II, which cost $1,298 in 1970s money. Even a low-cost TRS-80 cost $599 for what was a fairly bare-bones computer.

Steve Jobs and Raskin wound up clashing over the direction of the project, due to a disagreement on price versus quality. 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,” a reference to Raskin‘s favorite cultivar of apple. (He named the project after a fruit because he thought giving computers female names was sexist.)

Apple had to change the spelling, however, since the name already belonged to a high-end audio equipment company called McIntosh Laboratory. Jobs convinced 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,” for “Mouse-Activated Computer.” (Some people joked that it actually stood for “Meaningless Acronym Computer.”)

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

Macintosh 128K: An iconic computer

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

But the Mac 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 the amount of RAM) boasted an 8 MHz processor. It featured two serial ports, and could accommodate one 3.5-inch 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. (That’s one reason the Apple II product line continued 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 Mac SE/30 model.

However, the original Mac 128K remains iconic — and for very good reason. Happy birthday, Mac!

What was your first Mac?

Did you own an original Macintosh 128K? What was the first Mac you ever used, and how did it change your life? Tell your Mac-tastic stories below.