January 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 Apple’s Mac project
The Mac project dates back to the late 1970s and original creator Jef Raskin. He had the revolutionary (and, today, decidedly un-Apple) idea to build an easy-to-use personal computer that everyone could afford.
Raskin targeted a price point of $500 or less. While that’s equal to more than $1,400 in today’s money, it was far cheaper than the Apple II, which cost $1,298 in the 1970s. Even a low-cost TRS-80 — a fairly bare-bones computer sold at Radio Shack — cost $599 at the time.
Raskin and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs wound up clashing over the direction of the project due to their disagreement on price versus quality. Ultimately, Jobs took over the Mac team. Raskin left Apple and wound up releasing a computer based on his original idea, called the Canon Cat, a few years later. (It failed to take off.)
Macintosh: What’s in a name?
Originally, Apple planned to spell the Macintosh as “McIntosh,” a reference to Raskin‘s favorite cultivar of apple. (Raskin considered using female names for computers sexist.)
Apple changed 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.”)
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 users deserved something better than the green-text-on-black-screens that was more or less ubiquitous at the time.
Original Mac specs
The Macintosh 128K boasted an 8 MHz Motorola 68000 processor. The “128K” in its name indicated the computer’s RAM. The first Mac 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 $7,100 today).
The first Mac actually sold disappointingly for Apple. (That’s one reason the Apple II product line continued for another nine years or so.) It took at least two more iterations before the Mac truly hit its performance and commercial stride with the Mac SE/30 model.
From PowerPC to Intel to Apple silicon
Apple introduced the Power Macintosh, the first to use a PowerPC processor, in 1994. A little more than a decade later, Jobs revealed in 2005 that Macs would transition from PowerPC chips to Intel processors.
And in 2020, Apple again roiled the computer industry by shipping the first wave of Macs powered by the company’s custom-built M1 chip. The highly efficient Arm-based processor delivered astonishing performance and set the stage for a revitalization of the Mac lineup.
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.