Today in Apple history: Apple-1 starts a revolution

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Apple-1
The Apple-1 in all its glory!
Photo: Auction Team Breker

April11April 11, 1976: Apple releases its first computer, the Apple-1.

Designed and hand-built by Steve Wozniak, the computers are sold wholesale by “Steven” Jobs. To finance their manufacturing, Wozniak sells his HP-65 calculator for $500, while Jobs sells his VW van. Years later, in 2014, a working Apple-1 will sell at auction for $905,000.

The first Apple

In terms of spec, the Apple-1 was incredibly primitive. It came with an 8-bit MOS 6502 microprocessor running at 1 MHz.

It boasted 4 KB of memory as standard, although this was expandable to 8 KB or 48 KB by way of expansion cards. Users had to add their own keyboard and monitor, although the latter could be a regular TV set, which made the Apple-1 innovative for its day. (And also, arguably, makes the Apple-1 the company’s first set-top box.)

Wozniak started working on the Apple-1 as a hobby, with no goal beyond showing it off to the people at the local Homebrew Computer Club, which he attended. “I did this computer … to show the people at Homebrew that it was possible to build a very affordable computer — a real computer you could program for the price of the Altair — with just a few chips,” Wozniak recalled in his autobiography.

It was Jobs who convinced Woz that they would be better off building and selling the Apple-1 rather than giving away the designs. Jobs approached Paul Terrell, the owner of the nearby Byte Shop, one of the first personal computer stores.

Terrell rejected Jobs’ first suggestion that the Apple-1 should come in kit form. Instead he told him that, with computers becoming more mainstream, people wanted to buy fully assembled machines. Jobs listened and agreed, and Terrell said he would buy 50 Apple-1 computers for $500 each, although cash would only be paid on delivery. Terrell then marked up the computers to $666.66, or the equivalent of $2,800 today.

Ultimately, the Apple-1 didn’t hang around too long. Only 200 or so units got built, although the number of surviving units is significantly smaller today, due to both age and the fact that Apple offered a trade-in deal for the significantly upgraded Apple II when that model launched the following year in 1977.