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

April 11: Today in Apple history: First Apple computer, Apple-1 launches April 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.

Apple-1: The first Apple computer

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

It boasted 4KB of memory as standard, although this was expandable to 8KB or 48KB 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, iWoz.

Jobs convinced Woz they would do better building and selling the Apple-1 rather than giving away the designs. Jobs approached Paul Terrell, who owned 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. He told Jobs that, with computers becoming more mainstream, people wanted to buy fully assembled machines.

Apple-1 launch price: $666.66

Jobs listened and agreed. So, Terrell said he would buy 50 Apple-1 computers for $500 each, although cash would only be paid upon 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. Apple only built 200 or so. The number of surviving units is significantly smaller today, due to both the computers’ age and the fact that Apple offered a trade-in deal when it launched the significantly upgraded Apple II the following year.