The Apple I personal computer (PC) was invented by Steve Wozniak, a computer programmer and co-founder of Apple Inc. Steve Wozniak first presented the Apple I at the Homebrew Computer Club in 1976 in the United States. The machine featured an 8-bit MOS 6502 processor, 4K bytes of RAM, and a cassette tape interface for storage.
The Apple I is one of the first desktop computers released by Apple Computer Company (now Apple Inc.) in 1976 in the United States. It was designed by Steve Wozniak with the help and suggestion of Steve Jobs, who believed that they could make money out of selling a single etched and silkscreened circuit board. The idea came to fruition in July 1976, when Wozniak presented his prototype at the Homebrew Computer Club meeting in Palo Alto.
In order to fund its production, Wozniak sold his HP-65 Calculator for $500, and Jobs allegedly planned to use his bike for transport instead of selling a second-hand VW Microbus as initially proposed. This product was quickly overshadowed by its successor, the Apple II, which launched less than a year later on June 10th 1977 – alongside PET 2001 from Commodore Business Machines and TRS-80 Model I from Tandy Corporation. These three products would become known as ‘the 1977 Trinity’ of personal computing.
The Revolution Was Computerized
In 1977, the tech industry experienced a significant change with the introduction of three personal computers commonly referred to as the “trinity.”
Led by Commodore’s $795 PET 2001 machine, all three computers boasted QWERTY keyboards and 4K of RAM, offering an unprecedented level of computing power for their users at that time. In January, the Commodore PET made its debut at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), and soon it was followed by Radio Shack’s TRS-80 on August 3rd. Although they were marketed as pre-built systems in desktop enclosures, what set them apart was their powerful—for the time— MOS 6502 processor and surprisingly attractive styling, complete with a built-in monochrome monitor and cassette drive. It almost felt like stepping into another world when using these revolutionary computer products.
At its core, this technological trinity ushered in a new era of personal computing and inspired many future developments in technology—from more affordable machines to more complex components that delivered exponentially better performance than the models that preceded them. Ultimately, these early computers set off a chain reaction which laid the foundation for the world of computing today; from allowing us to send emails to surfing endless hours on websites.
The Homebrew Computer Club played a significant role in the iconic history of computing. Founded by Gordon French in 1975, it believed that personal computers should be accessible to everyone. One attendee at the club was Steve Wozniak, who was so inspired he immediately set out to build what became the Apple I computer. The revolutionary idea that emerged from this meeting was to design and market an etched and silkscreened circuit board on which people could build their own personal computers with. After calculating the costs for the project – $1,000 for design plus $20 for each board – Wozniak and fellow attendee Steve Jobs decided to finance their first company by selling his Volkswagen minibus and Wozniak’s HP calculator collection.
This move kick-started the success of Apple Inc., leading to an incredible legacy as one of the most iconic brands in computing history. Despite many setbacks along the way, today Apple remains a leader in consumer electronics and is highly visible both through its products such as iPhones, watches and laptops and via its landmark stores located around the world. It all started at Gordon French’s garage with Steve Jobs pioneering ideas – showing just how influential one meeting can be on society.
The Apple I was a home computer designed and created in 1976 by Steve Wozniak. Initially, the design called for a Motorola 6800 processor, carrying a price tag of $175. But when MOS Technology introduced it’s cheaper 6502 microprocessor at just $25, Wozniak changed the design to incorporate the new chip. The CPU ran at 1.022727 MHZ, allowing it to process simple calculations and basic commands.
Unlike later Apple models which used visual outputs after having been connected to a television set, the Apple I relied on its built-in computer terminal circuitry with TV composite output for video signals. This required shift registers and a character generator displaying only text-based images, making it necessary for users to have both a television set and an ASCII keyboard as input devices. It also did not come with any case or housing; most users either chose to use it as-is or build custom cases such as wooden casings according to their own wishes.
Apple I character set
The Apple I character set was developed using a Signetics 2513 64×8×5 Character Generator. This technology could display uppercase characters, numbers, basic punctuation and math symbols, as well as some additional graphic elements. It consisted of a total of 64 different characters that could be printed on-screen in the text mode.
The Apple I character set did not take full advantage of all its capabilities due to the limited memory capacity at the time. For example, it could display foreign language letters, special symbols or graphics but these were not accessible for use in programming. In addition, it only allowed for 8 lines of text per screen and 32 columns – making it difficult to produce any complex displays onscreen with this hardware limitation.
The serial numbers of Apple-1s have been a point of mystery since the release of the iconic product. It became known that Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak stated they had never assigned serial numbers to their product, leaving serial number orders unconfirmed. However, several boards have also been found with numbered stickers affixed to them, presumably inspection stickers doing double duty as serial numbers. Additionally, a batch of boards was found with hand-written markers on them – typically with a format such as “01-00##”. In January 2022, 29 Apple-1s with confirmed serial numbers were known. The highest discovered number was 01–0079 while two original Apple-1s were analyzed by PSA in Los Angeles and concluded the Serial Numbers had been written by Steve Jobs himself.
These clues and discoveries add an interesting layer onto the story behind the series numbers on these vintage products. It is thrilling to learn that Steve Jobs potentially wrote some of these himself in what could possibly be his very own handwriting. Furthermore, it invites new questions about why this work was done by hand instead of automated for production and whether more examples might exist out there waiting to be discovered.