The ancestor of your Mac: “Apple I” was the hand built computer made in 1976 & Apple’s first official product

Goran Blazeski
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Apple_I_Computer. On display at the Smithsonian

With Black Friday just over a month away, getting the best deals on Apple products, including discounts on a MacBook, has become one of the hottest topics on the Internet. Numerous websites offer tips on how and where to get the best MacBook deal.

But what’s so special about Apple’s MacBook that makes the device this desirable? The debate is ongoing and every individual has his or her own reasons to like or dislike MacBook, but many people believe that Apple stands head and shoulders above the rest of the competition. The company certainly knows how to exude superiority.

Apple not only dictates trends in technology but also revolutionized the way we communicate and how we live. It’s safe to say that this colossal multinational company is the top player of the smartphone era, but about 40 years ago Apple was just a small company with big ideas. This is how it all started:

Even today, creating a computer from scratch seems quite impossible, but this was exactly what a man named Steve Wozniak did about 41 years ago when he single-handedly designed and built both the hardware and software of the 1976 Apple-1, the most revolutionary computer in history and one that propelled Apple to a global company. 

Apple I computer at the Science Museum

Apple-1 computer at the Science Museum

“When I built this Apple I, sort of the first keyboard–the first computer to say a computer should look like a typewriter, it should have a keyboard and the output device is a TV set–it wasn’t really to show the world here is the direction the world should go. It was to really show the people around me, to boast, to be clever, to get acknowledgment for having designed a very inexpensive computer,” Wozniak told NPR in September 2006.

He never wanted to sell anything and had no intentions of founding a company, but this is where another genius with a clear vision of the future comes along. His name: Steve Jobs. His occupation: changing the world.

Neither of these two geniuses could have done it without the other, as they were a very necessary pair. The two college dropouts, alongside their friend Ronald Wayne, joined forces and on April Fool’s Day, 1976, the Apple-1 was born and the Apple Computer, Inc. was founded. It was this device that started a computer revolution changing the way people viewed computers, and most importantly, it went on to change almost every aspect of our everyday lives.

Introductory advertisement for the Apple I Computer

Introductory advertisement for the Apple I Computer

About a month before the beloved tech fairytale of Apple began, the pair presented Wozniak’s hand-crafted computer at Silicon Valley’s Homebrew Computer Club and then approached a local computer store, the Byte Shop, in an attempt to sell them computers. He landed a contract for 50 computers with the store, for a total amount of $25,000, and now the only thing that was left was to obtain the much-needed funds for manufacturing the first products.

Original 1976 Apple 1 Computer in a briefcase. From the Sydney Powerhouse Museum collection

Original 1976 Apple-1 Computer in a briefcase. From the Sydney Powerhouse Museum collection CC BY-SA 4.0

Wozniak sold his HP 65 Calculator and Jobs sold his Volkswagen van, but they were still short $15,000 for parts. A high school friend agreed to loan them $5,000 and Jobs asked for a loan at the bank, hoping that they would approve the loan. Sadly, he was wrong. The bank declined, but it was Jobs’ enthusiasm that kept the process alive, so he went to another computer-parts store, offering them an equity stake in Apple for the parts needed. The owner of the store declined, saying that he would sell the parts they needed only if they were paid cash up front. Jobs’ persistence finally paid off when he managed to convince the manager of another computer parts store to call Paul Terrell, the owner of the Byte Shop, to confirm the claim that he already took a $25,000 order from the guys. The pair got the parts on 30 days’ credit after Terrell’s confirmation.

Original 1976 Apple 1 Computer PCB From the Sydney Powerhouse Museum collection

Original 1976 Apple-1 Computer PCB From the Sydney Powerhouse Museum collectionCC BY-SA 4.0

The original Apple-1 computers were bought by the Byte Shop and were put on sale for the unusual price of $666.66 apiece. Wozniak has said on several occasions that the price had nothing to do with anything Satanic, adding that he chose this price simply because he preferred repeating digits.

The circuit board of a fully assembled Apple I

The circuit board of a fully assembled Apple I

About 200 units were sold by the Byte Shop up to September 1977, even though Apple II had already been introduced in April the same year. The success of Apple-1 helped significantly in the promotion of its predecessor, Apple II, a truly groundbreaking machine that introduced the first-ever color graphics, helping the company to go public and to become one of the most successful in the world.

Read another story from us: Artist transforms old computer parts and electronics into delicate winged insect sculptures

Today, the first Apple computer has become a Holy Grail in electronics memorabilia and among the most valuable items around. It is believed that only 70 Apple-1 computers survive today, with one of them being sold at an auction in New York in October 2014 for a record-breaking $905,000.