45 Years Ago, Apple Kickstarted the Personal Computer Industry

On April 16, 1977, the first annual West Coast Computer Faire kicked off in San Francisco. At that event, which was attended by 12,750 people, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak unveiled the Apple II personal computer. It’s not hyperbole to say that the world has never been the same.

Apple wasn’t the first company to introduce a “microcomputer,” as it was referred to then because of its use of a microprocessor. A $399 MITS Altair 8800 appeared on the cover of the January 1975 issue of Popular Electronics (famously, a non-working prototype, as the working one was lost in shipment to the magazine). It was a kit computer you had to assemble yourself unless you paid extra to MITS and were willing to wait.

The Altair 8800, which sold out immediately, and other kit computers of its ilk such as the Imsai 8080, were hobbyist dreams realized more than useful tools for regular people. They didn’t come with keyboards, displays, or storage devices, much less ready-to-run software. But they put some of the power of a mainframe or minicomputer on your desk—and you didn’t have to share processing time with anyone else.

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak

Steve Jobs on stage in front of a 1976 photo showing Steve Wozniak (left) and himself working on the Apple-1.
(Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Steve Wozniak, at the time a young electrical engineer with experience working for HP and Atari, designed his own personal computer. He introduced the first prototype, barely more than a circuit board and dubbed the Apple-1, at the local Homebrew Computer Club in July 1976. Soon, he began hand-building units with the help of his friend Steve Jobs, whom he had met some years earlier and worked with at HP and Atari. Together, they sold Apple-1 systems to enthusiastic clubgoers; they also sold about 50 of them to a local electronics store called the Byte Shop (see the readout on the far left of the screen above).

Arguably, Steve Wozniak knew how to design electronics better than anyone else at the time. He could whittle a design down so it used as few chips as possible, as evidenced by his work on Atari’s hit 1976 coin-op Breakout.

Apple-1 at the Computer History Museum

An autographed Apple-1 at the Computer History Museum in 2008
(Photo: Jamie Lendino)

Soon, Wozniak…