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03/14 – Words: Will Stern

If you were driving around Menlo Park or Palo Alto in the winter of 1975, you might have spotted a long-haired hippie pinning printed and hand-cut announcements to every empty bulletin board or telephone pole he could find. No, he wasn’t looking for a lost dog or drumming up business for his tutoring services… he was advertising the kick-off of the first-ever meeting of the Homebrew Computer Club.

High school buddies and future Apple co-founders, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak (better known as ‘Woz’), were early attendees of these meetings, which would spark the PC revolution.

Jobs and Woz weren’t the only ones interested in this new technology – and attendance quickly ballooned from the 32 tinkerers who showed up to that first meeting on a rainy March night in 1975. Soon the club attracted hundreds of regular participants, requiring the meetings move from a small Palo Alto living room to the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center to accommodate the crowds.

The club saw computing as a hobby – a group of enthusiasts with an idealist view of the future of computing — which most agreed “should have nothing to do with making money.” The theme was “Give to help others,” Woz later wrote, and the meetings exemplified the open-sourced nature of the tech scene at the time.

At the time the latest and greatest in personal computing had just debuted in Popular Electronics Magazine. A small computer kit based on the brand-new Intel microprocessor called the Altair 8800 was the trendy new machine. Originally requiring users to program the Altair using toggle switches, a Harvard student named Bill Gates and his buddy Paul Allen helped integrate the easy-to-use BASIC programming language, and the race was on.

Inspired by the innovations of the Altair and others in the space, Woz started developing his own PC.

To the chagrin of the finance-focused Jobs, Woz delighted in sharing his side-project with fellow Homebrewers, passing around schematics for what would become the Apple I and even making free house-visits to help friends build their own. Dan Sokol, a club member who sat next to Woz at one of the early meetings, recalled that Woz treated this early tinkering as a purely leisurely activity.


-Dan Sokol

Like any start-up company the duo needed funding – so Woz sold his HP-65 calculator and Jobs cashed in his van, together raising around $1,300 to begin assembling the first boards of what would become the Apple I in Jobs’ bedroom.

On April 1, 1976 the two formed Apple Computers. Woz hand-built 200 Apple I computers, a barebones machine meant for serious techies. It was essentially just a circuit board, with the user responsible for providing everything from the keyboard to a display.

They sold their new PC at $666.66 (Over $3,200 in 2021 dollars – which today would buy you three new iPhones) and they sold all but 25 of their units. Continuing with their less-than-conventional sales tactics they learned in college, Jobs would show up at local electronic stores barefoot, or, at best, in sandals to pitch his new machine.

After more than 45 years and a quarterly revenue that just topped $100 billion in 2021, historians, collectors, and mac enthusiasts alike have begun treating the original Apple I as a holy artifact from the early days of PCs. From those original 200 Apple I computers hand-built by Woz, that original number has dwindled down to around 59 verified computers according to the online registry of Apple I’s.

Some of these are on display in museums around the world from the Smithsonian to the Deutsches Museum in Munich (the world’s largest museum of science and technology), but of the few that remain in private hands, prices have surged in recent years. In 2010, a bidder at Christie’s walked away with one of the original Apple I’s for less than $215,000. In 2020, the most recent sale cleared $735,000.

#APPLE1 is 1 of the 200 original hand-built Apple I computers, signed and by Woz and accompanied by a diagnostics report from Apple historian and expert Corey Cohen.

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