Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak had withdrawn from Reed College and UC Berkeley, respectively by 1975. Wozniak designed a video terminal that he could use to log on to the minicomputers at Call Computer. Alex Kamradt commissioned the design and sold a small number of them through his firm. Aside from their interest in up-to-date technology, the impetus for “the two Steves” seems to have had another source. In his essay From Satori to Silicon Valley (published 1986), cultural historian Theodore Roszak made the point that the Apple Computer emerged from within the West Coast counterculture and the need to produce print-outs, letter labels, and databases. Roszak offers a bit of background on the development of the two Steves’ prototype models.
In 1975, Wozniak started attending meetings of the Homebrew Computer Club. New microcomputers such as the Altair 8800 and the IMSAI inspired him to build a microprocessor into his video terminal and have a complete computer.
At the time the only microcomputer CPUs generally available were the $179 Intel 8080, and the $170 Motorola 6800. Wozniak preferred the 6800, but both were out of his price range. So he watched, and learned, and designed computers on paper, waiting for the day he could afford a CPU.
When MOS Technology released its $20 6502 chip in 1976, Wozniak wrote a version of BASIC for it, then began to design a computer for it to run on. The 6502 was designed by the same people who designed the 6800, as many in Silicon Valley left employers to form their own companies. Wozniak’s earlier 6800 paper-computer needed only minor changes to run on the new chip.
Wozniak completed the machine and took it to Homebrew Computer Club meetings to show it off. At the meeting, Wozniak met his old friend Jobs, who was interested in the commercial potential of the small hobby machines.
Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak had been friends for some time, having met in 1971, when their mutual friend, Bill Fernandez, introduced 21-year-old Wozniak to 16-year-old Jobs. Jobs managed to interest Wozniak in assembling a machine and selling it.
Jobs approached a local computer store, The Byte Shop, who said they would be interested in the machine, but only if it came fully assembled. The owner, Paul Terrell, went further, saying he would order 50 of the machines and pay US $500 each on delivery. Jobs then took the purchase order that he had been given from the Byte Shop to Cramer Electronics, a national electronic parts distributor, and ordered the components he needed to assemble the Apple I Computer. The local credit manager asked Jobs how he was going to pay for the parts and he replied, “I have this purchase order from the Byte Shop chain of computer stores for 50 of my computers and the payment terms are COD. If you give me the parts on a net 30 day terms I can build and deliver the computers in that time frame, collect my money from Terrell at the Byte Shop and pay you.”
With that, the credit manager called Paul Terrell who was attending an IEEE computer conference at Asilomar in Pacific Grove and verified the validity of the purchase order. Amazed at the tenacity of Jobs, Terrell assured the credit manager if the computers showed up in his stores Jobs would be paid and would have more than enough money to pay for the parts order. The two Steves and their small crew spent day and night building and testing the computers and delivered to Terrell on time to pay his suppliers and have a tidy profit left over for their celebration and next order. Steve Jobs had found a way to finance his soon-to-be multimillion-dollar company without giving away one share of stock or ownership.
The machine had only a few notable features. One was the use of a TV as the display system, whereas many machines had no display at all. This was not like the displays of later machines, however; text was displayed at a terribly slow 60 characters per second. However, this was still faster than the teleprinters used on contemporary machines of that era. The Apple I also included bootstrap code on ROM, which made it easier to start up. Finally, at the insistence of Paul Terrell, Wozniak also designed a cassette interface for loading and saving programs, at the then-rapid pace of 1200 bit/s. Although the machine was fairly simple, it was nevertheless a masterpiece of design, using far fewer parts than anything in its class, and quickly earning Wozniak a reputation as a master designer.
Joined by another friend, Ronald Wayne, the three started to build the machines. Using a variety of methods, including borrowing space from friends and family, selling various prized items (like calculators and a VW bus) and scrounging, Jobs managed to secure the parts needed while Wozniak and Wayne assembled them. But the owner of the Byte Shop was expecting complete computers, not just printed circuit boards. The boards still being a product for the customers Terrell still paid them. Eventually 200 of the Apple I’s were built.