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Homebrew Computer Club

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In the mid-1970s, the computer world was vastly different than today. It was dominated by huge, expensive, and inaccessible mainframe computers from IBM and others, and the slightly less huge, expensive and inaccessible “minicomputers” from companies such as Digital. The idea of a “personal” computer was foreign to all but a few hobbyists.

In 1975, the first personal computer, the Altair 8800, was introduced by a small company in New Mexico. The Altair came as a kit that had to be assembled by the user. It was programmed using switches on the front panel, and even with a concerted programming effort, it couldn’t really do much. But the hobbyists were hooked.

Inspired by the Altair, one group of electronics nuts began meeting as the “Homebrew Computer Club” in Menlo Park, California, near Stanford University. Within months, its membership exploded. Among the group’s first members were Steve Wozniak and his friend Steve Jobs, future founders of Apple Computer.

Many of the members of the Homebrew Computer Club saw these new, affordable computers as a great liberator that would level the playing field between big corporations, that could afford mainframe computers, and everyone else, who could not. This theme would later become a major selling point of the Macintosh, “the computer for the rest of us.”

In early 1976, Steve Wozniak showed his design for a new computer at a meeting of the club. Many club members were unimpressed, but Steve Jobs saw the potential of this new, cheaper design and convinced Woz to go into business producing Wozniak’s new computer. Another club member, Paul Terrell, also liked the design and told Jobs to “keep in touch.” Jobs showed up at Terrell’s computer store, The Byte Shop, the next day and sealed Apple Computer’s first order: 50 Apple I computers at $500 each.