In 1976, engineer Steve Wozniak, while working at HP, built the Apple-1 computer from scratch. He finished his work in March 1976. Together with Steve Jobs and Ronald G. Wayne, both working for Atari, they founded the company Apple Computer that would make history and change the world.
Before Steve Wozniak created the Apple-1, Steve Wozniak built just 13 years old a transistor-based calculator and at the age of 19 a computer called the Cream Soda Computer together with Bill Fernandez. Bill Werner got the chips for it. Bill Fernandez introduced Steve Jobs to Steve Wozniak.
Later he and Steve Jobs sold together illegal phone phreaking boxes, called Blue Box. Those were invented by John Draper aka Captain Crunch). Steve Wozniak met him and started to build his own Blue Boxes. Wozniak tried to use the Blue Box to prank the pope. He called the pope claiming Henry Kissinger would speak.
According to Steve Wozniak's autobiography "iWoz", he sold his HP 65 calculator for US$ 500 to buy the Apple-1 mainboards. And Steve Jobs sold his VW bus for US$ 750. They needed US$ 1,000 to get a computer company to print the boards. Reference iWoz, Chapter 12, page 173:
"To come up with the $1,000 we thought we’d need … I sold my HP 65 calculator for $500. The guy who bought it only paid me half though, and never paid me the rest. I didn’t feel too bad because I knew HP’s next-generation calculator, the HP 67, was coming out in a month and would cost me only $370 with the employee discount.
And Steve sold his VW van for another few hundred dollars. He figured he could ride around on his bicycle if he had to. That was it. We were in business".
More about this HP 65 and Steve Jobs VW bus here.
Steve Wozniak designed the Apple-1. Only 200 Apple-1 were produced in total. According to Steve Wozniak, 175 were originally assembled.
Despite so many articles about the Apple-1 designed in a garage, it happened in Steve Wozniak's apartment.
Sometimes a unit number showed up in articles but it seems, mostly the unit number are wrong. Articles claiming it was 16K, 36K etc. Woz stated, that he can’t remember the unit number but he was guessing 22L or 24L.
Apple-1 Registry curator Achim Baqué checked it by himself and drove to 20800 Homestead Rd in Cupertino in August 2019. It is now renamed. In block 16 and 36 is no apartment “K”. Block 24 got no “K” or “L” as well. But, block 22 has a unit “L” and it is upstairs (which matches Woz’ information). So maybe, it was 22L.
Why is that interesting at all? Well, it is significant because of the IT history. It was the foundation stone of Apple.
The unusual display section is a result of the so-called 'Computer Converser' which Steve Wozniak and Alex Kamradt designed as a terminal. The idea came from an article in the magazine Popular Electronics 1975.
The motherboard was designed by Howard Canter (Steve Wozniak knew him from his work). All Apple-1’s components were soldered in a factory.
The IC chips were placed in Steve Jobs' parents' house. Steve Job's sister and Daniel Kottke equipped the mainboards. His sister made just a few before Daniel took over the work. She bent to many pins of the chips while watching TV. First 50 boards in the house, next 50 in the garage. Steve Wozniak showed up about once a week and corrected any mistakes in the garage. As soon as a few mainboards were equipped, those were sold to the Byte Shop.
The first 50 Apple-1 were sold to the Byte Shop, owned by Paul Terrell, who met Steve at the Homebrew Computer Club. Without this contact, the Apple Company might not exist. The Byte Shop was one of the first personal computer retailers. Paul Terrell was visionary and wanted to offer a fully assembled computer for little money. Only later did Paul Terrell realize that a complete computer in Steve Jobs' eyes meant the assembled board. Keyboard, cassette interface and tape recorder had to be bought.
East Coast: Later Stan Veit bought an Apple-1. He was the owner of the east coast's first computer store. He showed this computer at the Association of Computer Machinery and first nobody believed him that the Apple-1 would be a computer.
According to Daniel Kottke, a car dealer contacted Apple and wanted to use the Apple-1 computers for his business. This was by far the most lucrative idea. But it never happened.
All Apple-1 came out without a case, keyboard, power supply and external storage device.
For the first time the Apple-1 computer was presented August 28-29, 197 at the PC76 - Personal Computing Consumer Trade Fair in Atlantic City, NJ, USA (black and white picture).
It was by the way the first national personal computer show. Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs and Daniel Kottke presented the Apple-1 at Stan Veit's booth.
Woz created the first Apple II in 1976 as well. According to Daniel Kottke he had the Apple II prototype in a shoe box. Already capable of colors. He took it to the West Coast Computer Faire.
There is NO serial number for Apple-1 computer!
Some Apple-1 have a handwritten number on the back. In auctions this is often referred to as the serial number, but it is not.
List of all known handwritten numbers on the back of some 1st batch Apple-1.
There are many theories surrounding this number. Only Apple-1 computers sold by the Byte Shop seems to have this number. But nobody remembers where the number really comes from. Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs, Daniel Kottke, Paul Terrell, the board manufacturer etc. all say that they didn't put the number on the mainboard.
However, all information pointing to the fact that someone in the Byte Shop wrote the numbers on the boards. But it might be a mystery forever.
Only some Apple-1 of the first batch got this handwritten number. So far no Apple-1 of the 2nd batch have it. Here is a list of all known handwritten numbers ('serial #') on the back of some 1st batch Apple-1.
In addition to the handwritten number some Apple-1 computer have a small round stamp with a number in the middle. Others have small labels on the back. The origin of these marks is also unknown. Those labels are usually used in the factories.
The Byte Shop theory seems plausible. Only one question remained: why do numbers greater than 50 exist? Mike Willegal found an explanation. Data Domain Computer had purchased Apple-1 computers directly from the Byte Shop. Mike asked Thom Hogan (Data Domain Computer) about this. At that time, Data Domain Computers had found a practical application. One was at the Kentucky Derby.
Ray Borrill, the owner of Data Domain, bought 15 Apple-1. Probably more later. They sold 13 Apple-1, 1 was donated to the US Olympic tennis team and destroyed in a plane crash. The last one was auctioned in 2001.
The sale of Apple-1 to Data Domain Computers by the Byte Shop explains the higher numbers quite well.
In any case, there are computers whose handwritten number is greater than 50, but were still sold by the Byte Shop. That is not a contradiction. When the Apple-1 were sold to Data Domain Computers, probably just a few computers were taken out of stock and why would anyone pay attention to the ascending order of the numbers?
Some Apple-1 have a label and / or stamp on the back or front.
Nobody know the origin but usually it is used for quality control at manufacturing.
Stamps are mostly found on the back under the power section or on the front next to the heat sink.
Labels are found somewhere on the back or sometimes on the breadboard area. So far the number hast two or four digits. Some boards even has two labels. The 4 digit number has so far always been 4062.
The handwritten number is always unique Labels with the same number are found on some boards of the 2nd batch. So far only Apple-1 of the 2nd batch have labels sometimes.
The Apple-1 was produced in two batches: The second batch was made by another manufacturer. Apple-1 of the first batch were built around April 1976.
Those Apple-1 of the first batch are the first produced Apple-1 ever and the oldest ones. Only the prototypes pre-dates it. And only Apple-1 of the first batch got many times the handwritten number on the back.
Because they are several months older, many collector trying to get these boards.
For example Mike Willegal created a replica mainboard of the Apple-1 mainboard and used the early version of the first batch as a reference.
The mainboards are almost identical. The mainboard color is different.
The differences between both versions are easy to spot. The second batch has a rhombic logo with letters NTI inside under the 'Apple Computer 1' logo and was produced second half of 1976.
Decoupling capacitors are square shaped multilayer capacitors (usually green). Mainboard of 1st batch have round ceramic capacitors.
Some NTI boards have different electrolyte capacitors. Usually they are blue but some NTI boards have one or more yellow electrolytic capacitors.
PIA and CPU on boards of 1st batch have sometimes ceramic chips. Mostly the CPU. Many boards of 1st batch have the plastic AMI PIA.
On the second batch only plastic chips were used but some owner changed it later to ceramic versions to look better.
So far, Apple-1 of 1st and 2nd batch have seen very high results at auctions in the past.
The number of pre-production and hand wired Apple-1 is unknown. Probably and unfortunately no such Apple-1 survived. The so-called 'Celebration Apple-1' is not an pre-production Apple-1.
The Apple Cassette Interface exist like the Apple-1 itself in two versions. 1st batch and 2nd batch (which are marked “NTI”). Sometimes NTI Apple Cassette Interfaces are used for 1st batch Apple-1. Simply because the owner bought it later. And in the beginning, no Apple Cassette Interface was available.
Some Apple-1 were traded in for credit on Apple II. The credit offered was not a great deal. As an example, see the letter from Fred Hatfield. He turned it down.
The only person that I've come across, that actually have done a trade-in was Bob Bishop, famous Apple II programmer. I exchanged some emails with Bob recently, and he
doesn't remember what he received. He does think it was along the lines of what Fred was offered. There are a
couple of units in existence that were probably traded in. These are the two that the Huston brothers took from
the pile in Steve Jobs office. Although there are stories of many Apple-1 being traded in for Apple II, I
found evidence of very few actual trade-ins.
Early on in Apple history, there was a stack of Apple-1 that were initially in a cabinet in the lab and later on, moved to Steve Job's office.
Depending on which early Apple employee you talk to, the stack was either large or small in size. The best
take on this is that there was a modest number of individual units in the stack, but that took up a large
amount of vertical space, due to the height of the heat sink. There were two categories of units in this stack. In
addition to a few units that were traded in for credit on Apple II, there was a number of unsold Apple-1 that
were never populated with chips and tested. A number of early Apple employees were allowed to take one of these
boards home. All of the unsold units were NTI boards and had no chips in the sockets. Some have been populated
and brought to life since that time. Since not many people know the story of the unpopulated/unsold boards, when
encountering these boards, people usually speculate that the chips were pulled from the boards after being sold.
Most likely many Apple-1 were trashed. There are rumors about a fire in Steve Wozniak’s garage and maybe his prototype(s) were destroyed.
Known destroyed Apple-1:
1. One Apple-1 donated to the US Olympic tennis team was destroyed in a plane crash. Remarks from Achim Baqué: This information is from Ray Borrill. No information about this plane crash could be found. ESPN got a list of all athletes killed in plane crashes but neither it was possible to find Olympic members nor a group of tennis players.
2. One former Apple-1 owner told the story, that his father broke his Apple-1 mainboard into two pieces and trashed it.
3. Someone in Germany got original chips from an Apple-1. This Apple-1 was probably bought in the US for a few bucks and later destroyed and trashed.
4. Another story from a guy named Kevin: In the late 1990s I worked with a gentleman named Robert Fischer that previously worked for Sierra Online. Apparently, they acquired an Apple-1 to investigate writing software for it but soon discovered its limitations and the very limited number that existed, even then. As it was related to me, he remembers the day they told him to get rid of it so he put it, along with all of the accessories and documentation in the dumpster and it was gone. Even back then he regretted that action but what could he do?
Rumor / maybe marketing trick:
The story about an almost destroyed Apple-1 found in an electronics recycling center is a little bit strange. There is no proof at all, if this story is true. No picture of the Apple-1 exists or was published later, but this company was in the news for a long time and probably after getting so much attention, many people delivered old computer to them. Many people asked unsuccessfully the company for a picture of the Apple-1 or any information. None of the Apple-1 experts or collectors were ever contacted by the recycling company.
Even the Apple Company used different names in advertisements and price lists. On the mainboard, it is Apple Computer 1. In price lists, it is Apple I. There is no right or wrong name.
On early ads and on the manual, however, it is Apple-1 and Steve Wozniak preferred it like this. These reasons are enough for me to use Apple-1.
Some people argue it should be Apple II. Well, correct would be Apple ][ and even the third Apple was Apple III. The name always had an artistic touch.
Apple-1 mainboards are wave soldered. Wave soldering is very effective and low cost but it has its downside. Adhesion between tracks and board on wave soldered boards can get loose. So far, this is not a problem for any Apple-1.
But you can see on many Apple-1 board on the back something looking like wrinkled protective coating on the tracks. There is no excess solder underneath. The manufacturing process with high temperature at wave soldering is responsible. It is normal.
Many times some parts of the coating become detached. A typical peeling caused by wave soldering and the age of those boards. Some boards lost more coating over the time, which is only a cosmetic issue.
The Apple-1 has a so-called breadboard. A breadboard is used to add electronic parts. Steve Wozniak added the breadboard to the Apple-1 design to allow users to modify or enhance the Apple-1 computer. Electronic parts were connected by wire to other IC’s and traces on the mainboard.
It was used by many first Apple-1 owners. For some auctions in the 2000’s those added electronics were removed.
The Apple-1 use the 6502 CPU, mostly MOS 6502.
Some CPU are in ceramic housing. Mostly white ceramic. Others are in an plastic housing.
At first Steve Wozniak had the idea to use the 6800 processor from Motorola. The 8080 was too expensive for him. But even the 6800 was pricey. Steve Wozniak liked the Motorola 6800 because it was used in some of his favorite minicomputers. His friend Allen Baum discovered the 6502 in MOS Technology ship for Steve Wozniak. As soon as he got hands on the 6502 at Homebrew Computer Club he changed his plans and used the much cheaper 6502. With just 25 US$ extremely cheap in 1976. Sometimes this chip is white or purple ceramic, sometimes plastic. Manufacturer is MOS.
Used as an interface for keyboard and display. Sometimes this chip is white or purple ceramic, sometimes plastic.
The PIA got the number 6520 and Motorola used 6820. Later 6521 was used as a substitute. Many times PIA from AMI, Synertek or Motorola are used for the Apple-1. AMI was widely used in the first batch of Apple-1.
The memory for the computer.
Memory can be found in ceramic and plastic housing. Most common is the plastic housing.
DRAM was a large step forward. Many computer used SRAM. SRAM was more expansive as DRAM. Every chip got 4096x1 bit = 512 byte. In an Apple-1 8 are used for one row = 4 KBytes.
4 or 8 KBytes are used for Apple-1. With some modification it is possible to use more memory. But you have to do add wires and some election parts by yourself, only for experienced people. According to Apple ads even 64 KBytes are possible.
The firmware of the Apple-1 is stored in two PROMs 256x4 bits.
Woz (Steve Wozniak) Monitor program is stored in just 256 bytes and enabled to use the keyboard to enter commands and machine code for 6502. PROM is non-volatile Programmable Read-Only Memory a type of ROM.
There was no reset circuit. You need a reset circuit to get the computer started. Therefore you need an extra switch. Original and not modified Apple-1 can only use upper case characters. Everything was squeezed into this tiny memory. 254 of 256 Bytes are used. Good job!
MOS - MOS Technology, Inc.
This company produced the CPU 6502 and the PIA 6520. Most Apple-1 use MOS 6502.
AMI - AMI Semiconductor
Produced the CPU 6502 and the PIA 6820.
Produced the CPU 6502 and the PIA 6520 as well.
Produced the PIA 6820.
Most DRAM used in Apple-1 was manufactured by Mostek.
Major manufacturer of integrated circuits (ICs/Chips) widely used for computer.
TI - Texas Instruments
Major manufacturer of integrated circuits (ICs/Chips) widely used for computer.
The large capacitors used for Apple-1 are eye-catching. Producer was Sprague Electric.
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