Milestone-Proposal:Introduction of the Apple I Computer: 1976

From IEEE Milestones Wiki

To see comments, or add a comment to this discussion, click here.

Docket #:2013-28

This proposal has been submitted for review.

To the proposer’s knowledge, is this achievement subject to litigation?

Is the achievement you are proposing more than 25 years old? Yes

Is the achievement you are proposing within IEEE’s designated fields as defined by IEEE Bylaw I-104.11, namely: Engineering, Computer Sciences and Information Technology, Physical Sciences, Biological and Medical Sciences, Mathematics, Technical Communications, Education, Management, and Law and Policy. Yes

Did the achievement provide a meaningful benefit for humanity? Yes

Was it of at least regional importance? Yes

Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to pay for the milestone plaque(s)? Yes

Has the IEEE Section(s) in which the plaque(s) will be located agreed to arrange the dedication ceremony? Yes

Has the IEEE Section in which the milestone is located agreed to take responsibility for the plaque after it is dedicated? Yes

Has the owner of the site agreed to have it designated as an IEEE Milestone? Yes

Year or range of years in which the achievement occurred:


Title of the proposed milestone:

Introduction of the Apple I Computer, 1976

Plaque citation summarizing the achievement and its significance:

The features essential for a personal computer were first encompassed by the Apple I: a fully-assembled circuit board with dynamic RAM, video interface, keyboard, mass storage and a high-level programming language. This affordable computer platform triggered a software industry that grew as the sophistication of these essential features grew, and the Apple I thus helped launch the personal computer revolution.

200-250 word abstract describing the significance of the technical achievement being proposed, the person(s) involved, historical context, humanitarian and social impact, as well as any possible controversies the advocate might need to review.

IEEE technical societies and technical councils within whose fields of interest the Milestone proposal resides.

In what IEEE section(s) does it reside?

Santa Clara Valley

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) which have agreed to sponsor the Milestone:

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) paying for milestone plaque(s):

Unit: Santa Clara Valley Section
Senior Officer Name: Ed Aoki

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) arranging the dedication ceremony:

Unit: Santa Clara Valley Section
Senior Officer Name: Ed Aoki

IEEE section(s) monitoring the plaque(s):

IEEE Section: Santa Clara Valley
IEEE Section Chair name: Ed Aoki

Milestone proposer(s):

Proposer name: Thomas Coughlin
Proposer email: Proposer's email masked to public

Please note: your email address and contact information will be masked on the website for privacy reasons. Only IEEE History Center Staff will be able to view the email address.

Street address(es) and GPS coordinates in decimal form of the intended milestone plaque site(s):

In the vicinity of the main entrance or the main lobby of the headquarters of Apple, Inc., at 1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino, CA 95014.

Describe briefly the intended site(s) of the milestone plaque(s). The intended site(s) must have a direct connection with the achievement (e.g. where developed, invented, tested, demonstrated, installed, or operated, etc.). A museum where a device or example of the technology is displayed, or the university where the inventor studied, are not, in themselves, sufficient connection for a milestone plaque.

Please give the address(es) of the plaque site(s) (GPS coordinates if you have them). Also please give the details of the mounting, i.e. on the outside of the building, in the ground floor entrance hall, on a plinth on the grounds, etc. If visitors to the plaque site will need to go through security, or make an appointment, please give the contact information visitors will need. The current headquarters of Apple, Inc., is a high profile location in Silicon Valley. It has a direct lineage to the work done by Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs and the team that worked on the Apple I. It is a location that is seen by and visited by thousands of visitors, vendors and Apple employees on a daily basis.

Are the original buildings extant?

The first Apple I prototype was designed and built by Steve Wozniak in his apartment and in his cubicle at Hewlett-Packard Co. (where he was employed at the time). Both of these were in Cupertino, CA. The apartment complex has been razed, and the Hewlett-Packard building will soon be razed in preparation for building Apple's new headquarters. Steve Jobs' house and garage at 2066 Crist Drive in Los Altos, CA, was where many of the Apple I PC boards were stuffed and tested, and it served as the focal point for Apple Computer in its earliest days. This house still exists, and it is discussed in the Bruce Newman news story which is included in the Supporting Materials section below.

Details of the plaque mounting:

TBD, but in the vicinity of the main entrance or the main lobby of the headquarters of Apple, Inc., in Cupertino, CA.

How is the site protected/secured, and in what ways is it accessible to the public?

The main entrance and the main lobby of the headquarters of Apple, Inc., at 1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino, CA, are fully accessible to the public.

Who is the present owner of the site(s)?

Apple, Inc., owns all of the buildings at its headquarters.

What is the historical significance of the work (its technological, scientific, or social importance)? If personal names are included in citation, include justification here. (see section 6 of Milestone Guidelines)

All computers before the Apple I, including hobby computers, had a front panel for entry of binary data into memory, for observing binary data in memory, and for running software. All computers after the Apple I followed its formula of startup code in ROM, keyboard input, a video display, and elimination of the front panel. The Apple I design was given away publicly at Homebrew Computer Club meetings in the San Francisco Bay Area. In a real sense, the Apple I computer was one of the first open computer architectures.

The Apple I was designed, built and sold in limited numbers in 1976 for $666.66. In 2013, a working Apple I computer was sold at auction for $671,400. It is believed that there are about 50 Apple I computers left in the world.(Ref. 1)

What obstacles (technical, political, geographic) needed to be overcome?

Prior to the Apple I, hobbyist computers were sold as kits that included components from different companies, and were affordable only in configurations that could not easily solve real-world computer problems. Early hobby computers such as the MITS Altair 8800 were programmed with front-mounted toggle switches, and indicator lights on the front panel provided output. (Ref. 2) Separate hardware was required to allow connection to a computer terminal or teletypewriter. Due to high cost, these machines typically only had 256 to 1024 bytes of RAM. In addition, the front panel components were a considerable cost factor. A remote teletype terminal with specialized hardware cost at least $700,(Ref. 3) making this an unattractive option for cost-conscious hobbyists.

Early attempts to create personal computers were based on expensive static RAM, and 4KB of this expensive memory was needed to support a higher-level language such as the BASIC interpreter written by Bill Gates. With their input and output limitations, these early computers were primarily used by computer hobbyists who were willing to dedicate a lot of effort to make them work. It was very difficult for a small business or home user to enter useful programs into, or even to play computer games on, these early computers.

There was thus no inexpensive computer that could be used by a casual user, and the very concept of a computer in the home was a novelty. In addition to the need to make a computer useful to regular users, there needed to be marketing about home or “personal” computers.(Ref. 4) The Apple I computer was the first product that was sold as a single assembled piece of computer hardware that could be easily used in the home, and which was marketed as a personal computer.

What features set this work apart from similar achievements?

Unlike earlier hobbyist computers, the Apple I was not sold as a kit to be assembled by the user. Instead, it was a fully-assembled circuit board containing over 60 chips. To make a working computer, the user had to add a power supply transformer, ASCII keyboard and a composite video display such as a conventional TV of that time. Some users also added a case and/or a power switch. An optional board providing a tape cassette interface for program and data storage was introduced after the initial product introduction (Ref. 2) and this option allowed the BASIC (Ref. 5) interpreter to be loaded into RAM.

The Apple I skipped all the expense of a front panel, which included switches, wiring and chips to support input using switches and output using lights. The Apple I used an electronic keyboard as its input device. The 4096 bytes of Dynamic RAM (DRAM) used in the Apple I was less costly than magnetic core memory used in many prior computers, and it had just been introduced at the time of the Apple I design. This DRAM was also many times less expensive than the Static RAM (SRAM) used by other low cost kits, although its need to be refreshed made its use more complex than that of SRAM.

DRAM used as working memory meant that logical addresses needed to be supplied in an organized fashion. The Apple I used the video circuit timing chips, from a prior terminal design of Steve Wozniak’s. These timing chips were used for a double purpose, since they also supplied the refresh addresses.(Ref. 6) This sharing of functions saved parts, and thus reduced the overall product cost. The video output and keyboard input were accomplished through a parallel interface chip.

The video memory was optimized (for cost) around dynamic shift register technology, and it could be updated with new characters at a rate of 60 Hz. All the timing was based on the NTSC color standard frequency, divided down for DRAM timing, display timing, processor clocking and more. Thus, a single timing circuit replaced many independent timing circuits that were common in prior computer designs. Together, these factors made the Apple I computer small and low cost.

As Steve Wozniak considered a high-level language essential for the usefulness of the Apple I, he wrote the BASIC (Ref. 5) interpreter. Without this BASIC interpreter, the Apple I would have been useful only for hard-core computer types. With a standard high-level programming language, software could be written and then distributed and used on multiple computers. This enabled a software eco-system that would increase the usefulness of the computer to casual users.

The Apple I defined the elements of a personal computer, thus making it affordable and useful for “normal” people. The cost reductions that made this possible were (1) an integrated and fully assembled working computer circuit board based on the powerful 1MHz 6502 microprocessor, (2) state-of-the-art but low-cost DRAM, (3) clever sharing of components, (4) the use of a typewriter-style keyboard to replace the front panel, and (5) NTSC output through a TV modulator to an owner's existing TV (Ref. 6). The Apple I was thus able to realize the goal of a low-cost, easy-to-use personal computer.(Ref. 7)

Supporting texts and citations to establish the dates, location, and importance of the achievement: Minimum of five (5), but as many as needed to support the milestone, such as patents, contemporary newspaper articles, journal articles, or chapters in scholarly books. 'Scholarly' is defined as peer-reviewed, with references, and published. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. At least one of the references must be from a scholarly book or journal article. All supporting materials must be in English, or accompanied by an English translation.

  1. Mike Cassidy, Steve Wozniak test-drives ancient Apple 1 computers, San Jose Mercury News, June 19, 2013.
  2. Apple I Wikipedia article,
  3. Teletype Model 33 Wikipedia article,
  4. Introductory Advertisement for the Apple I computer, 1976
  5. Integer BASIC article,
  6. US Patent No. 4,136,359 to Wozniak, filed April 11, 1977, issued Jan. 23, 1979: Microcomputer For Use with Video Display
  7. Hackers - Heroes of the Computer Revolution, Steven Levy, Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1984

Supporting materials (supported formats: GIF, JPEG, PNG, PDF, DOC): All supporting materials must be in English, or if not in English, accompanied by an English translation. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. For documents that are copyright-encumbered, or which you do not have rights to post, email the documents themselves to Please see the Milestone Program Guidelines for more information.

  1. Bruce Newman, Steve Jobs' old garage about to become a piece of history, San Jose Mercury News, Sept. 29, 2013

Please email a jpeg or PDF a letter in English, or with English translation, from the site owner(s) giving permission to place IEEE milestone plaque on the property, and a letter (or forwarded email) from the appropriate Section Chair supporting the Milestone application to with the subject line "Attention: Milestone Administrator." Note that there are multiple texts of the letter depending on whether an IEEE organizational unit other than the section will be paying for the plaque(s).

Please recommend reviewers by emailing their names and email addresses to Please include the docket number and brief title of your proposal in the subject line of all emails.