American Icons: Apple Computer

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Apple's Rainbow Logo (1976-1998)Founded in 1976, Apple Computer has worldwide recognition. Those of us who grew up with the Apple Computer revolution may have hardly noticed the changes as they occurred, but when you look back it’s amazing how far the original 3-man partnership has come, what they have created and what effect it has had on global technology.

Most people are familiar with the names of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak as the founders of Apple, but there was also a man by the name of Ronald Wayne in the original partnership. Wayne worked with Jobs at Atari before they founded Apple on April 1, 1976. Wayne drew the first rendition of the Apple logo and wrote the manual for the Apple I. But under a partnership, all members were liable for each other’s debt, so Wayne sold his stock for $800 and left the partnership after only two weeks. With Jobs and Wozniak, Apple was incorporated on January 3, 1977 (changing the partnership to a corporation) and became Apple Computer, Inc.

Apple’s first product was the Apple I, which was a personal computer kit hand-built by Wozniak. It was not the traditional PC that comes to mind today, with a CPU, monitor and keyboard. It was simply a motherboard and was sold at $666.66. To make it a functioning computer the user had to add a case, power supply, monitor and a keyboard. Storage was saved via an optional board to a cassette tape.

Apple Macintosh Computer

The Macintosh was introduced in 1984.

In 1977 the Apple II was introduced. It was different from the other PCs offered in that year in that it had color graphics and an open architecture, making it easily upgraded. At first they were produced utilizing cassettes as storage, but the newly released 5 1/4 floppy disk drive was added to later models. Not taken all that seriously up to this point, when the Apple II was chosen by VisiCorp in 1979 as the platform for their VisiCalc financial software, it converted the Apple computer from a hobbyist’s gadget to a serious business tool. Apple’s sales in 1976 of $174,000 shot up to $117 million by 1980.

Apple’s Macintosh computer was introduced in 1984. Sales were good, but were further enhanced by the release of the LaserWriter postscript laser printer. With the addition of PageMaker software, the Macintosh and printer were sold as a desktop publishing package. To people in the desktop publishing industry, as I was at the time, this brought about amazing changes to production. Pages were no longer typeset on typesetting machines by trained operators, waxed and assembled manually onto boards. Rather, pages could be set in place and with further software advances, eventually graphics files (of scanned art and photos) could be put into place on the pages.

First Apple Logo

Apple’s rainbow logo is easily recognized, but it wasn’t the first. Wayne designed this one, which was used in 1976. It was soon replaced by the rainbow, which lasted until 1998.

Apple’s success continued with the introduction of the PowerBook in 1991. Manufacturers originally thought the laptop would only serve useful for salesman and accountants, but today there are very few people who do not own a laptop computer and they’re seen using them everywhere.

After struggling with the product line in the 1990s and experiencing internal conflicts, Apple produced the iMac, a computer with the monitor and CPU in one unit. Apple was back on target when they sold nearly 800,000 iMacs in the first five months. The iMac has revolutionized the look of desktop computers. They have evolved into beautiful, flat-screen, self-contained computers without a lot of cable connections and the bulky CPU for which to make space.

The same team that designed the iMac also produced the iPod, a portable digital media player, in 2001. Apple created the iPod in response to the complaints by music artists and their recording companies about people who were sharing and downloading music online. Many consumers felt the albums produced at the time rarely contained more than one song worth having and the public was balking at paying for music they didn’t want. By September 2008 more than 173 million sold worldwide.

The iPhone made its debut at the Macworld Expo on January 9, 2007. The iPhone is a touch-screen phone that connects to the Internet and serves as a portable media player. Also at Macworld Steve Jobs announced the company would from then on be called Apple Inc. This name reflects Apple’s branching out into all sorts of consumer electronics in addition to computers. Personally, I’m waiting to see an Apple device made specifically for digital download of books. They have a record for doing things better than the competition, so it ought to be great.

Apple Inc. is a homegrown company that is based in Cupertino, California and although it has offices around the world, it remains very much an American company. The corporate offices have taken a non-traditional approach like many other companies formed in the 1970s. They encourage a more casual atmosphere and have always emphasized marketing their products, but especially the Apple name in particular. They have the highest repurchase loyalty among all computer manufacturers.

We have been using Macs in the Retro Planet offices since we opened. Apples iPods have completely changed how the world listens to music. Blazing new trails is what Apple Computer has always done best and is part of what makes them an American icon. Another part is their highly successful marketing that has put their products in our homes and has made Apple part of our popular culture.

Last updated: Apr 13, 2009
Filed under: American Icons Tagged with: retro brands, technology