Introductory advertisement for the Apple I Computer
On March 5, 1975 Steve Wozniak attended the first meeting of the Homebrew Computer Club in Gordon French's garage. He was so inspired that he immediately set to work on what would become the Apple I computer. Wozniak calculated that laying out his design would cost $1,000 and parts would cost another $20 per computer; he hoped to recoup his costs if 50 people bought his design for $40 each. His friend Steve Jobs arranged to sell 50 computers to the Byte Shop (a computer store in Mountain View, California) at $500 each. To fulfill the $25,000 order, they obtained $20,000 in parts at 30 days net and delivered the finished product in 10 days.
The Apple I went on sale in July 1976 at a price of US$666.66, because Wozniak "liked repeating digits" and because of a one-third markup on the $500 wholesale price. The first unit produced was used in a high school math class, and donated to Liza Loop's public access computer center. About 200 units were produced and all but 25 were sold during nine or ten months. Unlike other hobbyist computers of its day, which were sold as kits, the Apple I was a fully assembled circuit board containing about 60+ chips. However, to make a working computer, users still had to add a case, power supply transformers, power switch, ASCII keyboard, and composite video display. An optional board providing a cassette interface for storage was later released at the cost of $72.
The Apple I's built-in computer terminal circuitry was distinctive. All one needed was a keyboard and an inexpensive television set. Competing machines such as the Altair 8800 generally were programmed with front-mounted toggle switches and used indicator lights (red LEDs, most commonly) for output, and had to be extended with separate hardware to allow connection to a computer terminal or a teletypewriter machine. This made the Apple I an innovative machine for its day. In April 1977 the price was dropped to $475. It continued to be sold through August 1977, despite the introduction of the Apple II in April 1977, which began shipping in June of that year. Apple dropped the Apple I from its price list by October 1977, officially discontinuing it. As Wozniak was the only person who could answer most customer support questions about the computer, the company offered Apple I owners discounts and trade-ins for Apple IIs to persuade them to return their computers These recovered boards were then destroyed by Apple, contributing to their rarity today.
Original 1976 Apple 1 Computer in a briefcase. From the Sydney Powerhouse Museum collection
Original 1976 Apple 1 Computer PCB From the Sydney Powerhouse Museum collection
As of 2013, at least 63 Apple I computers have been confirmed to exist. Only six have been verified to be in working condition.
An Apple I reportedly sold for $50,000 USD at auction in 1999.
In 2008, the website "Vintage Computing and Gaming" reported that Apple I owner Rick Conte was looking to sell his unit and was "expecting a price in excess of $15,000 US." The site later reported Conte had donated the unit to the Maine Personal Computer Museum in 2009.
A unit was sold in September 2009 for $17,480 on eBay.
A unit belonging to early Apple Computer engineers Dick and Cliff Huston was sold on March 23, 2010 for $42,766 on eBay.
In November 2010, an Apple I sold for £133,250 ($210,000) at Christie's auction house in London. The high price was likely due to the rare documents and packaging offered in the sale in addition to the computer, including the original packaging (with the return label showing Steve Jobs' parents' address, the original Apple Computer Inc 'headquarters' being their garage), a personally typed and signed letter from Jobs (answering technical questions about the computer), and the original invoice showing 'Steven' as the salesman. The computer was brought to Polytechnic University of Turin where it was fixed and used to run the BASIC programming language.
In October 2012, a non-working Apple I from the estate of former Apple Computer employee Joe Copson was put up for auction by Christie's, but found no bidder who was willing to pay the starting price of US$80,000 (£50,000). Copson's board had previously been listed on eBay in December 2011, with a starting bid of $170,000 and failed to sell. Following the Christie's auction, the board was restored to working condition by computer historian Corey Cohen. Copson's Apple I was once again listed on eBay, where it sold for US$263,100.03 on April 23, 2015.
On November 24, 2012, a working Apple I was sold at auction by Auction Team Breker for €400,000 (US$515,000)
On May 25, 2013, a functioning 1976 model was sold for a record €516,000 (US$668,000) in Cologne. Auction Team Breker said "an unnamed Asian client" bought the Apple I. This particular unit has Wozniak's signature. An old business transaction letter from Jobs also was included, as well as the original owner's manual.
On June 24, 2013, an Apple I was listed by Christie's as part of a special on-line only auction lot called, "First Bytes: Iconic Technology From the Twentieth Century". Bidding ran through July 9, 2013. The unit sold for $390,000.
In November 2013, a working unit speculated to have been part of the original lot of 50 boards delivered to The Byte Shop was listed by Auction Team Breker for €180,000 ($242,820), but failed to sell during the auction. Immediately following the close of bidding, a private collector purchased it for €246,000 ($330,000). This board was marked '01-0046', matching the numbering placed on other units sold to The Byte Shop and included the original operation manuals, software cassettes, and shipping box autographed by Steve Wozniak. The board also bears Wozniak's signature.
On December 13, 2014, a fully functioning, early Apple I was sold at auction for $365,000 by auction house Christie's. The sale included a keyboard, custom case, original manual, and a check labeled "Purchased July 1976 from Steve Jobs in his parents' garage in Los Altos".
On May 30, 2015, an electronics recycling center in the Silicon Valley of Northern California, USA, is looking for a woman who dropped off boxes of electronics for recycling and disposal, within which an old Apple I computer was found and turned out to be a collectible item worth $200,000. The computer was inside boxes of electronics that she had cleaned out from her garage after her husband died. The recycling firm sold the Apple I for $200,000 to a private collection, and because the company's practice is to give back to the original owner 50% of the proceeds when an item is sold, they want to split the proceeds with the mystery donor if they can find her.
On September 21, 2015, an Apple I bearing the Byte Shop number 01-0059 was listed by Bonhams Auctions as part of their "History of Science and Technology" auction with a starting bid of US$300,000. The machine was described as, "in near perfect condition." The owner, Tom Romkey, "...only used the Apple-1 once or twice, and ...set it on a shelf, and did not touch it again." The machine did not sell.
Both Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak have stated that Apple did not assign serial numbers to the Apple l. Several boards have been found with numbered stickers affixed to them, which appear to be inspection stickers from the PCB manufacturer/assembler. A batch of boards is known to have numbers hand-written in black permanent marker on the back; these usually appear as "01-00##" and anecdotal evidence suggests they are inventory control numbers added by the Byte Shop to the batch Apple sold them. These Byte Shop numbers have often erroneously been described as serial numbers by auction houses and in related press coverage.
USA Museums displaying an original Apple 1 Computer
Several Apple I clones and replicas have been released in recent years. These are all created by hobbyists and marketed to the hobbyist/collector community. Availability is usually limited to small runs in response to demand.
Replica 1: Created by Vince Briel. A software-compatible clone, produced using modern components, released in 2003 at a price of around $200.
A-One: Created by Frank Achatz, also using modern components.
^Freiberger, Paul; Swaine, Michael (2000). Fire in the Valley: The Making of the Personal Computer (2nd ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill. pp. 265–267. ISBN0-07-135892-7. At a Homebrew meeting in July 1976, Woz gave a demonstration of the Apple 1. Paul Terrell, one of the industries earliest retailers, was in attendance.
^Wozniak, Steve (2006). iWoz. W.W. Norton & Company. p. 150. ISBN978-0-393-33043-4. After my first meeting, I started designing the computer that would later be known as the Apple I. It was that inspiring.