This Day in Tech History

On This Day . . .

Birth of the PC Era

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December 19, 1974: First Altair Kit Goes ON Sale

On this date in 1974 the Altair 8800 goes on sale.  The 8800 became the turning point for the home computer.  Something we take for granted now was, at the time, way over the heads of the general population.

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The Altair 8800 was put out by Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS). It was the first ever “Do it yourself” computer system. You would get it through Popular Electronics Magazine, and then assemble it yourself. This is a turning point in home computer setup. The price for an Altair 8800 kit was $397.00 and it included Microsoft Altair BASIC.

Guts of the 8800

Guts of the 8800

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As the base computer used toggle switches for input and LEDs for output, it was a far cry from the personal computers, laptops, tablets and smart phones we know today. However, this little kit was one of the most important computers in history, for it inspired the first generation of entrepreneurs that created the personal computer industry.

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Two examples:

A young Bill Gates and Paul Allen, excited by the possibility of small computers that could be used in the home, wrote the BASIC programming language for the Altair, their first software product which formed the basis of their future company, Microsoft.

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Bill Gates

Paul Allen

Paul Allen

Apple 1 at the Smithsonian

Apple 1 at the Smithsonian

The Altair was also popular with the Homebrew Computing Club, where Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs began their partnership selling their own computer kit, the Apple I.

After the Altair 8800 appeared on the cover of Popular Electronics magazine in January 1975, MITS was flooded with orders. Expecting to sell at most 800 units, MITS sold over 5,000 units by August of 1975.

And the rest, as they say, is history… Tech History.

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