A pre-production version of the legendary Apple 1 computer sold for $815,000 at auction today, according to Charitybuzz, which arranged the sale. Bids above $1 million were retracted.
Steve Wozniak designed the Apple 1 single-board computer from his desk at Hewlett-Packard, not in Steve Jobs' garage as is commonly misreported. Wozniak said he completed one or two computers based on test boards from the circuit board manufacturing company before he and Jobs ordered the first full batch. Today's sale was one of the test systems.
"Great and understandable," Wozniak said, in reaction to the auction results. "Maybe I'll meet the buyer."
Several other single-board computers were more popular than the Apple 1 in 1976, but most of them limited users to a hexadecimal keypad for input and a few small LEDs for output. There were also fully-assembled microcomputers from giants such as IBM, but these were far more expensive for business users. Woz's brilliance was a system to build on a hobbyist budget combined with support for a full keyboard and screen. Others followed, but Apple did it first.
The young entrepreneurs eventually made 200 boards. Different manufacturing companies produced various batches of the bare boards, and final assembly and testing happened at the famous Jobs residence—not just in the garage but also in other rooms throughout the house, according to the earliest company employees such as Dan Kottke, who said he was stationed in Jobs' sister's bedroom.
Meanwhile, Wozniak designed the Apple II while still working from his desk at Hewlett-Packard. Jobs eventually convinced Wozniak to quit HP and join Apple full-time. Wozniak agreed after getting HP to sign off that they didn't own his design.
Apple sold about 175 computers—less than 50 are known to exist today. Public auction prices are typically above six figures, while private sales of more ordinary boards tend to be valued lower, explained Apple historian Corey Cohen, who evaluated the pre-production board and provided a report to Charitybuzz.
The unit sold today is being called the "Celebration" Apple 1 due to its provenance out of Celebration, Florida. It was displayed in public earlier this month at the Vintage Computer Festival West. Charitybuzz said the seller is donating at least 10% of the proceeds to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
- 10 facts about the Apple-1, the machine that made computing history (CNET)
- Apple's first employee: The remarkable odyssey of Bill Fernandez (TechRepublic)
- Apple history: First photos of vast collection stretching back to Jobs' and Wozniak's earliest computers (ZDNet)
- Photos: Homebrew CPUs, IBM mainframes, amazing replicas, and more from Vintage Computer Festival West XI (TechRepublic)
- Photos: Apple II clones, an ENIAC emulator, and more from Vintage Computer Festival East XI (TechRepublic)
- Gallery: Apple startup screens from 1979 to today (TechRepublic)
- Cracking Open the Apple Macintosh Classic (TechRepublic)
Evan became a technology reporter during the dot-com boom of the late 1990s. He published a book, "Abacus to smartphone: The evolution of mobile and portable computers" in 2015 and is executive director of Vintage Computer Federation, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. His vices include running and Springsteen.