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Happy Birthday PC!

As the IBM PC turns 20 years old this week, we asked readers to tell us about their first computer, be it Kaypro, early Apple or Big Blue. Who could forget those 64-kilobyte powerhouses?

August 09, 2001|DAVID COLKER |

Your first kiss. Your first car. Your first job. And of course, your first computer.

Remember the excitement of opening the box, removing all the components, poring over the manual, and then making your first call to the help line? (It was probably closed.)

It might have been love at first sight, but for the next few weeks, you wondered what could have ever possessed you to get such an infuriating, time-consuming machine.

Eventually, you would make peace with this mass of silicon chips, rainbow-colored wires and whirling disk drives. It would transform many parts of your life: writing, sending mail, shopping, balancing the checkbook and even dating.

But this rite of passage into the Digital Age is swiftly becoming a thing of the past.

Children born in the last decade or so can't remember a time when personal computers weren't part of their lives. If there's not one at home, there are computers at school, in libraries or at a friend's house.

There were several personal computers before the IBM PC, including the Altair, Commodore PET and the Apple I. But it was Big Blue's machine that first won the hearts of serious business customers and ushered in the era of personal computing.

To celebrate the anniversary of the landmark IBM PC, we asked readers to wax nostalgic about their first computers--their trials and tribulations, their wonder and bewilderment. We received nearly 100 submissions and added in the memories of some celebrities. Here are a few of their stories. Many were edited for brevity.


Apple I (1976)

It came with a case and a keyboard--the video output was to a TV. I used it to learn BASIC, and I had it turning lights on and off inside our house. It drove my wife crazy because I would sit at it for hours with my back to her, typing in numbers and ignoring her completely.

She was the first person I knew to use the term "computer widow."

Dana Custer

(Computer technician)

Santa Clarita


Commodore PET (1977)

I remember leafing through a copy of Popular Science magazine and seeing an ad for a Commodore computer that had 8- or 16 kilobytes. It had an awful-looking screen, and it was $795. I thought I'd better get one because I had sons who were going to be in high school and might want to know about computers.

Later, I moved up to the 64 KB model and thought that was silly because it was more memory than I would ever possibly need.

I got them for the kids and then found I was fascinated by them. The first ones had tape drives. You would get a program like a word processor, put the tape in and then walk away for about a half an hour while the computer loaded it. But the first time I used a spell checker and it corrected a word, I thought, "We are getting close to God here."

Bob Newhart


Los Angeles


Kaypro (1978)

In 1977, I began what would turn out to be a 17-year career writing scripts for Bob Hope. At the time, I was using an IBM Selectric to churn out the jokes and sketches. A friend of mine, Bruce Howard, was writing scripts for "The Dukes of Hazzard" on what he claimed was a revolutionary new device called a word processor. One night after dinner, he demonstrated the strange new machine, and of course, within minutes I was hooked. I had to have one. It boasted a then-gigantic 3-by-5-inch screen that was green with yellow letters all in one type face--Times Roman.

One night, after discussing script changes at dinner with Bob Hope at his home in Toluca Lake, he asked me to retype several sketches. Ordinarily, changes took a day or so, but on this night, I rushed home, typed the changes into my Kaypro, hit Print and was back in less than an hour. He was truly mystified and couldn't imagine how I'd accomplished such magic.

Ironically, he didn't think his secretaries needed the expensive new devices--they used to retype his monologues and TV sketches on electric typewriters until well into the 1990s, when he gave in and computerized the office.

Bob Mills


Studio City


Digital Group (1979)

It came as a kit from a group in Denver--I remember assembling it during Super Bowl XIII.

It was more a toy than for any serious business purpose. I'm an early adopter.

At the time, Radio Shack sold a keyboard kit that could only use uppercase. I played around--doing some rewiring and adding some things--so that it could do both lower and uppercase.

Boy, that eight years of college was well spent.

David Bradley

(A designer of the IBM PC)

Chapel Hill, N.C.


IBM PC (1982)

I still have my working IBM PC with dot-matrix printer and crude, very early 3-D digitizer. Being in the violin shop business, I used them for appraisal writing, letter printing and to digitize the shape of a violin.

I mostly use Sony Vaio computers now. But occasionally when kids come to see the "Oldest PC," I give them a demonstration.

Kyozo Watanabe

(Violin maker)

Los Angeles


Sinclair ZX Spectrum (1982)

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