Jack Tramiel, Founding Father Of Cyberculture

Jack Tramiel was born in Poland in 1928. After the Nazi invasion of 1939 he and his family were sent to a Jewish ghetto. Later, they were sent to one of the worst concentration camps of the Nazi Germany: Auschwitz.

In Auschwitz, Jack Tramiel was selected by Dr. Mengele (more known as "The Angel of Death", one of the most cruel and wicked minds of Nazism) to go with his father to the work camp of Ahlem (Hanover). His mother stayed in Auschwitz. Jack Tramiel's father was assassinated by the Nazis (they injected him gasoline).
He was rescued from the concentration camp in 1945 by the US Army.

Two years later Jack Tramiel went to the USA, the country that gave him freedom, and joined their army. While he was in the army, he learned to repair typewriters.

Some time later, he worked as a taxi driver. He saved some money, and bought a shop in the Bronx, where he worked repairing typewriters. He called it "Commodore Portable Typewriter".

He had a remarkable success, and decided to move to Ontario (Canada) the following year. There, he focused on manufacturing office material at low cost.

But in 1976 he had economical problems and he's about to go bankrupt. Tramiel, used to adversity, bets really hard: he gets a loan of 3 million dollar, and with this money, buys an American electronics company. It was called "Mos Technologies", but he changed its name to "Commodore International".

Tramiel has a revolutionary idea: why not to make computing accessible to the general public? "Computers for the masses, not for the social classes". That were times in which computers were just a mere tool for the big companies, and privileged people that could pay a big amount of money.
Tramiel starts a chain reaction, maybe a social revolution: no business will lack of a computer (a
revolution in all offices), a new toy for the children, and a new way for entertainment that nowadays keeps a strong fight against the leader of communication: TV. Computers became the best vehicle for information, due to Internet.

He releases a series of brilliant products, really revolutionary for those times, both for their technological improvements as for their progressively lowered price. For example, PET (designed by Chuck Peddle in 1977) and VIC-20 (in 1981, was one of the first computers able to work with colors, and were produced 9000 units per day).
And in 1982, they launch the Commodore 64.

It had all kinds of peripherals that were just high technology until then, and never seen before by the home users: optical pen and graphics tablet (that allowed to draw directly on the screen, or in an electronic blackboard), game devices (joystick, mouse, roller), modem to browse the Internet, video digitalizer (the precursor of web cams), MIDI sequencer, monitor filters...

Commodore 64 brings the absolute success for his company. It is the best seller home computer in History, with more than 30 million units sold all over the world. This is why it appears in the Guinness World Records.
Commodore International reached the 32% of the home computing market.

In 1984 Jack Tramiel left Commodore and sold his shares. With the abandonment of this man, blessed with the Midas Touch, starts the decadence of the company. When they launched the notorious computer Amiga, they went bankrupt. The company abandoned Jack Tramiel's guidelines of low price computers.

In the same year, he bought Atari. Years later, his sons managed the company.

He retired to live a peaceful life with his wife, Helen. They are together for more than 60 years.

So when you turn off your computer today, remember Jack Tramiel. Maybe if Jack Tramiel never existed, you may not have a computer to turn off.

-Emma Alvarez-

© 2008 by Emma Alvarez. Link to this post without copying the text.

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Vladimir said...

That is an extraordinary article thanks so much. And I had a C64, in the good old days!

Emma Alvarez said...

Wow!!! Vladimir I never have seen a real C64, only in pics, but I really admire very much Jack Tramiel. And commodore brings me curiosity. My husband had one and always tells me how great was that computer. Everybody who had a C64 talks very well about it.

Silicon Valley Old Timer said...

If you ever meet anyone who has ever worked for Jack Tramiel, as my ex-husband did, you may want to change your mind. Jack's motto was "business is war!" and my ex told me that he would rather beg in the streets than ever work for Jack again.

Jack's companies had difficulty finding employees and when a firm I worked for recruited a finance manager for him, Jack reneged on his agreement to pay; my ex witnessed explosions of rage, saw things thrown at employees, and was cursed out repeatedly, along with other managers at Commodore. When he quit, Jack refused to pay him his final check and accrued vacation pay...he had to sue to get his money.

My ex went to Atari and became a director, and one morning he came to work only to find Atari's office buildings padlocked. Jack had bought the company over the weekend and locked all of the employees out. It was two weeks before he was allowed into the building to collect his personal belongings from his office. He quit Atari the minute he heard that Jack was the new owner.

Jack overcame adversity and made a fortune, to be sure, but not in a way I would call admirable.

Emma Alvarez said...

Oh My Gosh...

nailgungfx said...

Emma this is a great article! I had the luck of owning a Commodore 64 (and then the legendary Amiga), the C64 was an admirable piece of hardware. It could do most things better than any other other micro at the time, being mostly better at it's audio visual abilities.

As far as popularity is concerned, a strong contender of the C64 was the U.K. bred SInclair's ZX Spectrum 48K which came out in 1982(and it's 1984 "48K+" polished revamping). Although the Spectrum was far lesser capable than the C64, it was very popular, especially in Europe.

Silicon valley Old Timer, thank you very much on the inside info about Tramiel, but I think that Emma's article was focused on the products that his company has developed not on the man himself. Of course he's not the only rough boss around! You should see my boss :D

Lexor said...

I have to agree with "silicon valley old timer". Jack was a powerful man but certainly did not always have the "Midas Touch". There is also little doubt that the computer revolution would have happened without him.

The Amiga was in many ways a truly revolutionary computer which suffered under a Commodore in disarray -- not because of Jack's absence but at least because of the same reason for Jack's exit (financier Irving Gould).

That all said, Commodore's contributions most certainly deserve more recognition than they usually receive.

kh said...

Great article. I think I still have a C64 around here somewhere. Still to this day play some old games on an emulator at work.

And Tramiel is an interesting guy. Episode 157 of The Linux Link Tech Show had an interview with the author of a book with fantastic stories from Commodore employees: http://tllts.org/dl.php?episode=157

Emma Alvarez said...

Business' world is very hard, specially for someone like Jack Tramiel that comes from having nothing at all. Surely, he reached that position for being hard and strict. The results of being hard and righteous were Commodore and what it meant in History.

I respect the testimonial of Silicon Valley Old Timer. She has shared her truth with us.
On the other side, I didn't met anyone that talked good about their boss.
And if we hear our boss talking about his employees, I suppose we will be very angry.

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