Your garage holds more than just your cars and rarely-used power tools. It holds the potential for greatness. The wide-open floorplan and separation from the rest of the house mean that the garage is the perfect room for making noise. As countless hobbyist handymen or teenage bands have discovered, many projects are best pursued out of the way of parents or spouses. The garage is a blank canvas large enough to hold your supplies for any DIY project, large or small. It should come as no surprise, then, that many of the greatest companies in the world, and many of the most important inventions, got their starts in garages.
Join us as we explore these achievements through a running blog series, updated every Monday. We’re interested in learning all there is to know about the creativity produced in the most pivotal garages in history, and we’ll bring all of our findings straight to you.
Welcome to Garage Greatness.
Blogging for Apples
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably heard of Apple Inc., but just in case you get your news through smoke signals and rely upon carrier pigeons for your texting, we’ll summarize: Apple sells a range of personal computers, consumer electronics, computer software, and digital media. They are the largest traded corporation in the world in terms of market capitalization, with 182.8 billion dollars of revenue in 2014 alone. In short, Apple is a huge deal in the world of technology.
Like all companies, however, Apple had to start somewhere, and when Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak began their company they didn’t even have the capital to pay for parts. Barely able to afford computers of their own, the two visionaries studied the units made by companies like Atari ravenously, trying to learn all that they could about the cutting-edge technology that fascinated them. Wozniak built a video terminal but was unsatisfied until he decided to add a microprocessor onto his existing terminal, making it into a complete computer. The problem was acquiring a microprocessor, which cost around $175, the equivalent of over $750 in today’s dollars. Only when MOS Technology released a budget-friendly $20 chip could Wozniak afford to invest in one and connect it to his existing hardware. The resulting machine was a marvel of engineering and Jobs, an old friend of Wozniak, convinced his new partner to produce and sell copies.
Wozniak and Jobs were only 21 and 16 years old, respectively, when they found their first buyer. Jobs convinced a local computer store that the machines would sell, and the owner Paul Terrell stated that he would order 50, for $500 each. Although Jobs was probably elated to have successfully completed his first sale, there were some small problems to address: firstly, the fact that the duo had exactly one computer, and secondly, that they had the parts to make exactly zero more.
Jobs secured the needed parts from Cramer Electronics in return for a promise to pay them back once he had been paid for the computers. The next several days were spent working nonstop on producing replicas of Wozniak’s computer, the Apple I. The two Steves and their friends needed somewhere to go about the job of frantically constructing their computers by hand, somewhere hidden from prying eyes but with space to spread out their operation.
The garage seemed perfect.
Against all odds, everything worked out exactly as planned. With their first project completed, free from any meddling shareholders or co-owners, the two visionaries went about re-investing their profits back into the company. Their early machines were unusual for several reasons. They had TV screens to act as their display system. The Apple I was designed to be used by consumers who barely know any code, so it came packaged with bootstrap code on ROM. Wozniak also built a cassette interface into the machine, allowing the loading and saving of programs. The core values of simplicity and cutting-edge technology visible in that first machine are still at the heart of Apple’s identity as a company.
The forthcoming Apple II was leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor from a technological point of view, with a display held in memory allowing it to display graphics (eventually, color graphics) instead of the text interfaces common during the time. Jobs insisted that the computer be ready to run out of the box, with an attractive case and included keyboard. After securing outside funding and incorporating under the name Apple Computer – chosen in part because it came before their competitor Atari in the alphabetized phone book – Apple released the Apple II in 1977. The machine stayed on shelves for a decade and sold millions of units.
Today, Apple is a household name and industry leader in several fields. Several Apple products, such as the iPod, iPhone and iPad, continue to innovate upon existing technology and redefine how users interact with their machines. The company is indisputably one of the most successful in the world and outlives its creators, but no one would have heard of Apple if it wasn’t for Steve Job’s parent’s garage.
This is not an isolated story; great companies and inventions seem to naturally find their starts in garages. Next Monday, Garage Greatness will look at the origins of Mattel, the toy manufacturing giant. The founders of Mattel worked out of several garages during the course of their careers before becoming the megacorporation that they are today, and we’ll walk you through the entire timeline of the company behind Barbie, Hot Wheels, and dozens of other famous toys. Read this article here!
What great project have you done in your garage, or what great project do you want to do? Were you surprised to hear that Apple had such humble origins? Let us hear your response using any of the share links on the left side of this page!