Browse Steve Jobs-Era ’70s IT Newsletter, Coffee Stains & All
While visiting a friend in Silicon Valley in December, I passed a local landmark just around the corner: Steve Jobs’ childhood home. The modest ranch-style home doesn’t stand out much from other homes in the neighborhood, but it does represent tech history. In this same garage, in the 1970s, Jobs and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak assembled the first 50 8-bit Apple I desktop computers. This machine, Apple’s first product, went on sale in July 1976 for $666.66.
It’s staggering to think of the historical coding and conversations that took place in that one-story house, and I felt a surge of amazement as I slowed down and imagined Jobs and Woz hunched over a garage workbench, analyzing semiconductor chips. I got a similar response while browsing through the first six recently digitized issues of the Homebrew Computer Club newsletter on Arkive, a fledgling global community that aims to decentralize art by allowing anyone to acquire and vote for items that enter into its collections. It calls itself a “museum organized by the people”, and the bulletins are among its earliest acquisitions.
The influential group of Homebrew computer enthusiasts brought members together to exchange ideas, code, and hardware. Many members would become tech pioneers, including Jobs; Wozniak; Lee Felsenstein, who created the world’s first mass-produced laptop computer, the Osborne; and Len Shustek, an early PC networking developer and founding president emeritus of the Computer History Museum. The newsletter pages capture the early days of the personal computer revolution and the spirit of its innovative and influential era.
The first issue, published just 10 days after the club’s initial meeting on March 5, 1975, contains treasures. There is a list with the names, addresses and interests of new members. Many note owning an Altair 8800, a microcomputer designed in 1974 by Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems and sold to hobbyists in a kit, while others mention having an Intel 8008, one of the first 8-bit programmable microprocessors.
Notes from the first meeting indicate strong speculation about what people would eventually do with personal computers.
“We asked this question and the variety of responses shows that people’s imaginations have been underestimated,” the bulletin read. “Uses ranged from private secretarial functions: text editing, mass storage, memory, etc., to controlling household utilities: heating, alarms, sprinkler system, autofocus, cooking, etc. , games…”
Issue 2 contains a microchip scorecard and a stunning hand-drawn portrait of seven of the club members, some sporting distinctly 70s hair and glasses. A list of local supply stores indicates which ones are accepting orders by mail and by telephone. I learned that early contenders for the club name included “Eight-Bit Byte Bangers”.
Online versions of the typed bulletin can be browsed elsewhere online – on the Computer History Museum site for example – but those on Arkive retain additional details that really bring the artifacts to life: 10-cent stamps, smudged postmarks , passages underlined in green pen, and coffee stains, as many coffee stains, on the pages.
Arkive’s 1,500 members include artists; private art dealers; former museum curators; Web3 specialists; encoders; and others who believe that anyone should be able to help define and amplify culturally significant elements. The team launched its first collection, titled “When Technology Changed the Game,” at Art Basel Miami Beach in December. The collection includes objects “that reflect, embody and bear witness to turning points in art or culture brought about by technological advances”.
In addition to the Homebrew Computer Club’s digitized bulletins, there’s the 188-page patent for the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, or ENIAC, the first general purpose programmable electronic digital computer, which was built during World War II.
Fast Company’s global technology editor, Harry McCracken, once called the Homebrew Computer Club “a melting pot for an entire industry,” and Arkive members clearly appreciate the value of the newsletter’s weathered pages. “It’s a beautiful and humbling reminder that technology wouldn’t exist without community and human connection,” one said when explaining its cultural significance. Another said: “Their super badass, hopeful, DIY good guy giga-nerd spirit lives on.”