Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak is born, August 11, 1950

-August 11, 2016

Inventor, engineer, computer programmer, and philanthropist Stephen Gary Wozniak, aka “Woz,” was born in San Jose, CA, on August 11, 1950.

The son of an engineer who worked for Lockheed, Wozniak showed an early interest in electronics as well as ham radio, earning his ham radio operator license when he was in sixth grade.

In the early 1970s, he attended the University of Colorado and then the University of California at Berkeley, but dropped out and went to work for Hewlett-Packard designing calculators. At about this time, Wozniak was introduced by a mutual friend to the slightly younger Steve Jobs, who would become his good friend and business partner.

Teenagers at the time they met, Wozniak and Jobs discovered they both enjoyed playing pranks. One of the pranks they pulled together involved building a “blue box,” an electronic device that allowed them to make toll-free long-distance telephone calls (illegally). During one call, Wozniak reached an operator at the Vatican and claimed to be Henry Kissinger calling on behalf of Richard Nixon. In this video from the Santa Clara Valley Historical Association, Jobs tells the story of the blue boxes and states that “if we hadn’t built blue boxes, there would have been no Apple.”

Wozniak and Jobs later raised $1300 to create the single-board Apple I personal computer kit, which Wozniak designed and built. They unveiled the product at a meeting of the Palo Alto-based Homebrew Computer Club, an informal group of electronic enthusiasts and hobbyists who first started meeting in 1975 in Menlo Park, CA.

According to Wozniak, “We didn't sell very many Apple Is the first year. We built them at night in our garage. At first we expected to sell circuit boards at the Homebrew Club: just put in your own chips and it'll work. Then we got a $50,000 order from a local store and we were in heaven.”

Wozniak and Jobs, along with another partner, Ronald Wayne, formed Apple Computer on April 1, 1976. Less than two weeks later, Wayne sold his share of the company back to Wozniak and Jobs for $800. The company was incorporated January 3, 1977. (Apple removed “Computer” from its name in January 2007 to reflect an increased focus on consumer electronics.)

Wozniak speaks at the 1983 Apple Convention in Boston
(photo by Alan Light).
The Apple II, also designed by Wozniak, was introduced on April 16, 1977. The first mass-market PC, it featured a central processing unit, a keyboard, color graphics, and a floppy disk drive and was credited with starting the PC revolution.

Wozniak survived a crash of the single-engine plane he was piloting in Scotts Valley, CA, in February 1981. The head injury he sustained in the accident caused him to lose his memory and also had a profound effect on his life. Following his recovery, Wozniak left Apple in 1981 and returned to UC Berkeley to finish his degree in electrical engineering and computer science. Through his UNISON Corp, he also invested in a short-lived, and unprofitable, music event called the US Festival. The first gathering occurred in California during Labor Day weekend 1982. He rejoined Apple for a brief period between 1983 and 1985.

President Ronald Reagan awarded Jobs and Wozniak the US National Medal of Technology and Innovation, the highest honor bestowed on American innovators, in 1985. In 2000, Wozniak was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Among numerous additional honors, Wozniak received the Heinz Award for Technology, the Economy, and Employment and the Visionary Award from the Software Development Forum. He was also inducted into the Consumer Electronics Hall of Fame and was named one of the “Founding Fathers of Computing” by the Computer History Museum.

Wozniak has been involved in several business and philanthropic ventures since leaving Apple in 1985. According to woz.org, he “adopted” the Los Gatos School District, “providing students and teachers with hands-on teaching and donations of state-of-the-art technology equipment. He [also] founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation and was the founding sponsor of the Tech Museum, the Silicon Valley Ballet, and the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose.”

With help from contributor Gina Smith, Wozniak wrote and published an autobiography, iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It, in 2006.

In addition to appearances on several television shows, in 2009 Wozniak participated as a contestant on the series Dancing with the Stars. He fractured his foot during a four-week stint in the competition but did not come away with the show’s mirror-ball trophy.

He currently serves as chief scientist for Fusion-io, a data storage company that was acquired by flash-memory chip maker SanDisk Corp in June 2014.

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For more moments in tech history, see this blog. EDN strives to be historically accurate with these postings. Should you see an error, please notify us.

Editor's note: This article was originally posted on August 11, 2014 and edited on August 11, 2016.

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