One of the leading figures of the early computer revolution, Jack Tramiel has passed away at the age of 83.
Born Idek Tramielski in Lodz, Poland, in 1928, Tramiel would survive the horrors of the Nazi invasion and the Auschwitz concentration camp, eventually emigrating to the U.S. and repaying his liberators by joining the U.S. Army in 1948. While stationed at Fort Dix in New Jersey, Tramiel was put in charge of the office repair department, fixing typewriters. After leaving the Army in 1952, a $25,000 U.S. Army loan enabled him to open his own typewriter repair shop in the Bronx. In order to draw some comparisons to large appliance firms with military names such as Admiral and General, Tramiel took the model name of a Opel brand of car he noticed while riding in a taxi one day, and the Commodore Portable Typewriter company was born.
|Commodore adding machine|
Moving to Canada to capture exclusivity rights in importing Olivetti typewriters, Tramiel set up shop in Toronto and embarked in some shady deals with Canadian financier C. Powell Morgan which almost landed him in jail. A trip to Japan persuaded Tramiel to enter the burgeoning electronic calculator field, riding to great success on the wave of microprocessor technology. Texas Instruments eventually figured out that it should be making its own devices instead of supplying Commodore with microchips, and undercut Tramiel’s prices with their own brand of calculators. Vowing to never be trapped by the whims of a supplier, he purchased chip maker MOS Technologies in 1976 and secured Commodore’s future as a manufacturer of cheaper electronic devices.
With the MOS acquisition, Tramiel also got the services of employee Chuck Peddle, a visionary design wizard who built the PET or Personal Electronic Transactor for Commodore, one of the first mass-produced personal computers that entered the market in 1977, along with the Apple II and the TRS-80 from Tandy. Leverageing the success of the PET, Tramiel pushed his team to create low-cost colour computers, resulting in perhaps his greatest legacy: the blockbusters VIC-20 and Commodore-64. The 64, in particular, was an enormous success, eventually becoming the greatest selling computer of all-time. It is incalculable how many games were sold on this platform, and how many game designers cut their teeth on the system.
In early 1984, with Commodore at its apex, Tramiel’s clashes with company chairman Irving Gould resulted in his ousting from the company. Ten years later, Commodore itself would pass into oblivion, entering liquidation after a series of disastrous mistakes. A few months after his departure, Tramiel would buy Atari’s consumer division from Warner Brothers, desperate to unload the ashes of the once great gaming company, felled by the cratering video game industry. Tramiel trash-canned planned next-generation game consoles at Atari to focus instead on home computers, but was stymied by his former company’s purchase of Amiga, Inc. from under his nose, a company who’s Amiga computer line of revolutionary 16-bit computers would help keep Commodore afloat. Tramiel would fight back with the Atari ST line of 16-bit computers, which powered Atari Corporation through the rest of the decade and into the 90’s. In 1996, Tramiel would merge Atari with a hard drive manufacturer, resulting in the company JTS.
|Tramiel and Sons|
Leaving behind his wife Helen, as well as their three sons Gary, Sam and Leonard, Jack Tramiel also leaves behind an industry that owes him a great debt for helping to popularize their landscape.