Skim Steve Jobs’ 70’s computer newsletter, coffee stains and all

While visiting a friend in Silicon Valley in December, I drove right around the corner from a local landmark: Steve Jobs’ childhood home. The modest ranch-style home doesn’t stand out much from other homes in the area, but it represents technological history. It was in this very garage that Jobs and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak assembled the first 50 Apple I 8-bit desktop computers in the 1970s. This machine, Apple’s first product, went on sale in July 1976 for $666.66.

It is overwhelming to think of the storied programming and conversations that took place in that one-story house, and I felt a pang of astonishment as I slowed to imagine Jobs and Woz hunched over a workbench in the garage analyzing semiconductor chips . I had a similar reaction while flipping through the newly scanned first six issues of the Homebrew Computer Club newsletter on Arkive, an emerging global community aiming to decentralize art by making it possible for anyone to acquire items and for them Vote for inclusion in their collections. It bills itself as a “people-curated museum,” and the newsletters are among its early acquisitions.

The fifth issue of the Homebrew Computer Club newsletter.

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The influential homebrew computer hobby group brought members together to share ideas, code, and hardware. Many members went on to become technology pioneers, including Jobs; Wozniak; Lee Felsenstein, who developed the world’s first mass-produced portable computer, the Osborne; and Len Shustek, an early developer of personal computer networks and founding chairman emeritus of the Computer History Museum. The pages of the newsletter capture the early days of the PC revolution and the spirit of its innovative, influential time.

The first issue, published just 10 days after the club’s charter meeting on March 5, 1975, contains Treasures. There is a list of names, addresses and interests of new members. Several mention that they own an Altair 8800, a microcomputer designed by Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems in 1974 and sold to hobbyists in a kit, while others mention that they have an Intel 8008, an early 8-bit programmable microprocessor .

Issue 2 of the Homebrew Computer Club newsletter features this priceless drawing by some of its members.

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Notes from the first meeting indicate lively speculation about what people would eventually do with home computers.

“We asked this question and the diversity of responses shows that people’s imaginations have been underestimated,” the newsletter reads. “Applications ranged from private secretary functions: text editing, mass storage, storage, etc. to home automation control: heating, alarm, sprinkler, auto-voting, cooking, etc., to GAMES…”

Issue 2 includes a microprocessor scorecard and a gorgeous hand-drawn portrait of seven club members, some sporting distinctly 70’s hair and glasses. A list of local supply stores is provided which will take mail and telephone orders. One of the first contenders for the club name, I learned, was Eight-Bit Byte Bangers.

It’s possible to flip through online versions of the typewritten newsletter elsewhere online — for example, on the Computer History Museum’s website — but those at Arkive preserve additional details that really bring the artifacts to life: 10-cent stamps, smeared postmarks , passages underlined with green pencil, and coffee stains, so many coffee stains, on the pages.

Developed by the club’s Lee Felsenstein, the Osborne was the world’s first mass-produced portable computer. It is pictured here in 2013 at a reunion of the famous club, 38 years after they first met.

Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Arkive’s 1,500 members include artists; private art dealers; former museum curators; Web3 Experts; encoder; and others who believe that everyone should be able to help define and amplify culturally significant elements. The team unveiled its first collection, titled When Technology Was a Game Changer, at Art Basel Miami Beach in December. The collection includes objects “that reflect, embody, and testify to turning points in art or culture driven by technological advances.”

In addition to the Homebrew Computer Club’s scanned newsletters, there is the 188-page patent for the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, or ENIAC, the first general-purpose programmable electronic digital computer built during World War II.

Harry McCracken, global technology editor for Fast Company, once called the Homebrew Computer Club “the melting pot of an entire industry,” and Arkive members clearly appreciate the value of the newsletter’s weather-beaten pages. “It’s a beautiful and humbling reminder that technology wouldn’t exist without community and human connection,” said one, explaining its cultural significance. Another said: “Your tinkering hopeful super badass good guy giga nerd spirit lives on.”

A page from the sixth edition of the Homebrew Computer Club preserved with coffee stains.

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