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On This Day In 1984, The Macintosh Changed The World

Image via YouTube

On this day in 1984, the Washington Redskins were playing the Los Angeles Raiders in Super Bowl XVIII. It was just your average Super Bowl Sunday until a commercial break during the third quarter introduced the world to arguably one of the most innovative pieces of technology it has ever seen.

The commercial was appropriately named "1984" for more reasons than the year in which it aired. The product that was introduced was the Apple Macintosh computer. The commercial—inspired by George Orwell's book Nineteen Eighty-Four, shows a runner with a large hammer being chased by four police officers in riot gear before throwing the hammer into a screen airing a speech from a Big Brother-like character, smashing the screen as he says "We shall prevail!" As the screen explodes, a voiceover says "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like 1984."

The runner symbolized the Macintosh saving humanity from "conformity," or IBM's attempts to dominate the computer industry. The allusions to 1984 were apparent in the use of Big Brother, the Thought Police, telescreens and a dystopian future. George Orwell's estate and the television rightsholder to the novel even sent a cease-and-desist letter to Apple in April 1984 for copyright infringement.

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs even alluded to the threat of IBM and the similarities to 1984 during a keynote speech in the previous year, saying "It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers initially welcoming IBM with open arms now fear an IBM dominated and controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"

Jef Raskin, who was Apple's 31st employee and manager of the Macintosh project, chose the name after his favorite apple, the McIntosh. The spelling was altered for legal reasons as McIntosh Laboratory, Inc., the audio equipment manufacturer, refused Steve Jobs' request to use the spelling.

The Macintosh was the first mass-market personal computer that featured a graphical user interface, built-in screen and mouse. The Macintosh, which sold for $2,495—equivalent to just over $6,000 today, took 70 days to sell 50,000 units. Apple released various Macintosh models over the following years, helping it become the second-largest PC manufacturer for the next decade behind IBM.

Despite the positive reception of the Macintosh, it couldn't compete with the IBM PC, leading Apple co-founders Jobs and Steve Wozniak to both leave the company in 1985. Apple struggled throughout the 90s, even coming within weeks of having to file for bankruptcy. In 1997, Apple had a solution. Acquire Jobs' company NeXT, enabling Apple to bring the company's co-founder back as a consultant. Shortly thereafter, Jobs became CEO of Apple, a position he would hold until six days before his death in 2011.

It's been a long journey from the early days of the Macintosh when Apple sold units by the tens of thousands to now, where unit sales of the rebranded Mac are counted by the tens of millions. Despite Apple becoming the second-most valuable company in the world behind Saudi Aramco on the heels of the iPhone and share buybacks, it's hard to argue that the company wouldn't be what it is today without the Macintosh, which was unveiled to the world on this day in 1984.

Leftover Crumbs

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