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Commodore Founder Jack Tramiel Dies at 83

By - Source: Forbes | B 34 comments

Commodore International founder Jack Tramiel passed away on Sunday at the age of 83.

Jack Tramiel. the man behind the best-selling personal computer of all time, passed away on Sunday, surrounded by his family. He was 83 years old.

Tramiel is widely known as the pioneer behind the Commodore 64 personal computer which launched back in the 1980s. But before founding Commodore International, he bought a repair shop in the Bronx and named it Commodore Portable Typewriter in 1953 while working as a New York City taxi driver. He fixed office machinery until 1955 when he signed a deal with a Czechoslovak company to assemble and sell their typewriters in North America.

Eventually his company moved away from the saturated typewriter market and entered the adding machine sector. That too quickly became saturated, so Commodore jumped into the digital calculator business instead. That didn't pan out for very long either thanks to Texas Instruments, so Commodore thus purchased MOS Technology, Inc., an IC design and semiconductor manufacturer. This purchase led to the monochrome Commodore PET computer followed by the VIC20 and the famous Commodore 64.

Tramiel resigned from Commodore in 1984 and formed Tramel Technology Ltd shortly thereafter to create and sell the next-generation personal computer. But instead of making new PCs, his company purchased the consumer division of Atari Inc from Warner Communications which was heavily wounded by the Video Game Crash of 1983. Tramel Technology thus renamed itself as Atari Corporation.

By the end of the 1980s, Tramiel stepped down from Atari's everyday operations, naming his son as president and CEO. But in 1995 his son suffered a heart attack, requiring Tramiel to return. He then sold the company to disk drive manufacturer Jugi Tandon Storage in a reverse merger deal in 1996. The new company was named JTS Corporation, and Tramiel joined the JTS board.

Tramiel was originally from Poland, born in 1928 to a Jewish family living in the war-torn turmoil of World War II. After the German invasion of Poland in 1939, his family was moved to the Jewish ghetto in Łódź, then to the Auschwitz concentration camp. Eventually he and his father were sent to the labor camp Ahlem near Hanover. Tramiel was rescued in April 1945 by the 84th Infantry Division, but his father didn't make it out of the camp alive thanks to a bout of Typhus (although Tramiel believed the man died from an injection of gasoline).

Two years after his rescue, Tramiel emigrated to the United States in November, 1947. He joined the Army shortly thereafter and learned how to repair office equipment, including typewriters.

"Jack Tramiel was an immense influence in the consumer electronics and computing industries. A name once uttered in the same vein as Steve Jobs is today, his journey from concentration camp survivor to captain of industry is the stuff of legends,” says writer Martin Goldberg who is working on a book about the Atari brand and the early days of video games and computing.

"His legacy are the generations upon generations of computer scientists, engineers, and gamers who had their first exposure to high technology because of his affordable computers – 'for the masses and not the classes,'" he added, quoting Tramiel's famous phrase from the Commodore 64 era.

Tramiel is survived by his wife Helen, their three sons, Gary, Sam and Leonard, and their extended families.

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Top Comments
  • 13 Hide
    utengineer , April 10, 2012 2:52 AM
    RIP I will fire up my C64 in tribute.
Other Comments
  • 13 Hide
    utengineer , April 10, 2012 2:52 AM
    RIP I will fire up my C64 in tribute.
  • 6 Hide
    Parsian , April 10, 2012 2:55 AM
    RIP
  • Display all 34 comments.
  • 5 Hide
    s3anister , April 10, 2012 3:09 AM
    What an incredible life. I had no idea...
  • 5 Hide
    kcorp2003 , April 10, 2012 3:10 AM
    RIP. i'm just thankful i did a speech on him 2 years ago :) 
  • 5 Hide
    jellico , April 10, 2012 3:15 AM
    RIP, my friend. *Plays J.S. Bach's Invention 13 in tribute*
  • 1 Hide
    Silly Boots , April 10, 2012 3:25 AM
    A legend will be missed.

    "Tramiel was originally from Poland, born in 1928 to a Jewish family living in the war-torn turmoil of World War II."

    Think you meant World War I.
  • 6 Hide
    Thunderfox , April 10, 2012 3:30 AM
    Let's see if he ends up on any magazine covers. I doubt it.
  • 2 Hide
    moonzy , April 10, 2012 4:54 AM
    RIP Jack Tramiel.

    Well done article, Tom's. Thank you.

    Without Pioneers like Jack Tramiel, this world would be a colder place.

  • 2 Hide
    moonzy , April 10, 2012 5:00 AM
    silly bootsA legend will be missed."Tramiel was originally from Poland, born in 1928 to a Jewish family living in the war-torn turmoil of World War II."Think you meant World War I.

    1928 was post WWI.
    Why not re-read the article and browse Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WWI
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WWII
  • 1 Hide
    eric_son , April 10, 2012 8:55 AM
    utengineerRIP I will fire up my C64 in tribute.


    I don't have my C64 anymore. I will fire up my CCS64 emulator instead. :( 
  • 1 Hide
    LordConrad , April 10, 2012 9:52 AM
    So long Jack, and thanks for building a great little computer.

    My Commodore 64C still works, maybe it's time to fire it up again.
  • 0 Hide
    LordConrad , April 10, 2012 9:59 AM
    moonzy1928 was post WWI. Why not re-read the article and browse Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WWIhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WWII

    In 1928 WWII hadn't started yet, people were still living in the aftermath of WWI.
  • 2 Hide
    darkavenger123 , April 10, 2012 10:10 AM
    I was too poor to own a C64 as a kid and got a Sinclair Spectrum instead.

    RIP Jack.

    The Commodore name will forever lives in my heart.
  • 2 Hide
    eric_son , April 10, 2012 10:32 AM
    Back in '89 we got a PCXT Clone. Afterwards, my dad sold my C64, all my cassettes and discs, and a box that had 2 years worth of Compute! Gazzette.
    Sigh...
  • 2 Hide
    coreym72 , April 10, 2012 12:00 PM
    Only if Commodore and Atari worked together instead of against we'd all be using Motorola CPUs and IBM and Apple wouldn't have much of anything today.
  • 0 Hide
    pjmelect , April 10, 2012 12:17 PM
    I met him once at a computer show in I think 1985 where a group of us criticized him for purchasing Atari when the Amiga was a much better computer, he tolerated our criticism with good humor and said "time will tell who was right" and as it turned out we were both right.
  • 3 Hide
    Desert Eagle , April 10, 2012 12:19 PM
    RIP Mr. Tramiel. C64 was my second computer and I learned machine language programming on it. In fact I wrote a simple assembler program in Basic since I couldn't find one to buy. The C64 was so easy to program. I wouldn't have a clue how to in a modern computer.
  • 1 Hide
    scannall , April 10, 2012 12:47 PM
    pjmelectI met him once at a computer show in I think 1985 where a group of us criticized him for purchasing Atari when the Amiga was a much better computer, he tolerated our criticism with good humor and said "time will tell who was right" and as it turned out we were both right.


    I met him a long time ago as well. Nice guy. I was really bummed that they bought the Amiga and brought it into Commodore though. Commodore had a lot of good points, but marketing wasn't one of them. I doubt they could sell free beer at a Superbowl.
  • 0 Hide
    redeye , April 10, 2012 1:00 PM
    coreym72Only if Commodore and Atari worked together instead of against we'd all be using Motorola CPUs and IBM and Apple wouldn't have much of anything today.


    know your history,(this was around the time of the original Apple Inc. before NeXT computer, Pixar, and the mac) Apple was competing with the Commodore PET. while the insides of the Commodore PET IMO seemed to be more Business oriented... The Apple II computer was alot better at game playing... it was color... My brother still has that Commodore PET 4016 in Storage lol. and an apple II clone.

    my guess is if the video game crash of 83 had not happened Apple would've made a better gaming computer(to complete with the Commodore 64) maybe even a console and we would have better gaming machines 25 years earlier. IMAO.
  • 1 Hide
    rjandric , April 10, 2012 1:11 PM
    I just went SYS 64738 after reading this....
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