RIP Jack Tramiel, Commodore founder and computing pioneer

Jack Tramiel, founder of early computing giant Commodore, passed away this weekend aged 83, reports Forbes (opens in new tab) (via IGN (opens in new tab)). He is survived by his wife Helen, their sons Gary, Sam and Leonard, and a legacy that continues to influence the worlds of computing and gaming alike.

A Polish-born Holocaust survivor, Tramiel was interred at Auschwitz and Ahlem before being liberated in 1945 and emigrating to the US, whose army he joined in 1947. It was here that he learned the office equipment repair skills that would begin his career, opening the first Commodore Portable Typewriter store in the Bronx after the war. This led to the founding of Toronto-based Commodore Business Machines, which would later become Commodore International, evolving from typewriters through calculators and adding machines until the 1977 debut of the Commodore PET, the company’s first computer.

Under Tramiel’s famous maxim of “computers for the masses, not the classes,” Commodore enjoyed a period of industry-leading prominence during the early-mid 1980s, with the 1981 VIC-20 followed by the company’s most iconic line of home computers, the Commodore 64.

Above: Some greatest-hits from Tramiel’s signature machine. For more, check out a celebration of C64 loading screens (opens in new tab)

The C64 would define the look and feel of home computing for a generation of enthusiasts, with Tramiel negotiating the “home computer wars” of the early 1980s by driving unit prices down to sell record numbers. Over 20 million C64s were sold to parents who’d been assured of the machine’s homework capabilities; machines which were summarily used, alongside the ZX Spectrum, to spearhead the “New Wave of British Bedroom Coding” which produced series such as Dizzy and companies including Codemasters and Rare.

After leaving Commodore, Tramiel played a pivotal role in pulling Atari from the aftermath of the Great Videogame Crash of 1983.

Tramiel’s role in the early days of the computer and gaming industries saw him regarded as an early precursor to figures like Steve Jobs, says Atari biographer Martin Goldberg: “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.”

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