By today’s standards, the Mac Pro may seem expensive, but there was a time when that was the going price for a good computer.
It was 36 years ago today, on January 24, 1984, that Steve Jobs unveiled the first Macintosh computer at Apple’s annual shareholder’s meeting in Cupertino. The now-iconic Macintosh sold for $2,495, and while that price may not sound all that far off from what a good iMac sells for today, keep in mind that the average household income in the U.S. back then was only $25,000, so in today’s dollars the the original Macintosh would have cost a little over $6,000, or the price of an entry-level Mac Pro.
So what did that $6,000 buy you back then? Well, the first Macintosh featured a nine-inch black-and-white display, an 8 MHz Motorola 68000 cpu, a whopping 128 KB of RAM, a 3.5-inch floppy drive — there was no hard drive — and weighed in at 17 pounds.
The Macintosh also included a word processing program, a graphics package, and something that was almost unheard of at the time — a mouse.
The Big Reveal
It seems that Jobs’ penchant for showmanship was apparent even back then, with Apple’s founder showing up at the meeting with the new system hidden in a bag. As MacRumors shares, Jobs pulled the Macintosh out of a bag at the event and then powered it on. After which it shared a cute little message, introducing Steve Jobs as “a man who’s been like a father to me.”
Even though it was expensive, the Macintosh did very well by 1984 standards, with Apple selling 70,000 units by May of that same year. This was also the year that Apple debuted it’s now-famous 1984 ad at Super Bowl XVIII, which came out only a few days before the unveiling of the new Macintosh.
While it’s hard to believe how underpowered that early Macintosh was, it was actually quite advanced for its day in a number of ways. For one thing, it was the first computer to rely entirely on a graphical user interface — Microsoft didn’t release Windows 1.0 until almost two years later, and even then it would be another decade before Windows would even begin to replace the command-line based MS-DOS. This also meant that Apple pioneered the concept of using a mouse with a personal computer.
Apple was also the first computer manufacturer to embrace the rigid 3.5-inch floppy disk format, and while most people under 30 have likely never even seen a floppy disk, there were a huge improvement over the 5.25-inch flexible discs that had come before, both in size and durability. Although the format had been introduced by Sony in 1981, it failed to catch on until Apple got ahead of the curve and adopted it, pushing the industry ahead in a meaningful way. Atari and Commodore adopted the 3.5-inch format the following year, but it took until 1986 before it started coming to PCs.
Apple would follow up the original Macintosh with other models in the family, including the Macintosh 512K, which was the first Mac to support a hard drive, the Macintosh II which introduced colour graphics, the Macintosh Plus that added a native interface for Apple’s hard drives, and the more compact Macintosh SE. This later expanded into the eMac and iMac lineups, a series of laptops known as PowerBooks and finally Apple’s more modern MacBook and iMac lineups that came following the company’s switch to Intel CPUs in 2006.