Steve Wozniak (born 1950) invented the Apple computer and helped found the Apple Computer Company. One of the wealthiest and most famous inventors in the U.S., Wozniak left behind the world of business to spend his time teaching children about computers.

Stephen Gary Wozniak was born on August 11, 1950 in San Jose, California, to Margaret Wozniak, a homemaker, and Jerry Wozniak, an electrical engineer. When he was eight, the family, including two other children, Leslie and Mark, moved to nearby Sunnyvale to be closer to his father’s job at Lockheed Missiles and Space Company. Wozniak became interested in mathematics when he was in the fourth grade. The recognition and encouragement of a teacher helped to improve his self esteem. Wozniak loved to read; his favorite books were about Tom Swift, Jr., a young engineer who worked with his father inventing airplanes and rocket ships. In the fifth grade, after reading a book about a ham radio operator, Wozniak built his own radio transmitter and receiver from a kit. At 11, he built a machine he called a “ticktacktoe” computer. He also played on an all-star Little League team and ran in races. In junior high, Wozniak received a letter for swimming.

At Cupertino Junior High School, Wozniak won a blue ribbon for the best electronics project at the Bay Area Science Fair. He designed a binary adding and subtracting computer. At Homestead High School, Wozniak was too advanced for the electronics and math courses. His electronics teacher sent him to Sylvania, a large electronics company, to program its computers. He won an award as the best math student at Homestead in 1966, attended seminars at the University of Santa Clara, and scored an 800 on his math Scholastic Aptitude Test.

Wozniak attended the University of Colorado his freshman year of college. There he preferred skiing to studying. Because his parents could not afford the high out-of-state tuition, Wozniak returned to California to attend DeAnza Community College. For his junior year, he went to the University of California, at Berkeley. There, with the help of a high school friend named Steve Jobs, who was later to be his business partner at Apple Computer, he designed a “little blue box,” a device for making illegal free telephone calls. They sold them to fellow students for $150. Wozniak, who had a talent for mimicry, said he used the box to call the Vatican, where only a sharp-eared bishop prevented him from talking to the pope by stating, “You are not Henry Kissinger.”

The Birth of Apple

At the end of his junior year, and short on money, Wozniak got a job at Hewlett-Packard (HP), an electronics company in Palo Alto, California. Within several months, he was a full engineer. At the center of the computer revolution, HP suited Wozniak because of its advanced technology and its laid-back atmosphere. The company allowed employees to work on their own projects at night. Doing so, Wozniak created some of the first graphics for computers and computer games. Steve Jobs, who worked at Atari, invited him to help design a spin-off of Pong called “Breakout.” In four days, the two had designed it and split the $750 bonus offered by Atari. Wozniak learned many years later that Jobs had received substantially more money than he had. This discovery factored into the breakup of their friendship.

Wozniak and Jobs attended meetings of the Homebrew Computer Club where the Silicon Valley engineers exchanged ideas and showed off their inventions. These meetings led Wozniak to design an inexpensive personal computer. He decided that it should be easy to program, affordable, and fun. Wozniak also started a Dial-a-Joke service, where people could call for a joke of the day. One day he talked with Alice Robertson, a woman whom he married in January 1976.

Working at night at HP, Wozniak completed his computer design. When Jobs saw it, he thought it could be a commercial success and wanted to market it. While Wozniak would not leave his day job, he agreed to form a computer company with Jobs. According to Wozniak, “We never expected to make any money, but it was a chance to have a business once in our lives.” Jobs came up with the name “Apple,” because he had once worked in an apple orchard when he had experimented with vegetarianism in India. The Apple Computer Company was officially started on April 1, 1976. Having sold personal possessions to raise money, they decided to work in Jobs family’s garage. By luck and determination, one month later they received an order for 100 computers for a total of $50,000. When he showed the computer at work, management decided that his personal computer did not match its business focus. The partners eventually sold 175 Apple I computers.

Apple II A Great Success

While Wozniak was still working for HP, he spent his nights improving the Apple, while Jobs figured out how to market it. Through contacts, Jobs recruited Mike Markkula, a marketing genius who had retired at age 33, to help run the company. After a short time, Wozniak’s night-time efforts paid off in a much improved Apple II that was aimed at the average person rather than the electronic expert. It had sound, computer animation, high resolution images, and expanded game playing ability. The experienced Markkula wrote a business plan in which he anticipated sales of $500 million within ten years, and invested $250,000 of his own money in the venture. Finally, in October of 1976, Wozniak resigned from HP.

In January of 1977, the trio incorporated Apple Computer. The company moved to larger quarters twice, recruited an ever-growing staff, and acquired an eye-catching logo-a rainbow-colored apple with a bite taken out of it. The launch of the Apple II was scheduled to coincide with the first West Coast Computer Faire. Priced at only $1,298, the computer was a great success. By the end of its first year, the company had made almost three quarters of a million dollars in sales with a profit of $42,000.

At the same time that his business was taking off, Wozniak’s marriage was floundering. His lack of social skills and his obsession with computers made his wife Alice feel increasingly isolated. Although they tried counseling for a year, they divorced after four years of marriage. Alice got one-third of Wozniak’s Apple stock in a divorce settlement which quickly grew into a fortune.

After the initial separation, Wozniak became a workaholic. During this time, he developed a way to connect the Apple computer to a printer, thereby making it more useful. He also developed the floppy disk, a removable plastic disk with information on it that can be put into the computer memory for storage or for accessing without being stored. These innovations greatly increased the ability of average people to use the Apple computer. By the end of 1978, Apple sales had increased ten times, making Apple one of the fastest growing companies in the United States. Apple computers were now stocked by more than 300 dealers. By 1979, Apple employed one thousand people.

At this point, both Wozniak and Jobs were being eased out of the power structure by business people such as Markkula. Because Wozniak was so well known, he was frequently asked to give lectures and interviews with the press and television. While the Apple II was now the world’s best selling computer, the company decided to plan ahead by developing the Apple III, a small business computer comparable to the IBM personal computer. Although it was priced at just under $3,000, the computer did not sell well because it experienced hardware failures, leading to bad reviews. Not much software was developed for it.

Away From Apple

Frustrated with Apple management, Wozniak took up flying, and started courting Candi Clark, a former Olympic kayaker and accountant at Apple. In December 1980, Apple stock went public and was sold out in minutes. Within a month, Wozniak was worth about $50 million. In February 1981, while flying Clark and other companions to Los Angeles, Wozniak crashed his plane, nearly killing everyone on board. He married Clark four months later and decided to take a leave of absence from Apple in order to return to college. Frustrations with Apple management and nearly losing his life made him reconsider his priorities. “The company had become big business, and I missed tinkering. I just wanted to be an engineer,” Wozniak told People magazine.

Wozniak returned to Berkeley in 1981 to earn a computer science degree under the pseudonym of “Rocky Clark,” the first name from one of his dogs, and the last from his new wife. Several credits shy of graduation, he left Berkeley, but received equivalency credits for work done at Apple. Wozniak was officially awarded a degree several years later, in 1986.

In 1982 and 1983, Wozniak produced two music concerts, called the US Festival, which combined the best music groups with the best computer stuff, a “hot tunes and high tech” event. Although he lost a lot of money on the festivals, he felt they were a success because both he and the concert goers had fun.

Returned to Develop the Macintosh

In 1982, Wozniak returned to the Apple II section of Apple Computers. In-fighting at the company was becoming bitter. Wozniak started designing a new computer called the Lisa, a cheaper version of which was later called the Macintosh. It had a mouse, folders, and pull-down menus and displayed pictures. However, the company had lost the camaraderie Wozniak liked so much. The development of the Macintosh led to more friction between the department led by Jobs and the Apple II department. There were strained relations between Jobs and Wozniak, who was hurt that the Apple II had not received its due recognition as a computer that had a billion dollars in sales by 1982. Jobs felt that the Apple II was obsolete. In February 1985, Wozniak left Apple for good.

Wozniak helped start a new company, CL9, to develop an infrared remote control device that would control household appliances. He continued to feud with Jobs, who felt betrayed because Wozniak had left Apple. When Wozniak discovered that Jobs had not evenly split the money earned from the development of the Breakout game, their relationship was further strained.

In 1989, Wozniak sold the unsuccessful CL9. Since then, he has spent most of his time donating money to various charitable organizations in San Jose, including the Tech Museum of Innovation, the Children’s Discovery Museum, and the San Jose-Cleveland Ballet.

Wozniak and Candi Clark had three children, Jesse, Sara, and Gary; they were divorced in 1987. In 1989, he met Suzanne Mulkern, a mother of three, who shared his shyness, love of children, and sense of humor. They married in 1990. Wozniak now spends his time teaching children about the wonders of computers.

Further Reading on Steve Wozniak

Gold, Rebecca, Steve Wozniak: A Wizard Called Woz, Lerner, 1994.

Greenberg, Keith Elliot, Steven Jobs and Stephen Wozniak:Creating the Apple Computer, Blackbirch, 1994.

Kendall, Martha E., Steve Wozniak: Inventor of the Apple Computer, Walker, 1994.

Maclean’s, May 11, 1992.

People, May 30, 1983. □


An amateur radio operator, military veteran, jack of all trades and master of none.

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