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Commodore founder Jack Tramiel dies at 83

updated 04:50 pm EDT, Mon April 9, 2012

Commodore 64 firm's founder dies after illness

The computing industry has lost one of its larger figures following the death of Commodore founder Jack Tramiel on Sunday. He died at 83 of unmentioned causes. He leaves behind his wife Helen and three sons.

Born in 1928, he survived concentration camps in World War II-era Germany and learned to repair typewriters, which he started after he emigrated to the US in 1947.

Most of his credit goes towards founding Commodore in 1954. Although it started out importing typewriters, it quickly adapted to the digital world and started focusing on calculators followed by computers. The company got its start with the PET in 1977 and built a tangible user base with the VIC-20 in 1981, but it reached its zenith in the public eye with the Commodore 64 just a year later.

Although the company never succeeded in developing a truly popular sequel to the C64, the PC was successful enough to become one of the most popular home computers ever. The C64 didn't leave the market until Commodore's original form was liquidated in 1994.

Tramiel left in 1984 to reorganize a post-console crash Atari and found Atari Corporation. Some of Commodore's staff ended up joining him, and a three-year legal war followed that was also matched by a cultural split between Atari's new focus on computers and Commodore follow-ups like the Amiga. The rise of the Windows PC and the more small but resilient Mac ended up minimizing Atari, although Tramiel successfully sold off the company in 1996.

Many credit Tramiel for helping to democratize computers by putting them at low prices relative to the features, such as the $300 VIC-20 or $595 Commodore 64. The choice helped drive price competition in the 1980s and a diversity that only faded out in the mid-1990s. [via Wall Street Journal, image via Alex Handy]

by MacNN Staff



  1. testudo

    Joined: Dec 1969



    I remember my family bought a Commodore 4/Plus for our grandfather (80+ at the time) and he loved the thing. Was programming stuff up in Basic and everything.

    Then again, there's the AmigaOS, which some people won't let go (give it up folks!).

  1. jdonahoe

    Joined: Dec 1969


    I loved my Atari 520 and Spectre

    I loved my Atari 520 and Spectre cartridge. You needed the 2 roms from a mac plus and you had a mostly full functioning Mac for a fraction of the price. That was back when a Mac Plus was over $2500.

  1. tfmeehan

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Of course...

    There was also the fun of Commodore 64 defects. Some reports had the company taking in large amounts of defective computers, repackaging and sending out to some other part of the country. A floating operation designed to give them time to fix the problems. Don't know if it's true but I DO know I went through 5 of them before I got one that worked. Also, the 5mb hard drive was $30.00 more than the computer itself.

  1. polendo

    Joined: Dec 1969


    those were the days

    I had my C64 thru my junior high years and served well to type my school reports. I had a 5 1/4 drive (1541) and a matrix printer MPS 803. It was my 2nd computer after a TRS 80 from Radio Shack. The only mishap was a burnt A/C adapter which was fixed anyway. I sold it in order to buy an Amiga 500 but somehow I ended up buying instead an IBM PS2 Model 25. By the way the windows thing,.. started with GEOS (Graphic Environment Operating System) in '86. Lots of fun.

    Load "*" ,8,1
    poke 41952

  1. Loren

    Joined: Dec 1969



    Like jdonahoe above, I started on the Atari 520 AND found the Spectre emulator. I learned HyperCard authoring and played with C programming on the damn thing! I learned WordPerfect on it. I started my desktop publishing in PageMaker on it, inside the Spectre.

    I loved the 520 - I paid 400 cash and put 400 on credit-- it was affordable. and later so was the 1040ST. The GEM interface offered relative ease of use. From GEM I could have gone either way, to PC or Mac. I chose Mac and until recently haven't looked back. Continued my film editing career into the digital era and into the present day on an 8-Core Xeon Mac Pro.

    One of favorite games on the ST was Empire, ported from Amiga, originally on PC's. I found a Mac port of it, Empire Deluxe, at Egghead software back when they had a retail operation. I still play it on my G4 dual 800 under OS 9.2. The game is so old, the floppy disks have corrupted! But it's still ticking away on the hard drive, and still a great god game.

    I owe it all to Jack Tramiel and his TOS, so he shall be missed.

  1. 2Alpha

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Good times!


    It is actually LOAD "*",8,1 and SYS49152 assuming you're loading to C000-CFFF.

    Of course, when I first got my C-64 it was {wind to 52 or thereabouts} then LOAD "*",1,1, wait an eternity while the screen blanked while loading from Datasette, then finally SYS49152. I only got the 1571 drive when I got my C-128.

    Used it through highschool with SpeedScript and SpeedScript-128 along with my MPS-803 and Seikosha 1000 printer for writing papers. 80 column mode was the bomb - sort of WYSIWYG. Even after 27 years, that C-128 still fires up and works!

    And the hours on hours of typing games in from COMPUTE! and COMPUTE'S Gazette magazines with MLX.

    I would venture that Tramiel started quite a few people down the computer science / IT road. I learned binary math from drawing up sprites! He democratized the home computer. At $595 most households could afford it.

    If we're going to black the screen in rememberance of Jack Tramiel:

    10 POKE 53281,0
    20 POKE 53280,0
    60 GOTO 50

  1. facebook_Mike

    Via Facebook

    Joined: Apr 2012



    Founder of the Commodore 64 Jack Tramiel died at the age of 83. Share your memories about the Jack Tramiel and the Commodore @

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