The Homebrew Computer Club, also called the Amateur Computer Users Group, was composed of computer hobbyists, electronics enthusiasts, technologists, engineers, and programmers who wanted to exchange information and share new hardware. Though informal in origin, it became vastly important in the creation of the first personal computers. Some of the biggest names in computer development, design, and programming were members of the club, and over twenty computer and technology companies have their roots in the Homebrew Computer Club. The club met from March 1975 until December 1986.
The first meeting of the Homebrew Computer Club took place in the garage of Gordon French in Menlo Park, California, on March 5, 1975. Computer geeks gathered together in response to a flyer posted on bulletin boards. Thirty-two people attended the first meeting, but within two months over a hundred were attending the gatherings. Meetings were later held in an auditorium at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center and at the Oasis bar and grill in Menlo Park. Early members, besides founders Gordon French and Fred Moore, included Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak of Apple Computer, Adam Osborne of the Osborne Computer Corporation, Lee Felsenstein (the designer of the Osborne 1 portable computer), Jerry Lawson (the creator of the video game console cartridge), the famous hacker John Draper (who was also known as Captain Crunch), and many other computer enthusiasts who went on to play important roles in computer design and development for major corporations.
At the time of the club’s founding, the only personal computer on the market was the Altair 8800, based on the Intel 8080 microprocessor. Conversation revolved around hardware, software, and practical applications for this machine. Soon ideas evolved beyond the Altair 8800. In 1976, Wozniak began bringing schematics for the Apple I and Apple II computers to the meetings every two weeks, asking for feedback and offering to help others with their projects. Soon afterwards he and Steve Jobs formed a corporation and worked full time building and promoting Apple Computers.
Twenty-one issues of the Homebrew Computer Club’s newsletter were published and distributed from 1975 to 1977. It became an immensely powerful force in the shaping of ideas for personal computers and other facets of the budding computer industry. One of its most famous pieces was Bill Gates’ Open Letter to Hobbyists, in which he blasts hackers for pirating software programs.
Recently some of the original members of the Homebrew Computer Club launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for a reunion. After meeting their goal, they held the event on November 11, 2013, at the Computer History Museum. Famous members Steve Wozniak, Lee Felsenstein, and dozens of other important icons in the history of the personal computer were in attendance, as well as other computer enthusiasts and tech historians. It was a memorable evening that celebrated a seminal organization in the history of personal computing.
Due to the brilliant, iconic people who constituted its membership, the Homebrew Computer Club was one of the most influential forces in the early days of computer development. As the response to the recent reunion attests, the camaraderie among many of its original members still exists today.
Benjamin Holmes is a freelance writer who focuses on gadgets, gizmos, computers, cell phones, gadget accessories such as the kensington ipad keyboard case, social media and other related subjects.
Image credit goes to Jenn Durfey.