The first public introduction of the Macintosh was in Boston

1984 Mac Introduction at BCS

In 1984, Apple famously announced the Macintosh on January 22 in the iconic Ridley Scott directed ‘1984‘ commercial during the Superbowl. Not well known is that the ad was actually shown a few months earlier to a group of computer dealers behind closed doors. The ad announced the imminent launch of the Mac on January 24th, 1984.The Mac was indeed introduced on the 24th, at the Apple Annual Shareholder’s Meeting, and was to become available publicly hours later.

Video of the shareholder’s meeting was found on a Betamax tape in 2004, and released online in 2005. For a bit of history behind what happens in that video, see Andy Hertzfeld’s great description on his site called The Times They Are A-Changin’.

The initial introduction was to Apple’s shareholders who went to Cupertino, CA, and was not open to the public. The first public introduction of the Macintosh was actually six days later, across the country in Boston, MA. It took place at a meeting of the Boston Computer Society (BCS). BCS was run by a 20-year old college student, Jonathan Rotenberg, who had founded the society in 1977 at the age of 13. At its peak, it was the largest computer user organization in the world.

I myself spent a summer volunteering for the BCS in the late 1980s – biking 12 miles round trip each day to and from their office in downtown Boston. I remember Jonathan Rotenberg, and seeing lots of people come through the office there, including most memorably Richard Stallman. I’m not sure why Richard Stallman sticks out in my mind, but he’s an interesting person and I remember next seeing him in 1998 at the first LinuxWorld Conference in San Jose, CA (where he spoke on a panel about the ‘future’ of Linux with Eric Raymond, Guido Van Rollum, Linus Torvalds and Larry Wall).

In any case, it is not thus surprising that when Steve Jobs wanted to introduce the Macintosh at a meeting open to the public, he did so at a meeting run by the Boston Computer Society. It was the pre-eminent computer user organization, and if you watch the presentation from the shareholder’s meeting, you’ll notice this one is similar in script, but very different in presentation. In the shareholder’s meeting, Jobs is presenting to, well, shareholders. There is a technical presentation, but also discussion of cash flow and other mundane information. This presentation is to the users. The enthusiasts. The people who were going to buy the Mac. You can see that Jobs is more in his element here, preaching to the choir, and that this is perhaps the first of what Jobs would much later become famous for – his slick keynote presentations.

Of particular interest is the Q&A session in the second half where users asked all kinds of questions of Jobs and the whole Macintosh team. I liked this answer at one point: “We hope to put a Macintosh in a book, with flat-panel technology” – well Jobs did in fact do that, although quite a few years later.

Here’s the video:

For some background on this video, and how it was restored and put together, see the article on TIME magazine’s web site.

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