They began as outlaws. In 1971, 16-year-old Steve Jobs and his 20-year-old pal Steve Wozniak were a pair of longhaired hackers making devices that let people crack the phone system and make free long-distance calls. It was dangerous business: one customer robbed them at gunpoint.
They’d met in the garage of a mutual friend and struck up a friendship based on their shared interest in prank playing, electronics, and Bob Dylan. Over the next few years they developed a videogame for Atari, where Jobs had landed a job, and designed a low-cost computer terminal that they sold to a local company. Jobs sometimes lived in the Bay Area but at other times drifted off to a commune in Oregon.
Wozniak went to work at HP as an engineer, designing calculators. In 1976, in his spare time, he designed a circuit board that hobbyists could use to build a primitive personal computer. He offered the schematic at no cost to anyone who wanted to build a computer. Jobs recognized it could be a business.
To scrape up some working capital, Jobs sold his Volkswagen bus and Wozniak sold an HP calculator. On this shoestring budget, Apple Computer sprang to life in 1976 in the garage of the modest ranch house in Los Altos, Calif., where Jobs lived with his parents.
“We just figured we could have a business of our own and make a living, have a little income,” recalls Wozniak. “We were penniless.”
They called the circuit board the Apple I; in their first year they sold 150 of them. Their first hire was a 14-year-old kid named Randy Wigginton who earned $2.50 an hour writing software. “I was there in the couch days—before we were even big enough for a garage,” says Wigginton, who left Apple in 1985 but still works in Silicon Valley.
The success of the Apple I was enough to encourage them to start designing an Apple II, and to attract an investor. Mike Markkula, a former Intel engineer, paid $250,000 for a one-third stake in the fledgling company. (That stake would be worth $120 billion today.) The little band moved into a real office, a tiny rented space in Cupertino.
In those days it was Woz, not Jobs, who was seen as the big shot. “He was the most brilliant engineer I’d ever met,” Wigginton recalls. As for Jobs, “in the early days it was more a case of putting up with Steve than doing what Steve said.”
Woz says he too failed to recognize Jobs’s genius, though he always knew Jobs had a better mind for business than he did. “I never would have been able to run a company,” Woz says. “I just wanted to be a great engineer.”
Apple’s next machine, the Apple II, sold 6 million total units in various forms developed between 1977 and 1993. But the more revolutionary device was the original Macintosh. Introduced in 1984, the Mac was the first commercial computer to employ a mouse and a graphical user interface.
Jobs and Wozniak began to drift apart. In 1981, Wozniak was injured in a small plane crash. He returned to work in 1983 but left in 1985 to create a new company that never really took off. That same year, Jobs was fired from Apple. Twelve years later, Jobs returned and orchestrated an amazing corporate turnaround. Wozniak, today chief scientist at a data-storage company, says he and Jobs stayed in touch, mostly by phone. “I haven’t seen him in person for many years,” he says. “But we had an unbelievably important relationship.”