Steve Wozniak

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Stephen Gary Wozniak born on August 11, 1950, often referred to by the nickname Woz, is an American inventor, electronics engineer, programmer, philanthropist, and technology entrepreneur who co-founded Apple Inc.. He is known as a pioneer of the personal computer revolution of the 1970s and 1980s, along with Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

Steve Wozniak was born in San Jose, California, the son of Francis Jacob “Jerry” Wozniak and Margaret Louise Wozniak. The name on Wozniak’s birth certificate is “Stephan Gary Wozniak”, but Wozniak’s mother said that she intended it to be spelled “Stephen”, which is what he uses.He graduated from Homestead High School in 1968.  Wozniak dropped out of the University of California in the year 1971 and started working at Hewlett- Packard, where he worked on mainframe computers.

In the early 1970s, Wozniak was known as “Berkeley Blue” in the phone phreak community, after he made a blue box.

Wozniak has credited watching Star Trek and attending Star Trek conventions while in his youth as a source of inspiration for his starting Apple Inc.


In 1969, Wozniak returned to the Bay Area after being expelled from University of Colorado Boulder in his first year for sending prank messages on the university’s computer system.  During this time, as a self-taught project, Wozniak designed and built a “Cream Soda” computer with his friend Bill Fernandez.  He later re-enrolled at De Anza College and transferred to University of California, Berkeley in 1971. Before focusing his attention on Apple, he was employed at Hewlett-Packard (HP) where he designed calculators. It was during this time that he befriended Steve Jobs.

Wozniak was introduced to Jobs by Fernandez, who attended Homestead High School with Jobs in 1971. Jobs and Wozniak became friends when Jobs worked for the summer at Hewlett-Packard (HP), where Wozniak too was employed, working on a mainframe computer.  This was recounted by Wozniak in a 2007 interview with ABC News, of how and when he first met Jobs:

“We first met in 1971 during my college years, while he was in high school. A friend said, ‘you should meet Steve Jobs because he likes electronics, and he also plays pranks.’ So, he introduced us.” In 1973, Jobs was working for arcade game company Atari Inc. in Los Gatos, California.  He was assigned to create a circuit board for the arcade video game Breakout. According to Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell, Atari offered $100 for each chip that was eliminated in the machine. Jobs had little knowledge of circuit board design and made a deal with Wozniak to split the fee evenly between them if Wozniak could minimize the number of chips. Wozniak reduced the number of chips by 50, by using RAM for the brick representation. Too complex to be fully comprehended at the time, the fact that this prototype also had no scoring or coin mechanisms meant Wozniak’s prototype could not be used. Jobs was paid the full bonus regardless. Jobs told Wozniak that Atari gave them only $700 and that Wozniak’s share was thus $350. Wozniak did not learn about the actual $5,000 bonus until ten years later but said that if Jobs had told him about it and had said he needed the money, Wozniak would have given it to him.

On June 29, 1975 Wozniak tested his first working prototype, displaying a few letters and running sample programs. It was the first time in history that a character displayed on a TV screen was generated by a home computer. With the Apple 1 design, he and Jobs were largely working to impress other members of the Palo Alto-based Homebrew Computer Club, a local group of electronics hobbyists interested in computing. The Club was one of several key centers which established the home hobbyist era, essentially creating the microcomputer industry over the next few decades. Unlike other Homebrew designs, the Apple had an easy-to-achieve video capability that drew a crowd when it was unveiled.

In 1976, Wozniak developed the computer that eventually made him famous. He alone designed the hardware, circuit board designs, and operating system for the Apple 1. Wozniak originally offered the design to HP while working there but was denied by the company on five different occasions. Jobs instead had the idea to sell the Apple 1 with Wozniak as a fully assembled printed circuit board. Wozniak, at first skeptical, was later convinced by Jobs that even if they were not successful they could at least say to their grandkids they had had their own company. Together, they sold some of their possessions (such as Wozniak’s HP scientific calculator and Jobs’ Volkswagen van), raised $1,300, and assembled the first boards in Jobs’ bedroom and later (when there was no space left) in Jobs’ garage. Wozniak’s apartment in San Jose was filled with monitors, electronic devices, and some computer games Wozniak had developed.

Wozniak was the brain behind the Apple 1 development while Jobs was excellent at marketing and with this combination, the Apple 1 sold for $666.66. (Wozniak later said he had no idea about the relation between the number and the mark of the beast, and “I came up with it because I like repeating digits.”) Jobs and Wozniak sold their first 50 system boards to Paul Terrell, who was starting a new computer shop, called the Byte Shop, in Mountain View, California. On April 1, 1976, Jobs and Wozniak formed Apple Computer (now called Apple Inc.) along with administrative supervisor Ronald Wayne, whose participation in the new venture was short lived. Wozniak resigned from his job at Hewlett-Packard and became the vice president in charge of research and development at Apple. He and Jobs decided on the name “Apple” shortly after Jobs returned from an apple orchard in Oregon. Wozniak’s Apple 1 was similar to the Altair 8800, the first commercially available microcomputer, except the Apple 1 had no provision for internal expansion cards. With expansion cards the Altair could attach to a computer terminal and be programmed in BASIC. In contrast, the Apple 1 was a hobbyist machine. Wozniak’s design included a $25 microprocessor (MOS 6502) on a single circuit board with 256 bytes of ROM, 4K or 8K bytes of RAM, and a 40-character by 24-row display controller. Apple’s first computer lacked a case, power supply, keyboard, and display, all components the user had to provide.

After the success of the Apple 1, Wozniak designed the Apple 2, the first personal computer that had the ability to display color graphics, and BASIC programming language built-in.  Inspired by “the technique Atari used to simulate colors on its first arcade games”, Wozniak found a way of putting colors into the NTSC system by using a $1 chip, while colors in the PAL system were achieved by “accident” when a dot occurred on a line, and to this day he has no idea how it works. During the design stage, Steve Jobs argued that the Apple 2 should have two expansion slots, while Wozniak wanted eight. After a heated argument, during which Wozniak had threatened for Jobs to ‘go get himself another computer’, they decided to go with eight slots. The Apple 2 became one of the first highly successful mass-produced personal computers in the world.

In 1980, Apple went public to instant and significant financial profitability, making Jobs and Wozniak both millionaires. The Apple 2’s eventual successor, the Apple 3, released the same year, was not nearly as successful as the Apple 2. According to Wozniak, the Apple 3 “had 100 percent hardware failures”, and that the primary reason for these failures was that the system was designed by Apple’s marketing department, unlike Apple’s previous engineering-driven projects.

During the early design and development phase of the Macintosh 128K, Wozniak had heavy influence over the project until 1981. In a 2013 interview, Wozniak said that “Steve Jobs really took over the project when I had a plane crash and wasn’t there.” On February 7, 1981 Wozniak was injured when the private plane he was piloting crashed while taking off from the Santa Cruz Sky Park. His painstaking recovery lasted two years, as he suffered from a variety of injuries and amnesia. Wozniak sustained severe face and head injuries, including losing a tooth, and also suffered for five weeks after the crash from anterograde amnesia, the inability to create new memories. He had no memory of the crash and did not remember his name in the hospital or the things he did after he was released.  He would later state that Apple 2 computer games are what helped him regain his memory. Wozniak did not immediately return to Apple after recovering from the airplane crash, seeing it as a good reason to leave.

In May 1982 and 1983, Wozniak, with help from professional concert promotor Bill Graham, founded and sponsored two US Festivals to celebrate evolving technologies; they ended up as a technology exposition and a rock festival as a combination of music, computers, television and people. After losing several million dollars on the 1982 festival, he stated that unless the 1983 event turned a profit, he would end his involvement with rock festivals and get back to designing computers.  Later that year, Wozniak returned to Apple product development, desiring no more of a role than that of an engineer and a motivational factor for the Apple workforce.

In the mid-1980s he designed the Apple Desktop Bus, a proprietary bit-serial peripheral bus introduced on many later Macintosh and NeXT computer models. However, even with the success he helped create at Apple, Wozniak felt that the company was hindering him from being who he wanted to be, and that it was “the bane of his existence”.  He enjoyed engineering, not management, and said that he missed “the fun of the early days”.  Although its products provided about 85% of Apple’s sales in early 1985, the company’s January 1985 annual meeting did not mention the Apple 2 division or employees, a move that frustrated Wozniak. As other engineers joined the growing company, he no longer felt needed there and by early 1985, Wozniak left Apple again, stating that the company had “been going in the wrong direction for the last five years”. He then sold most of his stock. After his career at Apple, Wozniak enrolled at UC Berkeley to complete his degree. Because his name was well known at this point, he enrolled under the name Rocky Raccoon Clark, which is the name listed on his diploma.One thing Wozniak wanted to do was teach elementary school because of the important role teachers play in students’ lives. Eventually, he did teach computer classes to children from the fifth through ninth grades and teachers as well.

Wozniak went on to found numerous ventures, including CL 9, the company responsible for the first programmable universal remote control.  Called one of “Silicon Valley’s most creative engineers,” in 1990 he joined Mitchell Kapor in establishing the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization that provides legal aid for computer hackers facing criminal prosecution. Wozniak also founded Wheels of Zeus (WoZ) in 2002, a venture started with the aim of developing wireless GPS technology.

After WoZ closed in 2006, Wozniak published his autobiography, iWoz: From Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It. In 2008, he joined the Salt Lake City-based start-up Fusion-io as its chief scientist. In 2014 he became chief scientist at Primary Data, which was founded by some former Fusion-io executives.

Despite leaving Apple as a day-to-day employee in 1985, Wozniak chose to never remove himself from the official employee list and continues to represent the company at events or in interviews.  Today he receives a stipend from Apple for this role, estimated to be $120,000 per year. He is also an Apple shareholder.  He maintained a friendly acquaintance with Steve Jobs until Jobs’ death in October 2011.

Wozniak is listed as the sole inventor on the following Apple patents:

  • US Patent No. 4,136,359: “Microcomputer for use with video display”—for which he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
  • US Patent No. 4,210,959: “Controller for magnetic disc, recorder, or the like”
  • US Patent No. 4,217,604: “Apparatus for digitally controlling PALcolor display”
  • US Patent No. 4,278,972: “Digitally-controlled color signal generation means for use with display”

In 1990, Wozniak helped found the Electronic Frontier Foundation, providing some of the organization’s initial funding and serving on its founding Board of Directors. He was the founding sponsor of the Tech Museum, Silicon Valley Ballet and Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose. Also since leaving Apple, Wozniak has provided all the money, as well as a good amount of on-site technical support, for the technology program in his local school district in Los Gatos.For his contributions to technology, Wozniak has been recognized for number of Awards Honorary Doctor of Engineering degrees, which include the following:

In 1979, Wozniak was awarded the ACM Grace Murray Hopper Award. In 1985, he received the National Medal of Technology (with Steve Jobs) from US President Ronald Reagan. In December 1989, he received an honorary Doctor of Engineering degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Later he donated funds to create the “Woz Lab” at the University of Colorado at Boulder. In 1998, he was named a Fellow of the Computer History Museum “for co-founding Apple Computer and inventing the Apple I personal computer.” The city of San Jose named a street “Woz Way” in his honour.

In September 2000, Wozniak was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and in 2001 he was awarded the 7th Annual Heinz Award for Technology, the Economy and Employment.  In December 2005, Wozniak was awarded an honorary Doctor of Engineering degree from Kettering University. In May 2011, Wozniak received an honorary Doctor of Engineering degree from Michigan State University. In June 2012, Wozniak was awarded an honorary Doctor of Engineering degree from Santa Clara University. He was awarded the Global Award of the President of Armenia for Outstanding Contribution to Humanity Through IT in 2011.On February 17, 2014, in Los Angeles, Wozniak was awarded the 66th Hoover Medal from IEEE President & CEO J. Roberto de Marca. The award is presented to an engineer whose professional achievements and personal endeavors have advanced the well-being of humankind.

The New York City Chapter of Young Presidents’ Organization presented their 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award to Wozniak on October 16, 2014 at the American Museum of Natural History and in the same year, Industry Week added Wozniak to the Manufacturing Hall of Fame.

On June 19, 2015, Wozniak received the Legacy for Children Award from the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose. On June 20, 2015, The Cal Alumni Association (UC Berkeley’s Alumni Association) presented Wozniak with the 2015 Alumnus of the Year Award. In March 2016, High Point University announced that Wozniak will serve as their Innovator in Residence.

Most Recently, in March 2017, Wozniak was listed by UK-based company Richtopia at number 18 in the list of 200 Most Influential Philanthropists and Social Entrepreneurs.