The first personal computer in the world was born in a garage in 1970: this was the Kenbak-1

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When we are told about the first personal computers, we usually think of the Apple I, the MITS Altair 8800 or the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. However, before these copies took their first steps, and long before Bill Gates said the famous phrase “A computer in every office and in every home”, the American John V. Blankenbaker had long dreamed of a computing device that was available to everyone. This is how this engineer managed to achieve his most precious goal.

After graduating from high school, young Blankenbaker enlisted in the Navy, where he earned his first degree, electronics technician. The next step was to attend Oregon State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in physics and a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, and went to work at Hughes Aircraft Company, a government contractor that was working on various computer science projects. according to the Engineering Hall of Fame of the aforementioned university.

The dream of the first personal computer

As time passed, Blankenbaker became more and more convinced that personal computers would be part of the future. Determined to do something about it, in 1959 he obtained a degree in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, something that opened the doors of Curtis Wright, a company that at that time was dedicated to creating digital systems for the ballistic missiles of the US Navy.

Some time later he started working at Scantlin Electronics, who developed some of the first stock market quoting systems. The executives of this company knew of his dream, so they decided to support it. Upon resigning, Blankenbaker received the money needed to start developing his dream: $6,000.

Kenbak 1 1

With that capital, this visionary dedicated all his time to materializing the dream that had been chasing him for years. So, he converted the garage of his house into the Kenbak Corporation and built the Kenbak-1. like this computer was born before the first microprocessorinside it did not have a CPU as such, but was composed of a printed circuit board with integrated circuits of small and medium scale and two MOS-type registers for memory and switches.

The Kenbak-1 hardware configuration had 256 bytes of memory and reached a speed equivalent to 1 MHz. Unlike the computers that came later, this one did not display images, but was used with machine code through a series of buttons and switches. The information output consisted of a row of lights.

The first prototype was finished in 1971 and presented at an educational convention since it was thought that the destination of the first computer should be schools. Although everyone was enthusiastic about what the machine did, the field of personal computing was not developed, so Kenbak Corporation had a very difficult time selling its product.

Despite the progress it meant for computing, in total 50 Kenbak-1 computers were manufactured and only 40 of them were sold at $750 each (about $4,400 today). The company stopped manufacturing them in 1973, turning over its production to CTI Education Products. It is believed that there are currently 10 units distributed in different parts of the world, which are in the hands of museums and collectors.

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Blankenbaker continued to devote himself to computing, although he abandoned his work in the area of ​​personal computers. Instead he focused on computers later used to handle phone calls. After retiring he collaborated with Science Products, a company that manufactured products for the blind, and served as a professor of physics and mathematics at the University of Lincoln.

Pictures | Deutsche Museum | Kathryn Greenhill

When we are told about the first personal computers, we usually think of the Apple I, the MITS Altair 8800…

When we are told about the first personal computers, we usually think of the Apple I, the MITS Altair 8800…

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