(Far left and Right) Jack Tramiel (Middle) The successful Commodore 64
"We need to build computers for the masses, not the classes." - Jack Tramiel describing his mission with the Commodore 64
Gaming and computer enthusiasts world-wide are mourning the loss of Commodore founder Jack Tramiel (pronounced "Tra-mel") on April 8th of this year (2012) at the age 83. Before becoming a legend in the computer world, Jack (born Jacek Trzmiel in 1928) grew up in Poland and was then transported to the Ghetto in Lodz when the Germans invaded in 1939. Not long after, the Nazi’s decided moved Jack and his parents to the now infamous Auschwitz concentration camp. After being looked over by SS Officer Dr. Josef Mengele (known in the camp as the Angel of Death) he, as well as his father, were then found suitable for ‘labor’ detail and sent to work in Ahlem (his mother was less fortunate and remained in Auschwitz). Not long after, Jack would find himself (his father reportedly died of an injection of gasoline) being rescued by the US 84th infantry division and soon immigrated to America. Later Jack (age 16) was reunited with his mother. In 1947, Tramiel learned how to repair office equipment. A modest 6 years later (1953) he found Commodore Portable Typewriter.
Development did not stop there. Without wasting time (1955), he went on to found another company called Commodore Business Machines in Toronto to sell typewriters with the parts provided from a company in Czechoslovakia (he wasn’t able to do this in the US because of import laws detailed in the Warsaw Pact). The company was struggling at this time. To make ends meet, the company went public, selling 17% ($400,000) to Irving Gould. It was Gould that would push Commodore in a whole new direction. He suggested that Tramiel tour Japan for inspiration, and he found it. He saw his first digital calculator.
In 1962, Commodore began releasing their calculators, which featured LED displays from Bowmar and integrated circuits from Texas Instruments. Soon after, Commodores lead designer Chuck Peddle convinced Jack that calculators were going to become obsolete and insisted that computers were the future and thus was born the Commodore PET (Personal Electronic Transactor) that featured a MOS Technology 6502 8-bit processor that was shown at the 1977 Consumer Electronics Show held in Chicago. Jack would soon find competition from other computer start-ups like Apple and Atari that took advantage of television sets used as monitors which made their respective companies a cheaper option over Commodore. The company fought back with the Commodore VIC-20 (equipped with a massive 5kb of ram) and eventually the best-selling personal computer of all time: the Commodore 64.
Tramiel would eventually resign from Commodore for business ethics reasons, and in 1984 formed yet another company called ‘Tramel Technology Ltd.’ which would go on to buy Atari. In 1996 while taking over as CEO from his son Sam, Tramiel sold Atari to Jugi Tandon Storage (JTS), where he played a small roll as only a board member.
Thanks to Jack’s incredible tenacity in the electronics market, millions of people around the globe were able to afford their own home computer and video gaming systems which has been a trend going strong ever since.
A 1985 Jack Tramiel interview:
Tramiel helped found the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1993. After which, U.S. Army veteran Vernon Tott (of the US 84th infantry division) was celebrated for tracking down the survivors of the Ahlem labor camp. Tott kept pictures of 16 suriviors that included Trameil. On one of the Museum walls, Trameil placed an inscription "To Vernon W. Tott, My Liberator and Hero."