Twenty one years ago today, Apple’s Steve Jobs unveiled the Macintosh, which would revolutionize the world of personal computing. While initial sales were slower than expected, and its general marketshare is dwarfed by Windows there’s no doubting that the arrival of the Macintosh computer has changed the way we work and live today.

Apple made little of last year's 20th anniversary of the Mac, and it's unlikely that any large keys will be passed around in Cupertino today, but Macworld is delighted to kick-start today's 21st birthday celebrations.

(This report on the historic launch day of January 24, 1984, is an edited extract from Owen Linzmayer's article for the January 2004 issue of Macworld – itself taken from the author's best-selling book on the company's history, 'Apple Confidential 2.0'.)

January 24, 1984

After spending $78 million in development costs, Apple introduced the Macintosh to a packed house at its annual shareholder meeting held in the Flint Center at De Anza College on January 24, 1984.

As master of ceremonies, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs strode on stage and recited a few verses from Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changin’ before introducing Apple’s directors to dispense with the boring corporate and financial news. When Jobs retook the stage, he pumped up the crowd with the following speech:

Steve's Mac-launch speech

“It is 1958. IBM passes up the chance to buy a young, fledgling company that has just invented a new technology called xerography. Two years later, Xerox is born, and IBM has been kicking itself ever since.

It is ten years later, the late ’60s. Digital Equipment Corporation and others invent the minicomputer. IBM dismisses the minicomputer as too small to do serious computing and, therefore, unimportant to its business. DEC grows to become a multi-hundred-million dollar corporation before IBM finally enters the minicomputer market.

It is now ten years later, the late ‘70s. In 1977, Apple, a young fledgling company on the West Coast, invents the Apple II, the first personal computer as we know it today. IBM dismisses the personal computer as too small to do serious computing and, therefore, unimportant to its business.

The early ‘80s-1981. Apple II has become the world’s most popular computer, and Apple has grown to a $300 million corporation, becoming the fastest-growing company in American business history. With over 50 companies vying for a share, IBM enters the personal computer market in November of 1981 with the IBM PC.

1983. Apple and IBM emerge as the industry’s strongest competitors, each selling approximately $1 billion worth of personal computers in 1983.
The shakeout is in full swing. The first major firm goes bankrupt, with others teetering on the brink. Total industry losses for 1983 overshadow even the combined profits of Apple and IBM for personal computers.

It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom.

IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry, the entire information age? Was George Orwell right?”

As the crowd screamed, “No! No! No!,” the screen behind Jobs flickered to life with the groundbreaking 1984 commercial.

When 1984 had finished playing to the wildly appreciative audience, Jobs solemnly intoned, “There have only been two milestone products so far in our industry. The Apple II in 1977, and the IBM PC in 1981. Today, one year after Lisa, we are introducing the third industry milestone, Macintosh.”

At that moment, the crowd went wild when a photograph of the Mac appeared on screen.

“Many of us have been working on Macintosh for over two years now, and it has turned out insanely great,” boasted Jobs. “Until now, you’ve just seen some pictures of Macintosh. Now I’d like to show you Macintosh in person.”

Jobs walked over to a canvas bag sitting on a table and – like a magician pulling a rabbit from a hat – he extracted a Macintosh that began playing Vangelis’ score from Chariots of Fire.

The Mac's launch speech

After the Macintosh ran through an automatic demonstration of its graphics capabilities, Jobs said, “Today, for the first time ever, I’d like to let the Macintosh speak for itself.” With the press of a key, a synthesized voice emerged from the beige box.

“Hello. I am Macintosh. It sure is great to get out of that bag. Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking, I’d like to share with you a thought that occurred to me the first time I met an IBM mainframe: Never trust a computer you can’t lift. But right now I’d like to sit back and listen. So it is with considerable pride that I introduce a man who has been like a father to me, Steve Jobs.”

You can watch this defining moment online now, thanks to a collective of German Mac nuts who unearthed the only surviving video footage of the launch.

Specs and sales

The original Mac had a 68000 microprocessor running at 7.83MHz, 128K of RAM, one 400K, 3.5-inch floppy disk drive, and a nine-inch monochrome display. It came bundled with MacPaint, MacWrite, and the Finder. The list price was set at $2,495.

Even at its artificially inflated price, Jobs predicted Apple would sell 50,000 Macs in the 100 days following introduction, and half a million units by the end of 1984; Sculley’s figure was a more realistic quarter million units. Although they were both way off base with their annual forecasts, Apple reached the 100-day goal on Day 73 (April 6), and on Day 100 (May 3); after having sold 72,000 Macs, product marketing manager Barbara Koalkin boasted to USA Today, “We could have sold 200,000 Macintoshes if we could have built them.”