The pioneer of the computer industry helped shaped the fortunes of both Commodore and Atari. He ushered in the biggest selling single personal computer of all time despite being up against the early Apple II and passed away on Sunday 8th April at his home in Mount Sereno, California at the age of 83.
Born Jacek Trzmiel in Lodz, Poland in 1928, the future founder of Commodore International was transported by the German occupiers during World War Two to a garment factory in the Jewish ghetto in the city. When the ghettos were taken apart his family were eventually sent to Austwitz where he was examined by the infamous Dr. Mengele. The young Jacek survived the experience and was eventually sent to the labour camp Ahlem near Hanover. He was sent along with his father but separated from his mother who remained at the camp near Krakow. He remained there until the April of 1945 when liberated by American 84th Infantry Division.
After emigration to America in 1947, he joined the U.S. Army where the fascination with typewriting and typewriters began as he learned how to repair office equipment. This continued, when in 1953 he bought a shop in the Bronx district of New York and called his business the Commodore Portable Typewriter.
From there and after the influx of cheaper Japanese typewriters, Jack spent time in Japan seeing the dawn of the new age in electronics and the beginning of the first digital calculators. In 1977, Tramiel’s lead designer, Chuck Peddle, told him that calculators were a dead end and that computers were the way forward, his response was to tell Peddle to “prove the point.”
That tiny acorn sparked the global computer empire of Commodore computers with its distinctive green text on black screen boomed in Europe but was at a disadvantage when compared to the Apple II and the Atari 800 which offered colour graphics. Tramiel went to work once more and responded with the much loved Commodore 64 and was the first microcomputer to go past the one million mark in sales. It was during this time he coined the phrase, “We need to build computers for the masses, not the classes.”
Resigning from the company he helped start in 1984 he soon bought the consumer division of Atari. Inc., which had fallen on hard times.
Jack Tramiel never forgot what had happened during the dark, desperate days in Europe during World War Two and became co-founder of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum which was opened in 1993.
Jack Tramiel born Lodz, Poland December 13th 1928. Died April 8th 2012, Monte Sereno, California.
Ian D. Hall