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RIP Jack Tramiel, Commodore founder and computing pioneer

Jack Tramiel, founder of early computing giant Commodore, passed away this weekend aged 83, reports Forbes (via IGN). He is survived by his wife Helen, their sons Gary, Sam and Leonard, and a legacy that continues to influence the worlds of computing and gaming alike.

A Polish-born Holocaust survivor, Tramiel was interred at Auschwitz and Ahlem before being liberated in 1945 and emigrating to the US, whose army he joined in 1947. It was here that he learned the office equipment repair skills that would begin his career, opening the first Commodore Portable Typewriter store in the Bronx after the war. This led to the founding of Toronto-based Commodore Business Machines, which would later become Commodore International, evolving from typewriters through calculators and adding machines until the 1977 debut of the Commodore PET, the company's first computer.

Under Tramiel's famous maxim of “computers for the masses, not the classes,” Commodore enjoyed a period of industry-leading prominence during the early-mid 1980s, with the 1981 VIC-20 followed by the company's most iconic line of home computers, the Commodore 64.

Above: Some greatest-hits from Tramiel's signature machine. For more, check out a celebration of C64 loading screens

The C64 would define the look and feel of home computing for a generation of enthusiasts, with Tramiel negotiating the “home computer wars” of the early 1980s by driving unit prices down to sell record numbers. Over 20 million C64s were sold to parents who'd been assured of the machine's homework capabilities; machines which were summarily used, alongside the ZX Spectrum, to spearhead the “New Wave of British Bedroom Coding” which produced series such as Dizzy and companies including Codemasters and Rare.

After leaving Commodore, Tramiel played a pivotal role in pulling Atari from the aftermath of the Great Videogame Crash of 1983.

Tramiel's role in the early days of the computer and gaming industries saw him regarded as an early precursor to figures like Steve Jobs, says Atari biographer Martin Goldberg: “His legacy are the generations upon generations of computer scientists, engineers, and gamers who had their first exposure to high technology because of his affordable computers.”

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9 comments

  • Darree - April 10, 2012 7:34 a.m.

    Rest in peace good man. Related note: Tramiel='s Tamriel? Mind possibly blown...
  • mike-struthers - April 10, 2012 7:15 a.m.

    Founder of the Commodore 64 Jack Tramiel died at the age of 83. Share your memories about the Jack Tramiel and the Commodore @ http://www.respectance.com/Jack_Tramiel/
  • thochaos - April 10, 2012 2:22 a.m.

    I might have to dust off the VIC-20 in honor of Jack Tramiel now.
  • charles-duran - April 10, 2012 12:52 a.m.

    loved wizball ,midnight resistance , spy Vs spy .......... so many great games R.I.P Jack Tramiel . The c64 got me hooked and after all these years still loving games .
  • MassSaber - April 9, 2012 5:53 p.m.

    Grew up playinging the C64 at a friends houese eventually got a C64 Console then finally upgraded to an Amiga 1200. I think it's fair to say that commodore had major infulence on me as a gamer RIP Mr Tramiel
  • hanktherapper - April 9, 2012 5:01 p.m.

    I grew up with a Commodore 64 and Commodore 128D. I loved those computers. I refused to let go of the 128 until 1994 when I finally purchased a PC. My dad still has them.
  • AlbVega - April 9, 2012 4:23 p.m.

    Jesus, I was just reading the 25 dumbest moments in gaming article in gamespy, where they talk about Tramiel's interview in Next Generation. I haven't read that article (one of my favorite peces of gaming journalism ever) in more than five years, and now I came here and read this. Weird.
  • Voltanis - April 9, 2012 4:22 p.m.

    The first computer I had ever owned was a Commodore 64. In its time, it was not only great for gaming and homework, but I also wrote some chiptunes with it. I remember logging on to some of the local and national BBS'es, playing online MUDs, chatting on message boards, downloading the latest software, making the C64 the conduit for one of the first great social media communities before the widespread internet connectivity we've come to expect today. RIP Mr. Tramiel, and thank you for helping to create one of the single greatest models of computers ever.
  • EwoksTasteLikeChicken - April 9, 2012 3:57 p.m.

    R.I.P.

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