Daily readings about people, places, and events in American history.
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December 19th
A Revolution Begins
Few people realized it at the time, but the issue of Popular Electronics magazine that hit the newsstands in late December 1974 marked the beginning of a modern revolution. On the cover, beneath the headline “World’s First Minicomputer Kit,” sat a photo of a plain-looking box covered with rows of switches and lights. The machine was the Altair 8800, and for about $400, anyone could buy the kit and assemble it themselves. It was the first truly personal computer to come to market, and thousands of hobbyists rushed to place orders.

In Boston a young computer programmer named Paul Allen picked up the magazine and ran to find his friend Bill Gates, a student at Harvard. The two had been computer enthusiasts since junior high school, and had dreamed of making their mark in the computer revolution. “Look, it’s going to happen!” Allen said, waving the article. “I told you this was going to happen! And we’re going to miss it!” Gates decided to leave Harvard and start a software company with Allen.* They wrote a program for the Altair, and Microsoft Corporation was born.

Meanwhile, in California, 20-year-old Steve Jobs and his friend Stephen Wozniak wanted to build their own small computers. Jobs sold his Volkswagen van and Wozniak sold his scientific calculator to raise funds to start Apple Computer, Inc., in 1976. They assembled their prototypes in the Jobs family’s garage. Early Apples (like the one shown above) were among the first personal computers.

In 1981, industry giant IBM introduced its own personal computer, the IBM PC, run by Microsoft software. Other companies followed suit. By the mid-1980s, the American-bred personal computer revolution was poised to change the world.

* Several people advised Gates not to leave Harvard before completing his degree, including author W. J. Bennett. Gates’s proctor, John Curnutte, asked Bennett to help convince the  undergraduate not to drop out. “I think it’s a mistake,” Bennett told young Gates – an opinion that, fortunately, the latter did not share.

American History Parade
In Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin begins publishing Poor Richard’s Almanack.

George Washington’s army enters winter camp at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

Mark Twain receives the first of three patents for improved suspenders.

The Altair 8800 kit is first put on sale, an event regarded by many as the beginning of the personal computer revolution.

The U.S. House impeaches President Bill Clinton for perjury and obstruction of justice. (Andrew Johnson was the only other president to be impeached.)
This content is courtesy of The American Patriot's Almanac
© 2008, 2010 by William J. Bennett and John T.E. Cribb

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