Retro Home Computers – Commodore Business Machines


Commodore Business Machines,
1954-1994

Toronto, Canada

Jack Tramiel started Commodore Business Machines in Toronto, Canada in 1954, which would later become Commodore International Limited after it was listed on the New York Stock exchange in 1962. Tramiel settled on the name Commodore because names like Admiral and General were already taken and he wanted a name that had authority.

Colorful Apple iMacs

Above: Jack Tramiel

Typewritters and Calculators

He had already run a small business fixing typewriters for a few years while living in the Bronx, New York and drove a cab for a living as well, but he managed to sign a deal with a Czechoslovakian company to manufacture their designs in Canada. He subsequently moved to Toronto and started production. Until being listed on the New York exchange, Commodore was headquartered in Agincourt, a suburb of Ontario.

Commodore Typewritter

Above: Commodore Typewritter

By the late 1950s, a wave of Japanese machines forced most North American typewriter companies out of business, but Tramiel instead turned to adding machines.

In 1962, the company was formally incorporated as Commodore Business Machines (CBM). In the late 1960s, history repeated itself when Japanese firms started producing and exporting adding machines. The company’s main investor and chairman, Irving Gould, suggested that Tramiel travel to Japan to understand how to compete. Instead, he returned with the new idea to produce electronic calculators, which were just coming on the market.

Commodore soon had a profitable calculator line and was one of the more popular brands in the early 1970s, producing both consumer as well as scientific/programmable calculators.

Commodore Calculator

Above: Commodore Calculator

However in 1975, Texas Instruments, the main supplier of calculator parts, entered the market directly and put out a line of machines priced at less than Commodore’s cost of the parts.

Commodore had to be rescued once again by an infusion of cash from Gould, which Tramiel used beginning in 1976 to purchase several second-source chip suppliers, including MOS Technology, Inc., in order to assure his supply. He agreed to buy MOS, who were having troubles of its own, only on the condition that its chip designer Chuck Peddle join Commodore directly as head of engineering.

Commodore Pet Home oOmputer

Above: Commodore Pet, first production computer

In 1977, Commodore had successfully transformed itself into a Computer company with the release of the Commodore Pet at a stunning price of $599.00. A low price considering the cost of the Apple II released that same year. Another note about Apple and Commodore: some argue that Commodore came out witht he first general purpose home computer and others say that it was Commodore. The Apple 1 came out in 1976. The Commodore Pet came out in 1977. However, the argument made by Commodore fans is that the Apple 1 wasnot a fully assembled computer.

Commodore 64

Commodore 64C GEOS

Above: GEOS. A powerful grpahics environment released with the Commodore 64C

Commodore introduces the Commodore 64, which is the top selling computer of all time with an estimated 17 to 23 million units sold over its life. Commodore is also credited with the Video Game crash of 1983 due to the low prce of the Commodore 64. It is also credited with the end of many computers of the time as they could not compute on price. Jack Tramiel was know for his war like business strategy to eliminate the competition.

Commodore launches the Amiga in 1985. A computer considered by all to be years ahead of its time. However, Commodore fails to recognise its true potential until it is too late. A line of Amiga computers is released and starts a revolution in the video production market. Prior to the Amiga, computer video production required $100,000 worth of equipment and was often done in studios. The Amiga made broadcast quality video produciton possible starting at around $5,000.

Commodore Liquidation

While the Amiga was still a very popular machine, Commodore had financial problems due to the colapse of the periherals market, the US$ and the fall of marjor economic markets. By April, Commodore was out of business. However, what many consider strange is that Commodore filed for liquidation instead of chapter 11 in order to try and regoup and come back to market. SOme speculate that money had been siffened from the company and liquidation was choosen to avoid criminal charges. And, because the copany was incorporated in Bahamas, they did not have to follow US bankrupcy or liquidations laws.