Game changers: Jack Tramiel


December 13, 1928 – April 9, 2012

 

Auschwitz

 

jack tramiel

Above: Jack Tramiel

 

Jack Tramiel — Video Game Legend

A name once uttered in the same vein as Steve Jobs is today, his journey from concentration camp survivor to captain of industry is the stuff of legends.” The only reason why people are not familiar with his name is the story of Commodore went in a different way and eventually filed for bankruptcy. Commodore got started in home computing and video devices long before the industry knew what they were and Apple was still making computers.

Jack Trmiel was the Founder of Commodore Business Machines, which later became Commodore International. Jack was born in 1928 in Poland.
Jack and his family were sent to the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp after the invasion of poland in 1939. Jack survived and was released with the allied liberation of Germany in 1945. In 1947, Jack left for the United States, joining the army and learned how to repair office equipment.

 

Commodore moves to Toronto

Jack Tramiel’s first business was a typewriter repair store in the Bronx, New York in 1953. The business was named Commodore Portable Typewriter.

In 1955, Jack moved his business to Toronto. Jack signed a contract with a Czechoslovakian company. However, as Czechoslovakia was a member of the Warsaw Pact, US Companies were forbidden from importing products from members of the Pact. This is when he renamed the company to become Commodore Business Machines.

In 1962, Tramiel took the company public with 17% of the company being sold to Canadian Businessman Irving Gould. The Japanese entered the market and typewriters were no longer profitable.

 

MOS Technologies

Jack looking for other opportunities, he purchased semiconductors from Texas Instruments and started building calculators. however, Texas Instruments soon raised their prices to make Commodore calculators less profitable than their own. But, it was not until the Japanese entered this market that calculators became a loss leader as well.

 

MOS Technologies

Above: MOS Technologies

 

Jack saw the home computer as the next big thing, but he also feared the Japanese would likely enter the market and conquer it as they had done with the typewriter and calculator products.

In 1976, Jack Tramiel purchased MOS Technologies after convincing Irving Gould that vertical integration was the only way to go in order to capture the market and control costs.

 

Commodore Home Computers

Commodore’s first computer was the Pet, launched shortly after the Apple 1. Commodore followed quickly with the Commodore Vic-20 and Commodore 64. Both of these computers was based on the MOS 6502 processor. Jack strongly believed that computers should be affordable to the average person and price low enough to prevent Japanese domination of the home computer market.

In 1982, Jack started a price war, which eventually lead to many companies leaving the market and reducing Commodore’s cash pile. However, Jack saw this strategy accomplish two things, lower the cost to prevent the Japanese from entering the market and eliminate the competition. Jack was a ruthless businessman and treated business as war.  Of course, he wasn’t making much money so the board got frustrated.  Why build computers if there are no profits?

 

Jack Leaves Commodore for Atari

In 1984, Jack resigned from Commodore International after a fundamental disagreement with Irving Gould. However, Jack was not done with computers and bought the Atari Consumer Division, not Atari itself. He folded that in to Tramel Technology Ltd. (TTL) and TTL was renamed Atari Corporation.

Jack discovered purchased the Consumer Division purely for it’s manufacturing and distribution capabilities. The Atari St It was in development before Jack in bought the Consumer Division and Jack saw this as Atari’s next step int he computer field, which would se Atari producing the popular Atari ST until the mid 1990s.

 

Jack Leaves Computers

 

Commodore 64c retro computer

Above: Commodore 64C

 

By 1996, Jack was finished with the computer industry. The computer field was mature and the cost of computers had fallen significantly to the point where the average family could afford one. To this day, the Commodore 64 is the top selling computer model of all time. From 1982 until it was cancelled in 1994, Commodore did not make any changes to the technical specifications, speed or memory, though chips were consolidated and there was a cover redesign. The Commodore 64 is rumored to have sold some 22 million units.