The next time you decide to upgrade a Mac or iPhone think twice. A professor at Chaffey College in Rancho Cucamonga, California ditched his Apple-1 for an Apple-II in 1977 for $650. 44 years later, that student who paid $650 is laughing all the way to the bank. $400,000 for S650? You work the ROI out. The Apple-1 earned the moniker of the ‘holy grail of computer collecting’ and was probably the gadget that started the personal computer industry. Computers and computer kits were not guaranteed to work up until that point, the Apple-1 changed all that with a product warranty.

The Apple-I debuted in July 1976 with a sticker price of $666.66. Apple’s co-founder Steve Wozniak who designed the computer had a fixation for repeating digits. Only 200 Apple-I computers were ever manufactured. The first unit was used in a high school math class, and donated to a public access computer centre. Yes, we’ve always needed help with our Math. In terms of design, it was quite bare bones. The built-in terminal circuitry was quite unique back then. The Apple I came as a motherboard; cases, keyboards and monitors retailed separately. Most folks used it as is or built custom cases. 

Apple-I Computer
Photo Credit: John Moran Auctioneers

This Apple-I computer popularly known as the Chaffey College Apple-I (because of the original owner) was auctioned for $400,000. Here’s the interesting part – this staggering premium is still a comedown of sorts. The highest price paid for an Apple-I computer was $905,000 at a Bonhams auction in New York back in 2014. The Chaffey College Apple-I also boasts of a distinctive koa wood case – one of the only six known koa wood cases according to the auction house  (John Moran Auctioneers in California). Koa wood from Hawaii is also difficult to come by now. 

The story of the Apple Computer 1 that came to be known later as the Apple-I is one more in a long list of Apple legends. While Steve Wozniak can take credit for the design, the mastermind behind selling the product was co-founder Steve Jobs. Apple might be a  $2 trillion company today but back in the 1970s, the co-founders had to hustle for the capital. Steve Jobs sold his only ride – the now iconic Volkswagen Minibus or Kombi while Steve Wozniak had to part with his HP-65 calculator for $500. 

Apple-I Computer
Photo Credit: John Moran Auctioneers

In many way, Apple-I was the beginning of the Apple story. The company followed it up a year later with the Apple-II. It set the company on a meteoric rise that only plateaued after the departure of Jobs and Wozniak. Steve Jobs returned at the helm in 1997 after a hiatus of more than a decade. Four years later the iPod happened, setting the stage for the company’s domination. It all goes back to the Apple-I and that explains the $400,000 price. There are only six believed to be in working condition. If you’re an Apple fanboy, your best bet might be to visit one of the many museums like the Smithsonian in Washington DC to catch a glimpse.