Real Name: Jack Tramiel
Group: Commodore International
The Late Jack Tramiel was a fan of the c64 Demoscene
Redback here just tells me he had a chat with Jeroen Tel and he said that he was in contact with Jack Tramiel late in his life and told him about the demoscene… And he actually loved it and watched Youtube videos of c64 demos until his death and had been actually following the scene!
Also, the interview that Jeroen Tel gave on Dutch TV was seriously cut, he said lots of things about Jack Tramiel and they cut it all out (even though the programme was supposedly about his death), retaining only the parts where Jeroen talks about his work – making it look like a complete ego-trip!
Just thought I’d tell you, gotta go down, the ABSOLUTELY INSANE and massive X Democompo is continuing….
(Clip mentioned above starts at 3:16 – http://www.npo.nl/pownews/10-04-2012/POW_00410423)
The Life of Jack Tramiel
A businessman, history maker, and trailblazer of the emerging home computer revolution, the video game and computer world lost a legend when Commodore founder Jack Tramiel passed away on April 8, 2012 at the age of 83.
Not only was Tramiel founder of Commodore, taking it from typewriter repair to home computer giant, then followed it up by purchasing Atari, Inc. moving it into the 32-bit computer age, but in his youth he was a concentration camp survivor, and later co-founded the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
A brilliant businessman and innovator in the early home computers market of ’70s and ’80s, from the outside it may have appeared as though Jack Tramiel lead a charmed life, but since childhood he fought against harrowing odds, only to consistently come out on top though his hard work, smarts, and a an unstoppable drive for success.
Child of the Holocaust:
Before “Americanizing” his name, Jack Tramiel was born Idek Tramielski in Lodz, Poland (Lodz) in 1929. When he was 11 years-old, the Nazi party began occupying his homeland, and quickly herded the Jewish population into the Jewish Ghettos. Lodz contained one of the largest Jewish populations in Europe, among which were Tramiel and his parents.
The Lodz Ghettos wasn’t simply a poor neighborhood, but an area that was surrounded by a fence and sealed, cutting the Ghetto from the outside world; a giant prison in the middle of Lodz.
The Nazi’s built factories in the Ghettos and had the Jewish population work for a minimal amount of food as payment.
To help feed his family the young Jack Tramiel took a job at a pants factory until 1944 when they were pulled out of the Ghetto and ushered onto overcrowded trains set for the Auschwitz. Once they arrived at the concentration camp Jack and his father were separated from his mother, examined by the infamous “Angel of Death”, Dr. Joseph Mengele, and assigned to build a new concentration camp. They were then transported to a spot outside of Hanover, Germany where they worked on crews to build the Ahlem concentration camp and inevitably inhabited it.
After suffering from malnutrition Jack’s father was taken to the camp’s excuse for an infirmary where he died. It was Tramiel’s belief that his father was given injection of Gasoline as part of the Nazi’s medical experiments on live human subjects.
Jack survived the best he could in the concentration camp until April of 1945 when the American army liberated the camp at the end of World War II.
Life After The Camps:
The 16-year-old Tramiel moved around Europe for the next two years, working a series of odd jobs until he discovered that his mother had survived Auschwitz and was back living in their former homeland of Lodz.
After a reunion with his mother, Tramiel married a fellow concentration camp survivor, Helen Goldgrub. Now 18, Jack sought out new opportunities and set his sights on the United States. They newlyweds could not afford to move there together, so Tramiel went first, earring money as a repairman and learning English, eventually joining the United States Army, which allowing him the security to finally send for Helen.
The Birth of Commodore…Typewriters:
After serving in the army for 4 years, Tramiel, now the father of three sons, moved his family to New York where he worked at a typewriter shop making repairs. After quickly learning the business Jack purchased his own shop, which grew from repairing typewriters, to selling them.
Soon Tramiel outgrew his business and decided to move to Canada and start his own Typewriter importing company. He named his newly formed business Commodore. Swiftly the new company expanded from importing typewriters to manufacturing them.
Tramiel’s drive along with his skills, smarts, and talent allowed him to navigate Commodore though a constantly changing market. When Japan took over the typewriter industry, he switched to making adding machines, and eventually calculators. It seemed like every business opportunity Tramiel leapt to, the Japanese manufacturers were right behind, with the ability to build and import faster and cheaper than anyone else.
Eventually Commodore hit on hard times, forcing Jack to take a bailout from Canadian businessman Irving Gould, who took partial control over the company.
After surviving the Jewish Ghetto of Nazi occupied Poland and the Ahlem concentration camp, Jack Tramiel worked his way up to the top of the business world with his typewriter importer turned calculator manufacturing company Commodore, but when the company hit on some hard times it was bailed out by Canadian businessman Irving Gould, who took partial control over the company.
Tramiel Hits Silicon Valley:
Still maintaining his position as CEO of Commodore, Tramiel moved to Silicon Valley and set up a deal with Texas Instruments to supply semiconductor chips for a line of powerful handheld calculators. They ended up becoming such a big hit that Texas Instruments decided to stop providing the chips to Commodore and make the calculators themselves.
Making sure he would never again be beholden to a third party supplier, Tramiel acquired a chip manufacturing company, MOS Technology and absorbed it into Commodore. While Tramiel was assessing the company, engineer Chuck Peddle recommended that the semiconductors they were using for powerful calculators could instead be used for a home computer.
Tramiel assigned Peddle and his son Leonard Tramiel to design and a personal home computer using the MOS chips. Six months later they had the computer designed and prototyped.
Commodore’s First Home Computer – The PET:
The all-in-one Commodore PET 2001 (Personal Electronic Transactor) computer included a small black & white monitor attached to a housing that held the computer circuit board and components, along with a built-in keyboard, number pad and cassette tape-drive.
The computer was unveiled at the 1977 COMDEX (Computer Dealers’ Exhibition). The PET 2001 sold for $599, the lowest amount they could release it for and still make a profit.
The PET was a hit, and Tramiel continued hunting out ways to continue reducing the price in subsequent models by finding less expensive parts and technology while maintaining power and quality.
Eventually the competition started to catch up with the PET, namely the Apple II, which originally released the same year as the PET, but with a much higher price tag. The big advantage the Apple II had over its competitors was a full color display, and as technology progressed and prices reduced the Apple II started to dominate the market.
In response to the Apple threat, Tramiel spearheaded the release of Commodore’s first color computer in 1980, the Commodore VIC-20. With a shockingly low price tag of $299.95, and capabilities of full color display. In addition to the power and memory upgrades that surpassed the PET, the system also featured a cartridge slot, allowing faster loading times and direct access to data, which was far more efficient than tape drives.
Although it was not as powerful as the competition’s computers, the price tag was so low that consumers scrambled to snatch up a Vic-20 of their own, which was not only available at high end electronic stores, but also at toy stores and discount shops. By 1982 the VIC-20 was the first computer to sell over a million units of a single model.
During those first couple of years of success, Tramiel and Commodore continued development to create a higher end computer that could match the capabilities of the Apple II, yet still cost less at retail.
The Commodore 64:
In 1982 Commodore unveiled a computer that was destined to become the company’s most iconic, the Commodore 64. Designed to compete not only in the computer realm, but in the home video console market, against the dominating system, the Atari 2600. The C64 came loaded with a whopping 64 KB of RAM, and could be hooked up to any CRT television. With a price tag of $595, the C64 was less expensive than any other 8-bit computer on the market at the time.
The C64 was a monumental success, even taking over the VIC-20’s business, with Commodore phasing out the VIC-20 just a couple years later. For many families, the first home computer was the Commodore 64.
Commodore and Tramiel had hit it big and one of the top players in the computer market, their business spreading internationally, with Commodore computers becoming popular across Europe, and even Japan.
When Commodore reached its pinnacle, major shareholder Irving Gould and Tramiel had a major falling out over future direction, the results of which forced Tramiel out of the company he had founded and built to success.
After Jack Tramiel took his company, Commodore, from a small typewriter importer/manufacturer to become one of the biggest players in the home computer market with the release of the Commodore 64, at the peak of the companies success Jack Tramiel sought to push things further by being the first to release a 32-bit home computer, but after a falling out with Commodore investor Irving Gould had a major falling out with Tramiel, forcing him out of the company he founded.
Not one to be reckoned with Tramiel bounced back, and turned things around to form a new computer company, then acquire the one time home console giant, Atari, Inc.
The War Against Commodore:
To explain Jack Tramiel’s all out war with the company he originally founded, Commodore, you must first get to know a little about the history of the Amiga Corporation.
In 1982 a group of former Atari employees formed their own company called Hi-Toro, later renamed Amiga Corporation, and set their sights set on creating a “next generation” 32-bit computer. Unfortunately the company fell on hard times, forcing them to strike a deal with Atari in exchange for financial assistance.
Atari, which was then owned by Warner Communications (aka Warner Bros.), penned an agreement with Amiga, which granted Atari exclusive rights to use the 32-bit chips Amiga was developing. Atari could use the chips for a new next-generation console system, that could later be expanded into a home computer similar to how the ColecoVision could be converted into the Adam computer with the use of an expansion module.
The agreement was signed and set for Amiga to deliver the tech to Atari no later than June 30, 1984.
Now Back to Tramiel:
During the time of Amiga’s financial problems and deal with Atari, Tramiel had left Commodore, taking several of the companies key engineers with him, and formed a new company, Tramel Technology, Ltd, with his sights set on being the first to market with an affordable 32-bit home computer.
Without Tramiel as the helm or their essential engineers, Commodore was hurting. Realizing that their former owner had plans to take away not only their key staff but also their market share, the heads of Commodore decided it was time to get their own 32-bit computer to market before Tramiel.
Unfortunately, they didn’t have the knowledge or business savvy that Tramiel possessed to find low costs components or the engineers to make the new computer. They were already trailing behind their one-time leader who already had his 32-bit computer near completion. If Commodore was going to stay relevant in the home computer market, they needed to act fast.
Hi Commodore, It’s Me, Amiga:
At this time it just so happened that Amiga was once again having financial problems. The delivery date of their technology to Atari was looming, but they didn’t have any more funds to continue development, so Amiga approached Commodore. Seeing the opportunity for a near completed, ready-made 32-bit computer, Commodore quickly snatched Amiga up.
In tandem to Commodore purchasing Amiga, Tramiel was looking to make an acquisition of his own. With his 32-bit computer system almost ready to go, Tramiel set his sighs on Atari, which was quickly loosing money due to the video game industry crash of 1983.
Seeing Atari’s robust international distribution channels as a major advantage for market saturation of his upcoming computer, Tramiel bought Atari from Warner Communications, and began running the one time console giant along with his son, Sam Tramiel.
After bouncing back from being forced out of Commodore, the company he founded and single handedly built into an empire, Jack Tramiel was now the owner of Atari, with plans to be the first to release a 32-bit home computer.
In attempt to keep their hold on the market Commodore bought Amiga and went up against their former owner in a race to be the first to reach the 32-bit home computer age.
Tramiel Turns the Tables:
To try and slow down the release of Tramiel’s upcoming computer, Commodore sued three of the main engineers that left to work with their old boss, sighting that they stole Commodore owned technology and brought it over to Tramiel.
Not one to let his old company best him, or his team, Tramiel discovered the Amiga deal with Atari, and knowing that Commodore now owned Amiga, he counter-sued them for damages and violating the original Amiga agreement.
The court battle went on for years, and eventually both companies released their 32-bit computers – the Atari ST and the Amiga Computer.
Eventually the lawsuit was settled out of court, and as part of the settlement Commodore withdrew their long-standing lawsuit against their former engineers who now worked at Atari.
Over the following years Atari and Commodore had a very public battle in the market, but during this time both Apple and Microsoft has taken a stronghold on the computer industry and were leaving little room for the competition.
The End of Commodore and Atari?:
In the end Commodore filed for bankruptcy in 1994 with their assets split up. Today Amiga and Commodore are owned by two separate companies who are currently seeing a bit of a resurgence thanks to the nostalgia and name recognition value.
After dropping out of the computer market, Atari did see a little more life with the release of the Atari 7800 console, and repackaged their most popular system as the Atari 2600 Jr.
Tramiel Takes on Nintendo:
1989 Atari went head-to-head against Nintendo in the handheld video game market by releasing the Atari Lynx, a color 8-bit handheld system that actually used chip technology from Commodore owned MOS Technology. While the Atari Lynx was superior to the Game Boy in many ways, and released the same year, it couldn’t beat the brand recognition of Nintendo and their flagship franchises such as Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong and Tetris.
Atari then tried to sue Nintendo for using monopoly tactics to force retailers to push Nintendo products over the competitors, and while Nintendo was later found guilty of price fixing and refusing to sell their products to retailers that also sold competitors products, Atari inevitably lost their lawsuit.
In a final attempt to regain the former Atari home console glory, in 1993 under the Tramiel family’s leadership, Atari released their final home video game console, the Atari Jaguar. The Jaguar was the first 64-bit home video game console and far more powerful than any other home video game system on the market.
While the Jaguar was critically acclaimed and had a faithful hardcore fan base, it released to a flooded market, competing with not only the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo, but also the Sony PlayStation, Sega Saturn and 3DO. In the end the Jaguar was a commercial failure.
Despite the failure of the Lynx and Jaguar, Atari was still doing financially well under Tramiel’s leadership, however Tramiel grew weary of the home console industry and no other systems on the horizon, he decided to sell the company in a reverse merger with hard drive manufacture JT Storage. The merger formed the company JTS Corporation, of which Jack Tramiel remained on the board of directors.
While running Atari, in 1993 Tramiel helped co-found the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and continued to be actively involved in the museum years after his retirement from the computer industry.
When, Vernon Tott, one of the American soldiers who helped liberate Tramiel from the horrors of the Ahlem Concentration Camp passed away in 2005 from Cancer, Jack Tramiel paid tribute to Tott by engraving in the Memorial Wall “To Vernon W. Tott, My Liberator and Hero.”
In an interview with NPR Tramiel explained “I have to make sure that this man is going to be remembered for what he has done. His family should know that he is to us, a hero. He’s my angel.”
The Tramel family is now out of the computer industry, instead owning a Real Estate and Investment Company Tramiel Capital, Inc.
On April 8, 2012 Jack Tramiel passed away at the age of 83, leaving behind one of the greatest video game and computer legacies of all time.