Computer pioneer, Commodore founder Jack Tramiel dies at 83

Jack Tramiel ran Commodore International, which released the Commodore 64, one of the most popular computers of all time

Jack Tramiel, a pioneer in the computing industry and founder of Commodore, died on Sunday at age 83, his son Leonard Tramiel confirmed Monday.

Tramiel's Commodore International in 1982 released the Commodore 64, a home computer that became one of the most popular models of all time, selling close to 17 million units between 1982 and 1994.

Tramiel was born in Lodz, Poland, in 1928 to a Jewish family. He survived the Auschwitz concentration camp, after which he emigrated to the U.S. in 1947.

Tramiel claimed that after surviving the Holocaust he could survive just about anything. The Auschwitz survivor undoubtedly survived the computer industry, including being ousted as chief executive officer (CEO) of the company he established. His Commodore Business Machines International grew from a small Canadian company manufacturing typewriters and adding machines to producing electronic calculators to developing computers. Tramiel's first introduction to typewriters came after he joined the U.S. Army in 1948 and was assigned to repairing typewriters in New York area offices. He moved to Toronto in 1955 and founded Commodore Business Machines after realizing the Canadian law would allow him to exclusively import Italian typewriters. The company advanced from typewriter importing to manufacturing the devices and adding machines. Tramiel embraced the burgeoning electronics movement and moved in the late 1960s to Silicon Valley, where Commodore began manufacturing electronic calculators. The company's success almost forced its demise. Texas Instruments, which supplied Commodore with semiconductor chips for its calculators, began manufacturing its own calculators and selling the models at prices Commodore could not match.

Never wanting to be held hostage by a vendor again, Tramiel purchased chip manufacturer MOS Technology to supply Commodore with the needed parts. Tramiel shut down most of MOS' research and development projects, but allowed the microcomputer project to continue.The project produced PET, Personal Electronic Transactor. PET helped Commodore earn US$700 million in sales in fiscal 1983 and $88 million in profits.In 1984, as the company's profits approached $1 billion, Tramiel butted heads with a stockholder and was fired as CEO. Tramiel purchased Atari Corp. from Time Warner Communications later that year. However the company, despite some financial success, never steadily operated in the black and Tramiel sold Atari to JTS, a disk-drive manufacturer he helped fund, but he did not hold any operational role.

Timeline:

1928 - Born, Lodz, Poland.

1939 - Tramiel, then named Idek Tramielski, and his mother and father are forced from their home into a ghetto after German troops occupy Lodz and relocate the city's Jews.

1944 - Tramiel and his family are placed on an Auschwitz-bound train. Tramiel and his father are assigned to concentration camp construction in Hanover, Germany. His father dies after being injected with gasoline.

1945 - U.S. Army liberates Auschwitz.

1947 - Marries Helen Goldgrub. He immigrates to New York first.

1948 - Reunites with his wife, fathers his first child and joins the U.S. Army, which assigns him to repairing office equipment in New York.

1955 - Moves to Toronto to open a typewriter shop carrying the name Commodore Business Machines International. The company grows from importing typewriters to manufacturing the devices as well as adding machines. Tramiel becomes chief executive officer.

1962 - Commodore goes public.

1968 - Moves to Silicon Valley to capitalize on the developing electronics revolution and starts developing electronic calculators.

1976 - Acquires chip manufacturer MOS Technology to produce chips for his calculators. Introduces a Commodore Computer at Comdex.

1977 - Commodore's computer reaches the market.

1984 - Tramiel disagrees with a Commodore stockholder and he is ousted from the company. Warner Communications sells its Atari Corp. operation to Tramiel.

1996 - Tramiel sells financially troubled Atari to JTS, a disk-drive manufacturer.

1996 - Tramiel retires to live with his wife in Monte Sereno, California.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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