Homebrew Computer Club

Gordon French, co-founder of the Homebrew Computer Club, hosted the first meeting of the club in his garage in March 1975.

The Homebrew Computer Club was an early computer hobbyist group in Silicon Valley which met from March 5, 1975 to December 1986, and was depicted in the films Pirates of Silicon Valley (1999) and Jobs (2013), as well as the PBS documentary series, Triumph of the Nerds (1996).

Several very high-profile hackers and computer entrepreneurs emerged from its ranks, including the founders of Apple Inc. The open exchange of ideas that went on at its biweekly meetings, and the club newsletter, helped launch the personal computer revolution. The Homebrew Computer Club has been called "the crucible for an entire industry."[1]


Invitation to first Homebrew Computer Club meeting (sent to Steve Dompier).

The Homebrew Computer Club was an informal group of electronic enthusiasts and technically minded hobbyists who gathered to trade parts, circuits, and information pertaining to DIY construction of computing devices.[2] It was started by Gordon French and Fred Moore who met at the Community Computer Center in Menlo Park. They both were interested in maintaining a regular, open forum for people to get together to work on making computers more accessible to everyone.[3]

The first meeting was held in March 1975 in French's garage in Menlo Park, San Mateo County, California, on the occasion of the arrival in the area of the first MITS Altair microcomputer, a unit sent for review by People's Computer Company. Steve Wozniak credits that first meeting with inspiring him to design the Apple I.[4] Subsequent meetings were held at an auditorium at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center.[5]

After the more-or-less "formal" meetings the participants often reconvened for an informal, late night "swap meet" in the parking lot of the Safeway store down the road, as SLAC campus rules prohibited such activity on campus property. Others would convene at The Oasis,[6] a bar and grill on El Camino Real in nearby Menlo Park, recalled years later by a member as "Homebrew's other staging area".[7]

The 1999 made-for-television movie Pirates of Silicon Valley (and the book on which it is based, Fire in the Valley: The Making of the Personal Computer) describes the role the Homebrew Computer Club played in creating the first personal computers, although the movie took the liberty of placing the meeting in Berkeley and misrepresented the meeting process.

Many of the original members of the Homebrew Computer Club continue to meet (as of 2009), having formed the 6800 Club, named after the Motorola (now Freescale) 6800 microprocessor. Occasionally and variously renamed after the release of the 6800, 6809, and other microprocessors, the group continues to meet monthly in Cupertino, California.


Homebrew Computer Club members: John Draper (Captain Crunch), Lee Felsenstein, Roger Melen.

Though the Homebrew members were hobbyists, most of them had an electronic engineering or computer programming background. They came to the meetings to talk about the Altair 8800 and other technical topics and to exchange schematics and programming tips.

From the ranks of this club came the founders of many microcomputer companies, including Steve Wozniak (Apple Computer), Harry Garland and Roger Melen (Cromemco), Thomas "Todd" Fischer, IMSAI Division, Fischer-Freitas Company, George Morrow (Morrow Designs), Paul Terrell (Byte Shop), Adam Osborne (Osborne Computer), and Bob Marsh (Processor Technology). John Draper was also a member of the club, as was Jerry Lawson, one of two African-American members of the club (together with Ron Jones) and creator of the first cartridge-based video game system, Fairchild Channel F.[8] Li-Chen Wang, developer of Palo Alto Tiny Basic and graphics software for the Cromemco Dazzler, was also a club member, and Lee Felsenstein was moderator of the club meetings.[9] Steve Inness was a primary designer of one of the early cell phone touch screens as well as a business partner with John Draper.[10][11]


Homebrew Computer Club Newsletter, September 1976

The Homebrew Computer Club's newsletter was one of the most influential forces in the formation of the culture of Silicon Valley. Created and edited by its members, it initiated the idea of the personal computer, and helped its members build the original kit computers, like the Altair. One such influential event was the publication of Bill Gates's Open Letter to Hobbyists, which lambasted the early hackers of the time for violating the copyrights of commercial software programs. Paul Terrell, partner in Repco who was the exclusive sales rep company for MITS in Northern California, was a member of the Club and would provide information at the meetings about the progress of the Altair 8800 in the factory and provide copies of the MITS Newsletter to members. He later started Byte Shop, an affordable computer store in Mountain View, California, and bought the first 50 Apple I Computers from Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak after they did a demonstration of the Apple I at a meeting at SLAC.

The first issue of the newsletter was published on March 15, 1975, and continued through several designs, ending after 21 issues in December 1977. The newsletter was published from a variety of addresses in the early days, but later submissions went to a P.O. box address in Mountain View, California.

See also


  1. McCracken, Harry (November 12, 2013). "For One Night Only, Silicon Valley's Homebrew Computer Club Reconvenes". TIME Magazine. Retrieved November 12, 2013. …the open exchange of ideas that went on at its biweekly meetings did as much as anything to jumpstart the entire personal-computing revolution. It was the crucible for an entire industry.
  2. "Homebrew And How The Apple Came To Be". atariarchives.org.
  3. John Markoff, What the Dormouse Said (ISBN 0-670-03382-0)
  4. Wozniak, Steve (2006). iWoz. W.W. Norton & Company. p. 150. ISBN 978-0-393-33043-4. After my first meeting, I started designing the computer that would later be known as the Apple I. It was that inspiring.
  5. Freiberger, Paul; Swaine, Michael. Fire in the Valley: The Making of the Personal Computer.
  6. personal anectdote by Thomas "Todd" Fischer (IMSAI Division, Fischer-Freitas Company)
  7. Balin, Fred. "Homebrew's 26th Birthday Commemoration." Email dated March 20, 2001
  8. "Interview: Jerry Lawson, Black Video Game Pioneer". Vintage Computing and Gaming, February 24, 2009.
  9. Lash, Bob. "Memoir of a Homebrew Computer Club Member". Retrieved May 6, 2013.
  10. Rhoads, Chris (Jan 13, 2007). "The Twilight Years of Cap'n Crunch". Wall Street Journal. Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on January 13, 2007.
  11. "Steve Inness - Davis". Local Wiki. Retrieved 2016-03-28.
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