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Never underestimate a group of guys who want to hang out in the garage. After all, the Homebrew Computer Club began meeting In programmer Gordon French’s Menlo Park, California, garage in March 1975 — and while the neighbors might have rolled their eyes, the Homebrew guys certainly had the last laugh. At least 23 tech companies including Apple got their start at Homebrew.

Among the first attendees on March 5, 1975, was none other than future Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, and while Wozniak might be the most famous member of the Homebrew Computer Club, his fellow members all played significant roles in democratizing computing through microcomputers. Like Bill Gates and Paul Allen, the Homebrew members were fascinated by the Altair 8800, the microcomputer featured on the January 1975 cover of Popular Electronics. (For his part, Wozniak decided to build the Apple-I.)

The club quickly expands

The club quickly outgrew the garage and moved to the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. Lee Felsenstein, creator of the Osborne-1, served as emcee. The meetings were divided into “mapping time,” when members shared information about their current projects, and a “random access period,” when members swapped information, hardware and software. (Eventually any commercial transactions moved to a nearby parking lot.) Post-meeting, Homebrew members enjoyed actual brew at the Oasis Beer Garden in Menlo Park.

The club is famous for its newsletters, initially published by founding member Fred Moore, who wrote with prescience in the first issue: “I expect home computers will be used in unconventional ways — most of which no one has thought of yet.” Famously, Gates and Allen took out a one-page ad in the Homebrew newsletter to publish an open letter to discourage piracy of their version of BASIC written for the Altair.

The Homebrew lore lives on in popular culture, with the club featured in Pirates of Silicon Valley and Jobs. In 2013, members convened at a one-night Kickstarter-backed reunion at the Computer History Museum in San Jose.

Photo: Shaiith / Shutterstock.

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Kate Johanns

Posted by Kate Johanns

Kate Johanns is a communications professional and freelance writer with more than 13 years of experience in publishing and marketing.

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