Chronological History of Commodore
Reproduced March 31 2002 with permission from Larry of portcommodore.com
Last Updated Dec 30 2018 by Ian Matthews
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Commodore Computer Prehistory
Near the age of 15, Jack Tramiel (then named Idek Tramielski) and his parents were shipped with other Jews from Lodz, Poland to Auschwitz in 1939, though his father perished he and his mother survived the months till Auschwitz’ fall in 1944.
After emigrating to America, Jack Tramiel enlisted and served four years in the U.S. Army. At Fort Dix Jack showed a talent for unjamming typewriters.
When Tramiel left the army, he started work at a typewriter repair shop and then later set up his own typewriter repair business in the Bronx. To supplement his income, he also moonlighted as a cab driver.
1955 – the “Birth of Commodore”
COMMODORE TYPEWRITERS: I am guessing the machine at the top was produced around 1960 but I have no way of knowing for sure. The unit at the bottom was likely produced in the late 70’s. Because this is not electronic, this device does not fit into this category but I thought it was neat enough to add anyway.
Jack moves to Toronto, Canada and founds Commodore International Limited, with a deal with Czechoslovakia to assemble typewriters in Canada. [Why Commodore? Because Tramiel wanted a name with a military ring and because higher ranks, such as General and Admiral, were already taken.] To help fund his business, he gets Financier C. Powell Morgan, the head of the Atlantic Acceptance Company to back his business.
Commodore stock goes public at $2.50 a share. By now they manufacture typewriters and adding machines.
Atlantic goes bankrupt and C. Powell Morgan is indicted for “his defiance of all accepted business principles” and acts of “rapacious and unprincipled manipulation” by the Canadian government amid charges of fraudulent financial statements, dummy companies, and propped stock prices. Tramiel was considered suspect as well, but was never charged.
To keep the struggling Commodore afloat, Jack gave partial control (17%) of Commodore to a new investor, Irving Gould for $400,000.
After looking for a new market and finding one, Commodore starts selling the first pocket calculator using a Bowmar LED Display and a Texas Instruments Integrated Circuit.
The Chip manufacturers themselves enter the lucrative electronic calculator market, including Texas Instruments. Their calculators retail for less than commodore can assemble them and are stuck with a massive inventory. Commodore went from $60 million in sales to $5 million in losses.
[June] Chuck Peddle designs the 6502 Microprocessor for MOS Technologies, styled after the Motorola 6800 the 6502 changes the microprocessor market overnight by selling at ony $25 per individual unit (previously the lowest price was about $150 for an 8-bit microprocessor).
Commodore sets up shop on Palo Alto California
MOS Technologies release the KIM-1 Microprocessor Trainer, a single board computer. Retail $245.
[September] In order to stop being the “middle man” Commodore purchases MOS Technologies for $800,000 as well as Frontier, a Los Angeles manufacturer of CMOS chips, and MDSA, an LCD maker.
[October] Chuck Peddle convinces Jack Tramiel that the next market is with computers and Jack says to build one.
1977 – A “PET” is Born!
[January] Commodore’s Chuck Peddle shows the first PET to Radio Shack, hoping to have Radio Shack sell it.
At the West Coast Computer Faire Commodore unveils the Commodore PET microcomputer. That year the Apple II and TRS-80 are also unveiled. Unlike many of the companies Commodore is able to start world wide distribution in months instead of years.
In order to to gauge demand Commodore runs newspaper ads that offer a six-week delivery on a computer priced at $599 with which Tramiel thought he could still make a profit. An encouraging amount of order returned to the sum of $3 million.
Chuck Peddle leaves Commodore to work for Apple Computer and within months returns back to Commodore.
Commodore relocates from Palo Alto to a bigger manufacturing site in Santa Clara California.
Commodore releases the upgraded PET 2001 series, with business and non-business version sporting a larger keyboard, expandability to 32k and an improved (bug fixed) BASIC which includes disk support.
Commodore finally releases the Commodore printers 2022 and 023, up to this point many user had to wait or look for alternatives.
The CBM 8000 computer is released, supporting 80 columns wide display on a 12″ monitor, business keyboard, built-in piezoelectric speaker, the computer also uses the new BASIC 4.0 operating system that adds disk commands to BASIC.
1981 say hello to “VIC”
The PET/CBM 4000 series of computers are unveiled which also use the 12″ display in 40 columns, built-in speakers and the 4.0 BASIC ROMs, but keep their graphics/business style keyboards.
In conjunction with Waterloo University Commodore introduces the SuperPET, a souped up 96k 8000 series PET sporting both a 6502 or 6809 processor. The 6809 mode offers the use of loading in disk based languages and interfacing via a true RS-232 port to larger mini and mainframe computers for programming and language development.
Commodore unveils the Commodore VIC-20 aka “the Friendly Computer” the first color microcomputer to sell for under $300 (299.95), features include a 5k RAM (3.5k for BASIC programs) expandable to 32k, a 22 col x 23 row 8/16 color diisplay capable of hi-resolution graphics, and a joystick interface. During its life, production peaks at 9,000 units per day.
Bally licenses Commodore to manufacture its arcade games into cartridges for the VIC-20.
1982 a whole new computer line for Commodore
Worlds Cheapest Modem at just $110 the VIC Modem was release in January 1982
Commodore introduces the VIC Modem, a 300 baud cartridge modem for US$110.
Commodore introduces the 16K SuperVIC
Commodore Business Machines Inc. introduces the Commodore Max Machine. It has 16-color 40×25 screen capability, for US$180.
Commodore announces the Commodore 64 (6510, 64KB RAM, 20KB ROM with Microsoft BASIC, custom sound, color graphics, for US$600) for US$595. During 1983, the price drops to US$200. It becomes the best selling computer of all time, with estimated sales of 17-22 million units. It is the first personal computer with an integrated sound synthesizer chip.
Commodore Business Machines introduces the B128 microcomputer. It features 128KB RAM, 40KB ROM, 6509 CPU, 5.25-inch floppy drive, 3-voice sound chip, cartridge slot, and an 80-column green screen, for US$1700.
Commodore Business Machines introduces the P128 microcomputer. It features 128KB RAM, TV connector, 40×25 16-color display, and 320×200 graphics, for US$1000.
Commodore Business Machines introduces the BX256 16-bit multiprocessor professional microcomputer. It includes 256KB RAM, Intel 8088 for CP/M-86, 6509 CPU, 80-column B/W monitor, built-in dual disk drives, and 3-voice sound for US$3000.
Jack Tramiel resigns from Commodore Business Machines, but later takes his position back.
Chuck Peddle’s Victor Computer Corporation releases the Victor 9000 – Compared to the other MS-DOS 8088 computers its features were very advanced.
Commodore has shipped 750,000 VIC-20 computers by the end of 1982. Apple Computer has shipped 600,000 Apple II computers by the end of 1982. Timex has shipped 600,000 Timex/Sinclair 1000 computers by the end of 1982. Texas Instruments has shipped 575,000 TI 99/4 computers by the end of 1982.
[January] Commodore’s sales of VIC-20s reaches 1,000,000 units.
[January] Commodore introduces the SX-64, the first color portable computer. Weight is 10.5 kg. It incorporates a 5-inch color monitor and one or two 5.25 inch floppy drive. Price is US$1600.
[?] Rumours about a super-computer, with the codename Lorraine (the first Amiga, named for the HiToro president’s wife) were travelling across the USA. 1983 was the year that all the custom chips were built. RJ Mical (the coder of the intution) wanted a cheap games machine, but the others wanted the best computer.
1984 Jack leaves Commodore
[January] The 1984 Consumer Electronics Show was the showcase for Commodore’s next computer, the 264, based on the “TED chip” (acronym for Tramiel Editing Device).
[January] According to a statement released in January of 1984, Tramiel said, “personal reasons prevent my continuing on a full-time basis with Commodore.” Irving Gould recruited Marshall F. Smith from Thyssen-Bornemisza NV, a conglomerate based in the Netherlands Antilles, to replace Tramiel.
[April] Commodore International launches the Commodore PC at the Hanover Fair in Germany.
[April] Commodore International launches the Commodore Z8000 at the Hanover Fair in Germany.
[Spring] Commodore stops manufacturing the VIC-20.
[June] Commodore announces the Commodore 16 at the Consumer Electronics Show. The machine looks like the VIC-20 and Commodore 64, but has 16KB of RAM, and is expected to sell for around US$100, and marketed as “The Learning Machine”.
[June] Commodore announces the renamed Commodore 264 as the Plus/4. It will now feature four built-in programs, not just one. Price will be around US$300.
[June] Commodore announces the DSP 1101 letter-quality daisy-wheel printer, designed for the Plus/4, the MPS 802 dot matrix printer (rebadged 1526), the MCS 801 color dot matrix printer (re-badged Okimate-10) and the cost reduced MPS 803 dot matrix printer (which replaced the MPS-801)
[July] Jack Tramiel, former president of Commodore International, buys a controlling interest in the Atari home computer and video game divisions from Warner Communications, for US$240 million in long-term notes. Warner retains Atari’s coin-operated game division and home communications venture Ataritel.
The Amiga Inc. team was trying to find a company to buy their technology and to employ them, since they had run out of money. Many companies were interested in the custom chips of the Amiga, such as Sony, Apple, Philips, HP, etc.
jack-tramiel-and-sons-sam-atari-1985Atari’s president, Jack Tramiel, who had just left C=, because he purchased Atari secretly, was trying to get his revenge by buying Amiga Inc. He lent Amiga Inc. $1,000,000, to be payed back one month later.
When the month was almost up, it became apparent that Amiga Inc. would not be able to pay him back, so he offered 98 cents per share for the company. Amiga Inc. thought that this was unacceptable, so they looked for someone else to buy them. Just 2 days before the deadline, C= came in and began to talk to Amiga Inc.
They managed to get C= to raise its bid to $4.25 a share, and just before the deadline ended C= gave them $1,000,00 to pay back Atari, on the condition that they would get to buy Amiga Inc.
1985 a pretty new “Amiga” gets all the attention
[January] Commodore unveils the Commodore 128 Personal Computer. It functions as three computers in one: a complete Commodore 64, a CP/M mode, and a new 128KB mode.
[July] Commodore unveils the new Amiga 1000 at a star-studded gala held at Lincoln Center in New York. It features a multitasking, windowing operating system, using a Motorola 68000 CPU, with 256KB RAM, and 880KB 3.5-inch disk drive, for US$1300.
[?] Mimic Systems announces the Spartan, a hardware upgrade for the Commodore 64 that turns it into an Apple IIe. (it would take several months before the actual units are available to the public)
In an effort to make Commodore profitable, Smith took to downsizing, cutting the payroll by more than 45%. Though the company had an impressive $339 million in 1985 holiday revenues, it made only $1 million for the quarter after paying off about 1/4 of its bank debt. Commodore suffered through Fiscal Year 1985, losing $237 million, and getting into trouble with its creditors. The banks granted a much needed one-month extension on Commodore’s loans, and, with the success of the company’s second-best Christmas sales ever behind them, Commodore defied the Gods of Bankruptcy yet again.
[March] Thomas J. Rattigan replaced Smith as Commodore’s CEO. Rattigan was hired in April of 1985 with the understanding that he would replace Smith, who remained on as a director. Rattigan’s objective during the first few months of his leadership was clear – cut costs in order to stabilize Commodore’s position, allowing it to rebuild. Once again, the payroll was trimmed from top to bottom, and three plants were closed in five months. New controls were added in the finance department to prevent the sloppy reporting that had undermined Smith’s leadership. Commodore continued to sell respectable numbers of its $150 C64 throughout 1986. The Commodore 128, a successor to and more powerful machine than the C64, was selling for $300 at the time, also helping to keep the company afloat.
Rattigan’s policies worked. By March of 1987, Commodore had caught up on its loans and posted a $22 million earning in the quarter ending December 1986. It also had $46 million in the bank, the most cash since 1983, its most profitable year.
[February] Commodore announces the Amiga 500. It features a 68000 processor, 512KB RAM, floppy disk drive, and custom chips for animation, video, and audio.
[February] Commodore announces the Amiga 2000.
On April 22, 1987, Rattigan was replaced by Chairman Irving Gould, the venture capitalist who had been involved with Commodore for over 20 years. It is unclear as to why Rattigan was replaced after turning the company around and posting $28 million in profits over the four quarters ending in March 1987. Rattigan himself claimed that he was forced out by Chairman Gould due to personality conflicts and that Gould was upset about Rattigan getting credit for the company’s turnaround. Gould argued that the comeback in the U.S. was insufficient compared to its rebound in overseas markets, which accounted for 70% of its sales. There are reports of the famous board meeting showdown between Irving and Rattigan where Rattigan was physically removed from the premises, later to win a $9M suit against the company.
In fact, despite its profitability, Commodore’s U.S. revenues had declined by 54% in the same four quarters. According to Gould’s ideology, the North American operation was to be a sales and marketing extension of the company, rather than the unwieldy, semi-independent entity it had become. For the third time in Commodore history, a new leader began his term at the helm by drastically downsizing. Under Gould’s reign, the payroll was cut from 4,700 to 3,100, including half the North American headquarters’ corporate staff, and five plants were closed.
[October] Industry veteran Max Toy, generally credited with engineering the expansion of ITT Corp.’s Xtra Business Systems division’s PC product line and strengthening its distribution channels, last week was named president and chief operating officer of Commodore Business Machines Inc.
Toy, who held the post of vice president of sales and government products for Xtra Business Systems and had been with the company for two years, said he resigned his post “for a greater opportunity.” […] “It [Commodore] is a significant company that has solid foundation stones to build from,” he said, indicating that he intends to “solidify Commodore’s relationships not just with distribution channels but also in establishing strategic alliances.”
In his new post, Toy will report directly to Commodore International Ltd. chairman and chief executive Irving Gould.
[?] Commodore launches its first IBM PC-compatible machines, the PC10-1 and PC10-2. Both use a 4.77 MHz Siemens 8088.
[January] Commodore announces that 1 million Amiga computers have been sold.
[February] Irving Gould, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Commodore International Limited announced that Mehdi Ali had been appointed to the position of President of the Company. Mr. Ali, then a managing director of Dillon, Read & Co., Inc., New York, has been a special adviser to Commodore for the past three years. In August he was elected to the Commodore Board of Directors. Mr. Gould commented: “Having worked closely with Mr. Ali for the past three years, I believe we are fortunate that he has agreed to expand the role he has been playing in the restructuring of Commodore into a major competitor in the microcomputer industry.” Mr. Ali added: “Commodore now has considerable momentum and I hope to help capitalize on the significant opportunities that lie ahead.” Mr. Ali will conduct his duties as President from Commodore’s New York corporate offices. Mr. Ali had been with Dillon Read since 1984 and served as vice president on the finance staffs of PepsiCo Inc. and General Motors Corporation for the previous eight years. (This is an appointment to President of Commodore International, which was mostly a vacant position guided by Irving Gould and the Board of Directors)
[April] Harold D. Copperman is appointed as President and Chief Operating Officer of Commodore’s US Operations, Commodore Business Machines, Inc. He replaces Max Toy, who resigned to pursue other interests. Mr. Copperman was formerly Vice President and General Manager, Eastern Operations, Apple Computer, Inc. His responsibilities included overseeing sales, marketing, support, and distribution for Apple’s Eastern region. He also managed Apple’s Federal Systems Group. Prior to that, Mr. Copperman served with International Business Machines for twenty years, prior to becoming Commodore’s President he was National Director of Marketing for IBM’s Academic Information Systems Business Unit.
[November] Commodore announces the Amiga 2500/30. It is essentially an Amiga 2000 with a 2630 Accelerator Board (25-MHz 68030 and 68882 math co-processor).
[March] Commodore offers Amiga 1000 owners US$1000 to trade in their Amiga on a new Amiga 2000.
[?] NewTek releases the Video Toaster, a professional quality hardware/software video effects tool for the Commodore Amiga 2000, for US$1600.
[?] Commodore announces the Amiga 3000, at the Palladium in New York City. The system features a Motorola 16MHz 68030, 68881 math coprocessor, new Enhanced Chip Set, Zorro III bus, 2MB RAM, 40 or 100MB hard drive, AmigaDOS v2.0, and AmigaVision authoring system. Prices start at US$4100 with a monitor.
[?] Commodore releases the CDTV (Commodore Dynamic Total Vision) package. It features a CD-ROM player integrated with a 7.16-MHz 68000-based Amiga 500. List price is US$1000.
[?] Commodore International Stockholder Meetings are moved to Commodore International Headquarters at Nassau in the Bahamas (home also to Board Chairman Irving Gould).
[January] Commodore International Limited (NYSE: CBU) announced today the appointment of James Dionne as general manager of its U.S. sales company, succeeding Harold Copperman, who has been appointed vice president of Commodore International Limited, with new responsibilities including Amiga multimedia strategies. (Dionne, from reports, had been ‘groomed’ for the new role ahead of time.)
[?] Commodore unveils the Amiga 3000UX, with a Motorola MC68030 25-MHz processor, 68882 math coprocessor, UNIX System V Release 4, Open Look, and Ethernet support. Cost is US$5000, without a monitor.
[?] Commodore introduces the Amiga 600: 4096 colors, stereo sound, full pre-emptive multitasking operating system (Workbench 2.05), PCMCIA slot, integrated IDE controller, Motorola 68000 CPU, for a base price of $500 (a version with an internal hard disk shortly followed).
[September] Commodore introduced the first machine with the AGA (advanced Graphics Architecture) chipset, the Amiga 4000. The A4000/040 sported a 68040 / 25Mhz processor, six custom chips Super Gary, Super Ramsey, Super Amber, Lisa, Alice, and Paula. With 6mb Ram (2mb Chip/ 4mb Fast), IDE controller (they included a Seagate ST3144A 3.5″ 120mb HD). The floppy drive was a dual speed high density one. They also used the SIMM technology for the memory upgrades. Also announced AmigaDOS Release 3 Operating System.
[December] The AMIGA 1200 was introduced, The AMIGA 1200, was one of the most successful Amiga computers. It also had the IDE controller and the PCMCIA slot of the A600, plus a 32-bit trapdoor expansion. It included Amiga DOS v3.0. Processor: Motorola 68EC020 / 14Mhz, RAM : 2mb Chip Ram, expandable to 10mb total Ram. [8mb Fast] (The early announcement of the Amiga 1200 made the Amiga 500/600 sales flatten and availability of parts for the 1200 left Commodore with little profit for that quarter)
[September] Sometime at or after the World of Commodore/Amiga Show in Anaheim California James Dionne resigns as president of Commodore US (details here are fuzzy and I cannot find any more mention of any presidents of US operations)
[?] Commodore Business Machines stops producing Intel-based PC computers.
Commodores very last machine in production was the CD32 games machine. It was the worlds first 32bit console. with a 14Mhz 68020 processor. It had a double speed CD-ROM Drive, 2MB chip memory, AGA chipset and the option of a FMV (Full Motion Video/MPEG) module. But once again the machine didn’t make it. It had many sales but not as many as they were needed to save the financial problems of Commodore. Most of the games released were just CD conversions of the original A1200/4000 ones, with no extra CD music, or FMV. The Commodore situation was awful… CD32 was the first (and the last?) machine using as standard, Kickstart3.1. (Released later as an upgrade for all Amiga machines.)
Commodore had a financial damage of $107 million dollars by the end of 1993. But the Amiga was still a very popular machine. In 1992, Commodore sold about 800.000 Amiga’s (17% more than 1991) and in 1993, it sold 20% less. Big problems made Commodore lose all that money: Fall of Amiga peripherals sales (Monitors, Printers etc.), the US dollar (and its price fall on the major economic markets) and, well the ‘management team of Irving Gould (Chairman) and Mehdi Ali (President).
[March] Commodore, has announced that they were having financial difficulties which might result in bankruptcy or liquidation. Commodore had lost $8.2 million. The stock fell to $0.75 per share. The New York stock exchange halted trading of Commodore stock!
[April] Until the middle of April, Commodore was still producing A4000s, A1200s, and CD32s, and the engineers continued development of the new AAA chipset. AAA was meant to be a big improvement over AGA. 24bit Graphics [resolutions up to 1280×1024], 16bit CD quality audio and other interesting things. AAA was never truly finished. During the second half of April the production of Amigas stopped. The Philippines factory closed, but left behind a big stock of Amigas. The Scotland factory also stopped the production. Many employees were told by the management to hunt for new jobs…
[April,22] 15 people were dismissed from West Chester (PA), and the Commodore Semiconductor Group was closed. 15 people were also dismissed from the Norristown factory.
[April,26] Engineering closed. The site in West Chester, once supported by 1000 employees, now had only 22 people left on it.
April 29th, 1994 – almost an end to an Era
Commodore International announced that it had been unable to renegotiate terms of its outstanding loans and was closing down the business. The liquidation process lasted for months, owing largely to the far-reaching size of the corporation. In addition, the fact that the company was incorporated in the Bahamas while a large share of the creditors were from the United States made legal proceeding tense and drawn out. On April 20, 1995, almost a full year later, Commodore was sold to the German company ESCOM for approximately 10 to 12.5 million dollars. During the summer of 1996, however, ESCOM also fell into receivership.
[June] Jay Miner a key creator of the Amiga custom chips dies of kidney problems.
[April] Jack Tramiel, Commodore founder, visionary and driving force, dies April 8, 2012
[December] Barry Altman, a furniture manufacturer who started Commodore USA to sell repackaged Intel products in Commodore 8 Bit style cloned cases dies of cancer at 63 years old and Commodore USA is shut down
Eventually Gateway 2000 Computers purchases the Technologies of Commodore/Amiga and Tulip of Holland purchase the Commodore Trademark. Then Tulip has serious financial problems and sells Commodore to YMV (Yohero Media Ventures) which renames itself Commodore. YMV/Commodore produce low end MP3 players with Commodore names like VIC and also high end gaming PC’s but again can not make enough money to stay operational. The CEO, Ben Van Wijhe, forms a new Commodore name which basically licenses the name. In 2010 Florida’s Barry Altman, a wood furniture manufacturer, states that he intends to brand low end Asian PC’s with the Commodore brand and within a year settles a licensing dispute with Commodore.
Amiga was produced and supported by several companies after Commodores collapse but by 2012 the Amiga name is largely used only as brand for a Linux based Operating System
The Commodore 64 also has been kept alive by the support of customers and 3rd party hardware and software developers. The Commodore 64 made a listing in the Guinness Book of World Records for “The most units sold of a single model of computer.” Over the 10 years the Commodore 64 sold over 17million units all sporting the same features it originally had back in 1982.
On Sunday April 8th 2012, Jack Tramiel passed away in Monte Sereno California.
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