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August 26, 2011

Record of Steve Jobs' early career lies boxed in Stanford University's Silicon Valley Archives

In early photos, Steve Jobs is startlingly young – he founded Apple at 21. His hair is long, and he has a hippie air.

By Max McClure

Stanford Libraries curator Henry Lowood with an Apple II series computer and materials from the Apple collection in the Stanford Silicon Valley Archives (Linda A. Cicero / Stanford News Service)

Steve Jobs sent tremors through the tech world this week by announcing his resignation as Apple's CEO with a succinct letter that carried an implication of health concerns. Jobs has loomed large over the company he founded in 1976, and his departure from daily events at the company marks the end of an era.

"Apple Computer is an iconic company in Silicon Valley," said Henry Lowood, curator for history of science and technology collections in the Stanford University Libraries. "And by iconic I mean that it's more than just historically important. It symbolizes a lot of things that we've come to associate with Silicon Valley."

Steve Jobs, Lowood believes, represents an archetype of the Silicon Valley entrepreneur. "And through documentation," Lowood said, "we can piece together these aspects of the history of Apple Computer and inform what we think about the visionary people who led Apple."

A window into Apple

Overseen by Lowood and project historian Leslie Berlin, the Stanford Silicon Valley Archives' Apple collection provides a unique window onto the early years of the Apple epoch. The collection comprises approximately 600 linear feet of documents, photos, videos, hardware and software, making it the largest assortment of Apple-related materials in the world.

Many of these items derive from the company's own archives, including materials originally intended for an official Apple museum. Since the company gifted the collection to the Stanford Libraries in 1997, more than 20 significant collections related to Apple's history have been acquired by the libraries.

"There are a lot of things about Apple that we think we know, but we don't really remember the facts correctly. We have to go back to the documentation to remind ourselves about what actually happened," said Lowood.

A young Steve Jobs

In early images, Steve Jobs cuts a very different figure than he does today. Not only is he startlingly young – he founded Apple at 21 – but his hair is long, and he has a hippie air. As late as 1988, a photo from the Douglas Menuez Photography Collection shows Jobs barefoot at a business meeting.

A 1976 letter to Regis McKenna – the man eventually responsible for launching Apple's corporate identity – describes a colleague's initial meeting with Jobs and fellow Apple founder Steve Wozniak.

"Steve is young and inexperienced," the letter reads. "Though he moved a quantity [of Apple II computers] into retail distribution, there is as yet no evidence that the retailer(s) are successful in find [sic] customers."

Silicon Valley itself had a different atmosphere at the time. "It was a small community – nearly everyone knew each other," said Berlin. When Apple was young, Jobs relied on several pioneers of the previous wave of startups – men like Intel's Andy Grove and Robert Noyce – for advice and mentorship. "It was almost a familial relationship with Noyce," she said. "Jobs would call him at midnight excited by some new idea or question. Noyce complained about it, but he always took the call. He adored Jobs."

Apple didn't stay unknown for long. Handwritten financial records from the time of the Apple II's unveiling show low initial sales. A few weeks later, the numbers shot up.

The first fan club

Hard on the heels of sales were the corporate groupies that have become a defining aspect of Apple's image. Stanford Libraries' Special Collections department contains the archives of Washington Apple Pi, the largest and most significant Apple user group, founded two years after the Apple II's release.

As Lowood said, "Apple has had fanatical users for quite some time now."

And the archives also serve as a reminder that, as with other companies whose images seemed tied to individuals, Jobs and Apple are not inseparable. The collection's materials document Apple's 1985 ouster of Jobs, as well as his 1997 return as interim CEO. The Menuez photos include extensive shots from the launch of NeXT Inc., the computing company Jobs founded in the interim.

"People think of these companies in a personal way, because they've been so identified with their founders," said Berlin. "I think that this has been very useful in terms of making the companies accessible, understood and often loved by consumers. But it hasn't limited them: When these founders have needed to leave, they've left, and the companies have continued on."

The Apple materials are accompanied by more than 300 other Silicon Valley Archives collections.

Max McClure is an intern for the Stanford News Service.

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Contact

Henry Lowood, Stanford University Libraries: (650) 723-4602, lowood@stanford.edu

Leslie Berlin: Stanford Silicon Valley Archives: (650) 736-2010, lberlin@stanford.edu

Dan Stober, Stanford News Service: (650) 721-6965, dstober@stanford.edu

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