Tramiel founded Commodore as a typewriter repair business. Eventually the company began selling their own typewriters and later branched out into adding machines and then calculators. As plummeting pocket calculator prices in the 1970s put pressure on companies like Commodore who had to buy their microchips from competitors like Texas Instruments, Tramiel decided to acquire integrated circuit manufacturer MOS Technologies.
MOS Technologies also provided Commodore with a new lead engineer who convinced Tramiel to get out of the calculator business in favor of home computers and the Commodore PET was born. Lacking color graphics or sound, the PET failed to attract home buyers but was fairly popular in schools. It also led to the development of the VIC-20 and later the Commodore 64.
The low prices of these new computers propelled Commodore to the top of the microcomputer market for several years. According to data compiled by Jeremy Reimer, which doesn't include VIC-20 sales, the Commodore 64 outsold the Apple II from its second year on the market in 1983 until both models ceased production in 1993.
In early 1984 Tramiel left Commodore to form another computer company which purchased the consumer division of Atari a few months later and was renamed to Atari Corporation. Although none of the new company's products ever had the success of Commodore's home computers, they did include a number of revolutionary technological features such as the first MIDI port on a home computer for the Atari ST and the first color handheld game console, the Atari Lynx.
An obituary for Jack Tramiel published yesterday by the San Jose Mecury News included a fitting tribute to his influence on the computer industry:
His Commodore computers -- in addition to the 64 there was the VIC-20 and the PET -- helped open a new digital world to enthusiasts beyond the hobbyists who could build their own machines. The 64, which ranks as one of the best-selling personal computer models ever, still induces nostalgic rhapsody in its legion of one-time owners.