Rare Kenbak-1, World’s First Commercial Personal Computer, Heads To Auction

Back before the two Steves (Jobs and Wozniak) hand built and peddled an Apple-I system to a local computer store in Mountain View, California, there was a man named John Blankenbaker working in his garage in Los Angeles to create the Kenbak-1, an 8-bit machine with 256 bytes of memory.

it was constructed in 1970 and went on sale in early 1971, making it the first commercially available personal computer, predating the Apple-I by five years. One of the most impressive things about the Kenbak-1 is that it was a fully assembled PC, whereas many PCs to follow would be sold in kit form.

Source: Auction Team Breker / Click to enlarge

Blankenbaker's intention was to build and sell a computer that regular people could afford and learn programming concepts on. His target price was $500, though the retail cost came in a little higher at $750, which would be worth a little over $4,400 today with inflation. That's not exactly cheap, though one of the surviving models is expected to fetch between $22,000 and $40,000 in an auction in Germany.

Around 40 Kenbak-1 machines were produced between 1971 and 1973, and it's believed that only 10 units remain. The rarity of the Kenbak-1, along with its historical significance, is why the model up for auction is expected to command tens of thousands of dollars.

John Blankenbaker

Of course, this might be the first you're hearing about the Kenbak-1, and that's because it wasn't a commercial success. This was probably due to a combination of the machine's rudimentary design (it didn't connect to a TV like the Apple-I, and instead used switches and lights for input and output) and Blankenbaker's lack of marketing experience. Instead of approaching hobbyists, he tried selling the Kenbak-1 to schools.