“Used to design Pong and lent to Woz to design Apple II” –Al Alcorn, written on this oscilloscope
“In early 1970 Tektronix introduced a portable, powerful and transistorized version of their large vacuum tube oscilloscopes called the 465. These oscilloscopes became the standard instrument for digital logic designers and were one of the first purchases that the new Atari made so I could design video games like Pong.
“In 1973 we were growing fast and we needed talented staff. A teenage hippy dropout from Reed College applied for a job as a technician and I hired him because he could solder, read a schematic, and was cheap. That was Steve Jobs. He soon saved up enough money to fund his trip to India to meet his guru and when he returned a few months later he asked for his old job back and I gave it to him. His buddy, Woz, designed a single board computer they called the Apple I but it was too much of a prototype to sell as a personal computer so Woz set about to design the Apple II. He asked me if he could borrow the scope for a while to finish the design so I loaned it to him for a few months and the Apple II was born.
“This scope has been in my possession since 1972 and it still works.” –Al Alcorn, letter of provenance
USED TO LAUNCH THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION, TWICE: This oscilloscope was used to design Pong, the birth of the video game industry, and the Apple II, the first personal computer with hi-res color graphics.
The present oscilloscope is a remarkable artifact, having played a critical role in launching two of the most consequential products in the history of the digital revolution: Atari's Pong and the Apple II computer. Very few artifacts of comparable importance to the digital revolution have come to market.
In 1970, Tektronix introduced the Tektronix 465, a powerful and portable transistorized oscilloscope that quickly became the standard instrument for digital logic designers. In 1972 Atari purchased a 465 — the very oscilloscope offered here — for their chief engineer, Al Alcorn.
I. THIS OSCILLOSCOPE WAS USED BY AL ALCORN TO DESIGN THE GAME PONG: The introduction of Pong in 1972 marked the birth of the video game industry.
Several years later, Wozniak and Alcorn became acquainted through Steve Jobs, who worked at Atari under Alcorn. “I hired Steve Jobs on a fluke, and he's not an engineer. His buddy Woz was working at HP, but we were a far more fun place to hang out. We had a production floor with about 30 to 50 arcade video games being shipped, and they were on the floor being burnt in. Jobs didn't get along with the other guys very well, so he’d work at night. Woz would come in and play while Jobs did his work, or got Woz to do it for him. And I enjoyed Woz. I mean, this guy is a genius, I mean, a savant. ” (Al Alcorn in IEEE Spectrum, April 2020).
Later, in 1976, Alcorn loaned his Tektronix 465 to Wozniak while Wozniak was designing the Apple II.
II. THIS OSCILLOSCOPE WAS CRITICAL TO ACHIEVING ONE OF APPLE II’S MOST CONSEQUENTIAL FEATURES: HIGH RESOLUTION COLOR GRAPHICS.
The Apple II was revolutionary in part because it displayed high resolution color graphics when connected to a color television set. To accomplish this, Wozniak used a trick for exploiting the NTSC color system built into color tv sets. Woz learned this trick from Alcorn: “I actually loaned them my oscilloscope, I had a 465 Tektronix scope, which I still have, and they designed the Apple II with it. I designed Pong with it. I did some work, I think, on the [audio] cassette storage. And then I remember showing Woz the trick for the hi-res color, explaining, sitting him down and saying, “Okay, this is how NTSC is supposed to work.” And then I said, “Okay. Now the reality is that if you do everything at this clock [frequency] and you do this with a pulse of square waves…” And basically explained the trick. And he ran with it. That was the tradition. I mean, it was cool. I was kind of showing off!” (Alcorn, IEEE Spectrum, April 2020). The Apple II revolutionized the computer industry in large part precisely because it had color graphics and supported video game play.
But before the Apple II could launch the PC revolution, Apple needed resources to transition from the Apple I and the hobbyist market into the broader consumer market.
III. WOZNIAK’S HIGH RESOLUTION COLOR GRAPHICS WERE CRITICAL TO APPLE’S LAUNCH.
Even before the Apple II made a huge impact in the consumer market, Wozniak’s revolutionary graphical display was critically important in simply getting Apple launched as a viable business. The Apple I had been a very modest success, but Jobs and Wozniak needed money to move forward with the Apple II, a product intended for ordinary consumers. Jobs initially asked Alcorn and Nolan Bushnell, Atari’s co-founder, to invest. Both declined and instead referred Jobs to Don Valentine, one of Atari’s earliest backers. Valentine also declined. But Valentine did put Jobs in touch with Mike Markkula, a wealthy 34 year old former engineer and marketing executive who had recently retired from Intel. Markkula was unimpressed by the Apple I, but when he saw the Apple II, and particularly the color graphics display, his view of Jobs and Wozniak changed dramatically: “Small computers like Wozniak’s typically could do one thing: display green capital letters on a black background. But here were multiple colors. Graphics. Sound. Games…Markkula found it hard to believe he was seeing these in a computer in some guy’s Los Altos garage. Such advanced features were the stuff of machines costing tens of thousands of dollars, built by teams of engineers at some of the world’s most famous companies.” (Berlin, 209).
Shortly after seeing Wozniak’s revolutionary Apple II in Jobs’ garage, Markkula joined the two Steves as Apple’s third co-founder and first source of significant financial backing. Markkula’s initial business plan for Apple projected rapid growth building up to annual sales of $500M within Apple’s first ten years. The Apple II far surpassed that figure, largely on the strength of Wozniak’s revolutionary graphical display, which was achieved in part thanks to Al Alcorn and this oscilloscope.
Tektronix 465 Dual-Trace 100 MHz Oscilloscope. Signed on the bottom in black felt tip, “Used to design Pong and lent to Woz to design Apple II, Al Alcorn.” With original instruction manual. With a signed letter of provenance from Al Alcorn. In excellent condition with original filters, attachments, and instruction manual.
Berlin, Leslie. Troublemakers: Silicon Valley’s Coming of Age. Simon & Schuster, 2017.
Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. Simon & Schuster, 2011.
Cass, Stephen. “Al Alcorn, Creator of Pong, Explains How Early Home Computers Owe Their Color Graphics to This One Cheap, Sleazy Trick.” IEEE Spectrum, April 2020.
Alcorn, Al. Letter of Provenance. Undated. Included herewith.
Wikipedia contributors. "Composite artifact colors." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 12 Mar. 2023. Web. 14 Apr. 2023.
Price: $135,000 .