Priming the Pump:
How TRS-80 Enthusiasts Helped Spark
the PC Revolution


  -- From Chapter One:
The First Complete Microcomputer: TRS-80
     

After the team from Tandy left the Warwick Hotel in New York, where they had given the world the TRS-80, they went to Boston to exhibit at a computer show. The Tandy group, which included Don French, set up their computer on a table without any fanfare at all and showed it to the people who drifted by looking at the wares of various small-time vendors, mostly selling expensive kit computers. French recalls being there alone and finding his booth “swamped” with people wanting to see the TRS-80. He said the press really picked up on the new machine at the show and there were a number of interviews and articles that followed.

Among those who stopped by the Tandy table that day were Dick and Jill Miller, who were seeking a computer for a volunteer organization which Dick headed. They were trying to get a government grant and had quoted a price of $5600 in the grant request to buy a computer. However, they had begun to feel they couldn’t get anything for that price that they could be sure would be reliable. Apple had just introduced their first model, but, as Miller tells it, “They weren’t a real company yet …all these things were being made in garages; what’s more they’re not being made, they’re being kitted — you have to put them together.” They had also learned that smaller disk drives were now available for microcomputers. Jill, a professional programmer, knew about disk drives, but the ones she used in her work were huge. Both knew having a disk drive would give them real capability and they were looking around the show for a reliable micro to which they could attach a disk drive.

Dick’s initial reaction to the seeing the TRS-80 sitting on a table at the computer show was: “I couldn’t believe it!” He says it was half the price of anything else, it was already put together, and it was offered by a respectable large company. It didn’t have a disk drive, although the Tandy guys had set up an empty hexagonal-shaped box that was supposed to look like a disk drive. They were telling onlookers that they would have a real disk drive available for their TRS-80 in the near future. Both Millers thought it looked like a great buy, but wondered if there was a catch. Dick came back the next day with a friend who knew about computers and both of them ended up ordering a TRS-80.

Don French left the Boston show for a trip to Japan and when he got back he found the Tandy switchboard paralyzed with phone calls. More than 15,000 calls had come in from people who wanted to buy a TRS-80. The company had produced only enough to have a few to show, not expecting to sell very many, and these were all hand-made by seven employees. Despite the deluge of orders, the bosses still didn’t believe the revolution was happening, and they dragged their feet gearing up to meet production.

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