Wozniak questions long-accepted date of 'Day One' at Apple

Apple co-founder takes issue with April 1, 1976 conventional wisdom

Steve Wozniak

Virtually everyone agrees that Apple was "founded" on April 1, 1976 ... everyone except for one of Apple's founders.

Steve Wozniak does not accept that date as Apple's historic Day One - he calls the designation's provenance "murky" -- despite its decades-long, near-universal recognition as such, and what others see as persuasive documentation.

Does it matter? Only to the extent that historical accuracy matters. For not only has Apple's April Fools' Day birth long been considered a bedrock fact in the company's annals, it has also become a part of April Fools' Day lore itself.

Undeservedly so, says Wozniak.

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Woz's little-known difference of opinion came to my attention recently while scouring Internet archives for Apple-related April Fools' Day fodder that would become part of a Buzzblog post headlined: "35 years of 'Apple' Fools Day fun." During that search, I stumbled across a June 20, 1999 post by Charles T. (Tom) Turley to a Usenet message board called comp.sys.apple2, in which Turley recounts a conversation about Apple's origins "as told to me face to face by Woz back in 1996." An excerpt:

"Another interesting side fact I asked him was why did you found Apple Computer on April Fools' Day.  He replied that it was not founded on 4/1 at all, but that the Corp. papers were filed around 4/4 or perhaps even on 4/5 and he doesn't know where the rumor of Apple Computer being founded on April Fools' Day came from, nor just who got that rumor started, but, his Corp. filing papers for the Incorporation of Apple Computer were dated several days after 4/1."

If that's true - and part of it isn't - then not only is the conventional wisdom of Apple's April Fools' Day founding unfounded, but the premise of the post I was working on at that moment (of more immediate concern to me) would be undermined. I emailed Wozniak and asked him if he recalled that conversation with Turley and if he still rejects the notion of Apple being founded/established/created/whatever on April 1, 1976.

Round 1

"I don't know," he replies. "I don't have any strong memory of any particular action at that time. It could be the date we filed for actual incorporation."

Apple was actually incorporated nine months later, on Jan. 3, 1977, according to the company's Web site, a search of which returns no mention of April 1, 1976. However, the site's skimpy profile of Steve Jobs does say he "co-founded (Apple) in 1976."

Ron Wayne

The papers that Wozniak referenced in 1996 and now in his email to me involve the formalization of a 1976 partnership between Wozniak, Jobs and Ron Wayne (right), an oft-overlooked third partner whose decision to back out of the fledgling venture only 11 days after its formation makes him Apple's version of the Beatles' Pete Best.

I'd seen a number of references to that partnership as the basis for April 1, 1976 being Apple's real Day One, but could find no documentation. So I turned to Owen W. Linzmayer, author of Apple Confidential 2.0 by No Starch Press.

"The paperwork for Apple the partnership was most definitely dated April 1," Linzmayer writes in reply to my inquiry. "Maybe it wasn't filed for several days after. ... In any event, I know I have copies of the partnership agreement somewhere. If you really want me to dig it up, I'll give it a shot."

I asked him to give it a shot ... and not 10 minutes later he sends me a .pdf file, which you can read here.

It's dated April 1, 1976, all right, and is signed by Wozniak, Jobs and Wayne.

End of story, or so I believed. (In fact, not wanting to waste the reporting effort, I began to write a consolation-prize post that was going to be headlined: "How the facts got in the way of an interesting Apple tale.")

Round 2

Then I thought to send Wozniak a copy of the document that Linzmayer had sent to me. After all, Woz was nice enough to indulge my questioning and here is the proof that would bridge his perfectly understandable 35-year-old memory gap. "Mystery solved," I offered in that email.

Not so fast, comes Wozniak's quick reply.

"This was the partnership formed to produce a PC board for the 'Apple 1'," he writes. "It was actually a different company than the one that got financed and produced the Apple ][. This one was a partnership. The real company was a corporation. So it's a bit murky."

(What's not murky is Wozniak's recollection of how the partnership agreement came to be: "Ron Wayne typed the entire document out of his head right in front of us.")

Which put me right back where I started: Woz doesn't buy this Apple/April Fools' Day business.

Round 3

And, before I could even respond to his second e-mail, Wozniak sends me a third emphasizing his point:

"Allow me to add to this discussion," he writes. "Ron Wayne typed this document in his apartment. I'm sure he would have dated it correctly (4/1). But we had to submit a newspaper notification to become legitimate, after a short wait."

Not considering myself in a position to argue with someone who was there, I kicked it back to author Linzmayer, who showed no such hesitation:

"Seems like splitting hairs to claim that the Jobs/Woz/Wayne partnership that produced the Apple I isn't the same company that Jobs/Woz and (early investor/CEO Mike) Markkula incorporated shortly thereafter," he says. "Two of the founders are the same, the industry is the same, the companies share the same name, and the products are the Apple I and Apple II. Technically Woz is correct in that Apple Computer the partnership isn't the same legal entity as Apple Computer Inc., but to call it murky is stretching it."

History is written by the victors, or so goes the famous quote most often attributed to Winston Churchill.

Decide for yourself whether that privilege extends to company founders.

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