Margaret Rhodes is an associate editor for Fast Company magazine, where she produces Wanted and covers product design.
In the summer of 1977, Mark Johnson had just graduated high school. One day at the Good Earth Restaurant in Cupertino, he had a chance encounter with a receptionist from the office next door.
The company was Apple, where Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were at the helm of a small team building the Apple II computer (the Apple I was, of course, famously built by Steve Jobs in his garage). “I started work that next day,” Johnson says. He was Employee #13 and his job was to help assemble the computers. “When I had heard of computers in 1977, I was imagining IBM computers, being room-sized. When I saw the Apple II, I was amazed! It was small, about the size of computer laptops today. And it was on a floppy disc.”
Johnson and another employee, Robert Martinengo, assembled each machine and boxed it up for UPS by hand. “We were putting together seven to 10 computers a day. It was very slow paced at the time, and it was actually like a family operation.”
On the day Johnson snapped these photographs the small team was celebrating a shipment of Apple II computers. “It was monumental,” he says. “We had built 57 computers in one week. That was the most that the company had ever produced thus far in one week.”
At first blush, the grainy images look like any random snapshots found in a family album. But a glance past the corduroy flares and Kelso haircuts reveals shelves stocked with freshly-tested, Apple II computers–the same ones Frog Design founder Harmut Esslinger called, “a clunky old typewriter without its ribbon and roller.”
The office space seen in the background is largely unremarkable: a lobby, desks, sparse, eggshell walls–a shoebox compared to the sprawling, Norman Foster-designed UFO of a campus currently under construction in Cupertino.
Johnson’s stint at Apple lasted two years, during which time Jobs and his small team worked exclusively on the Apple II (although Johnson remembers once seeing Jobs and some engineers working on what would become the Lisa). This was prior to the Macintosh, and prior to Apple going public–which is when business started to accelerate.
“Everyone started buying computers; they moved so fast after that,” Johnson says. “The early days were very peaceful and slow. They were standard workdays, where everybody got along like brothers and sisters. There was no arguing; we were all focused on creating a good product.”
And Jobs? “Steve was driven,” Johnson says. “He was very pleasant to me. I know that some people have a different attitude. He was very driven and business-oriented. That was my experience with Steve.”
Images: Courtesy of Mark Johnson]