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Plugged In

Commodore founder Jack Tramiel dies at 83

Plugged In

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Jack Tramiel

Legendary entrepreneur Jack Tramiel, founder of Commodore and a pioneer in personal computing, died Sunday at the age of 83 in California.

Born Jacek Trzmiel in Lodz, Poland, in 1928, he was interned with his family at a Jewish ghetto after the start of World War II.  Later, Tramiel's family was sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp.  Relocated to another camp at Ahlem — where his father died — Tramiel was rescued by U.S. troops in April 1945.

Emigrating to the U.S., Tramiel founded Commodore as a typewriter company in 1953, and shepherded it through the 1960s to become a major supplier of calculators and business electronics.  As personal computing flourished in the 1970s and 80s, Commodore was at the forefront, releasing a number of popular models — the PET (1977), VIC-20 (1981), and the spectacularly successful Commodore 64 (1982).  An icon of the 8-bit computing era, the Commodore 64 sold between 12 million and 17 million units during its lifetime, making it the most popular single personal computer model of all time.

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The Commodore 64

Resigning from Commodore in 1984 amid a power struggle with the board of directors, Tramiel purchased the struggling Atari Consumer Division from Warner Communications and transformed it into Atari Corp.  Atari's 16-bit computer, the ST, became a major rival of the 16-bit Commodore Amiga in the mid-1980s.

Tramiel sold Atari in 1996, remaining on the board of its purchaser, JTS Corporation.  He is survived by his wife Helen, their sons Gary, Sam, and Leonard, and their families.

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