26 December 1982: personal computer named ‘Man of the Year’

On this day in 1982 a machine, the personal computer was awarded the famous ‘Man of the Year’ by Time magazine.

It was to herald the beginning of the PC age. Two years before a machine was made ‘Man of the Year’, Microsoft CEO Bill Gates ambitiously predicted “A computer on every desk and in every home”.

The PC’s meteoric rise is only equal to its lacklustre origins. An Italian company called Olivetti made the first ‘desktop personal computer’. It was happily called ‘Programma 101’ and work on it started in 1962.

Olivetti manufactured typewriters and envisioned their upgrade as the PC. Their expectation was proved to be right however at a price tag of $3,200 in 1964 ($23,000 if adjusted to 2011) the new machines were horrendously expensive.

Also, the Programma 101 was actually little more than a modern calculator that looked like a cash register.

It was in the 80s that real progress was made and companies like Amstrad, IBM, Apple and of course Microsoft took over manufacturing and programming. Computers began to make sense. Prices started falling, actual sizes became smaller and the machines could do much more complicated things.

Time magazine was ahead of the game in awarding the PC ‘Man of the Year’ in 1982. At that time the uses were extremely limited. The main thing they did was to replace typewriters. One could now make a mistake and not have to retype the entire page.

Today, Bill Gates’ prediction seems like an understatement and not the overambitious, borderline ridiculous comment of the time. Many individuals have both a PC and laptop within households. In offices, desks often have several computers lined across.

The computer is still evolving and is increasingly combining and including more, traditionally separate, functions like watching television, shopping, telephoning, messaging, reading or even playing games into its toolkit.