Commodore founder Jack Tramiel dead at 83

Jack Tramiel, arguably as important a figure to the early personal computer industry as Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, passed away on Sunday. He was 83 years old.

Born as Jacek Trzmiel in 1928, Tramiel came from Lodz, Poland. After the German invasion of Poland in 1939, Tramiel and his Jewish family were sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where his father died. Tramiel emigrated to the United States after World War II ended.

Tramiel founded Commodore International in Toronto, Canada, in the mid-1950s, manufacturing Czechoslovakian-designed typewriters, then adding machines. Ultimately, the company switched focus to calculators and then computers. In the early 1980s Commodore designed and sold the VIC-20, an inexpensive home computer, and followed that with the Commodore 64, a now legendary computer that ultimately sold more than 20 million units, significantly outselling Apple and other computer makers of its time.

Tramiel had mixed success in his later career. Tramiel resigned from Commodore in the mid-80s after heated price wars with other PC makers led to financial problems; he ended up acquiring the assets of then-struggling video game console maker Atari from Warner Communications and founded Atari Inc., releasing the Atari ST personal computer. Tramiel would remain involved with Atari’s operations through though the mid-90s.

  • As a user of Commodore 64 and Atari ST, and a citizen of Lodz, born in that place… I am very very sad. 

    Couple of facts worth to add:

    1. Jack’s surname – Trzmiel – means bumblebee. If you remember the Atar ST GEM, there was a clear link to his original Polish surname – a bumblebee icon instead of sandglass.

    2. Before Jack was sent to Auschwitz he spent couple of years in Ghetto of Lodz. The poorest part of the city – former Jewish quarter of Lodz. It was the second biggest ghetto in Poland under German occupation and the only one in 3rd Reich (Lodz was incorporated into 3rd Reich and name of the city was changed into Litzmannstadt).

    Couple of years ago Jack visited Lodz during 60 anniversary of liquidation of Litzmannstadt Ghetto (ghetto of Lodz). In the front of New Jewish Cemetery there was at least couple of people wearing Atari t-shirts. 

    1. I live in a part of Lodz that used to be Ghetto.
  • So sad.  He was a hero of mine.  Add the Commodore Pet to his legacy. Incorporating a CRT display, it followed the Commodore 64 and found its way into the the commercial field (my veterinarian use on for invoicing).  I’d call it the very first successful personal computer.  It used the 6502 microprocessor, the same as was in the Apple II.

  • It’s a big loss for modern world 🙁

  • RonBraithwaite

    I remember the Commodore PET and I’m glad someone else does too. A very distinctive style – my first reaction on seeing one was that it was the coolest cash register I had ever seen.

    My memory of Jack Tramiel was from negotiations we were having with Atari when I was at Rising Star Industries. We were a Forth shop and I was responsible for R4TH, our Forth interpreter/compiler (along with Steve Egbert). He was interested in licensing R4TH for the Atari 500 (not yet released) and Chris Rutkowski, the RSI CEO was trying to play hardball with them.

    As I remember it, Jack Tramiel leaned over the table, pulled up his shirtsleeve to show his Auschwitz tattoo, and said, “You think you’re tough? I’ll show you tough!”

    He was quite a character and you’re right, one of the primary people popularizing personal computers, along with Clive Sinclair, Jobs, Wozniak, and Gates.

    As the years go by, these Heroes Of The Revolution start to pass. I’m glad they are remembered better now than when Gary Kildall passed and PC Week gave his obit a column inch.

  •  Founder of the Commodore 64 Jack Tramiel died at the age of 83. Share your memories about the Jack Tramiel  and the Commodore @

  • Tramiel was legendary at Commodore for Steve Jobs-esque full on rants that employees called the “Jack attack”.  A C64 game was named that after Tramiel left Commodore as a back handed tribute of sorts.  Fortunately (or perhaps not) I never faced a “Jack attack” having joined Commodore in 1984 after Tramiel had already gone.

  • My first computer was a Commodore PET. Chiclet keyboard, cassette tape external storage and a whopping 4kb of RAM. It never worked right and the guy I bought it from eventually gave me my money back. I did cut my programming chops on it, though.