Today in Philly Tech History 4/29/1994: Commodore International declares bankruptcy

Tom Paine

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West Chester might have become the capital of the PC industry. But it didn't.

On April 29,1994, West Chester-based Commodore International, which helped pioneer the development of the PC industry, declared bankruptcy and was subsequently liquidated. Commodore's former headquarters site in West Chester now houses QVC's corporate headquarters.

Founded as Commodore Business Machines in Toronto by Auschwitz survivor Jack Tramiel in 1954, the company started off first making typewriters, then adding machines, and then electronic calculators, but ran into competitive pressures with each product line. In 1976, after TI's entry into the electronic calculator market (using its own chips) threatened Commodore's survival, it responded by acquiring Norristown-based MOS Technology, which revolutionized the microchip industry in the mid-1970's with its 6502 microprocessor. In the late 1970's, Commodore moved to West Chester from California, in part to be closer to its new acquisition and key supplier.

The talent acquired through the MOS Technology acquisition, in particular engineer Chuck Peddle, convinced Tramiel that home computers were the future. Commodore's history as a computer manufacturer began in 1977 with the introduction of the Commodore PET, followed by the VIC-20, for which William Shatner did early ads.

In 1982, Commodore introduced the phenomonally successful Commodore 64, although the vicious cycle of price cutting it led damaged its own future as well as others. Tramiel resigned after a company power struggle in 1984 and founded his own company, buying the consumer side of Atari Inc. from Warner Communications. Meanwhile, Commodore bought a startup named Amiga Corporation and launched a new model bearing the Amiga name, which was considered by many to be the first multimedia computer. A long, bitter competitive and legal war (over IP issues) ensued between Commodore and Atari, although ultimately neither would survive. As Apple and IBM increasingly dominated the home computing market, Commodore languished, although some of its later ideas were ahead of their time (and the market).

At one point, Commodore had 1,000 employees in West Chester.

The Amiga and Commodore 64 have reappeared periodically in various incarnations.


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