General Motors Company (GM), RadioShack Corporation (RSH): The Forgotten Winner of the First PC Age

The leader of the first generation
Tandy, the former corporate parent of RadioShack Corporation (NYSE:RSH), announced its intention to enter the infant PC industry on Aug, 3, 1977, when it unveiled the TRS-80 at a press conference in New York City. Slated to ship the following month, the TRS-80 was entering a market with little competition. In fact, it had only two serious contenders: the Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) II, and the Commodore PET 2001. These three machines are now known as the “1977 Trinity” because oof their importance in kick-starting the PC age at its inception, but it was the TRS-80, not the Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) II, that had the greatest impact on computing in the 1970s.

RadioShack Corporation (NYSE:RSH) began development on the TRS-80 in 1976, when it became apparent that the company would need to diversify away from faltering moneymakers. Executives (after some prodding) agreed that cost and accessibility would be key to the computer’s popularity. The TRS-80 had to work out of the box, since few people had the electronics skills necessary to solder a kit computer together. Since it’s generally easier to persuade people to buy a new-fangled machine that costs $600 than it is to persuade them to buy one that costs $2,600, the company eventually settled on a price of $599.95, which included a 12-inch black-and-white monitor. Even so, RadioShack Corporation (NYSE:RSH) expected only a few thousand sales.

RadioShack Corporation (NYSE:RSH)’s retail footprint, which far exceeded those of its competitors, gave the company a huge leg up in both market penetration and consumer interest. After the press conference, thousands of people called Tandy’s corporate headquarters to ask about buying a TRS-80, and sacks of mail flowed in with similar inquiries. The TRS-80 sold more than 10,000 units in its first month and a half on the market, far exceeding the 3,500 it had built before the conference in anticipation of a flop. By the end of 1977, more than 100,000 had been sold.

The TRS-80 remained the most popular PC model until 1981, when it was finally outsold by the Atari 400 (which was really a glorified game console). In its lifetime, the TRS-80 sold more than 1.5 million units, a total it reached by 1983. At this point, Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) had sold barely a million Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) IIs — its greatest success with that platform didn’t occur until after the release of the Macintosh in 1984.

The article The Forgotten Winner of the First PC Age originally appeared on Fool.com and is written by Alex Planes.

Fool contributor Alex Planes holds no financial position in any company mentioned here. Add him on Google+ or follow him on Twitter, @TMFBiggles, for more insight into markets, history, and technology.The Motley Fool recommends Apple and General Motors and owns shares of Apple, General Electric, and RadioShack (NYSE:RSH).

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