JACK TRAMIEL OR IDEK TRAMIELSKI?

WITOLD IWAŃCZAK

On 8 April 2012Jack Tremiel, a legendary founder and chairman of the Commodore Company died in Monte Sereno in California. He was 83 years old. He was one of the most mysterious and creative inventors of Polish origin.

He was born in Łódź on 13 December 1928 and although there are sources which inform that he was born in 1927 or 1929, he said himself that he had been born in 1928, among the others, in an interview which was printed in a magazine ‘Bajtek’ in the beginning of 1987. However, I did not find his opinion on speculations what his real name was. Some sources inform that his real name and surname was Jacek Trzmiel, and others – Idek Tramielski. It is important that he was Polish and he never denied it.

War period

When Idek Tramielski was nearly 10, the war broke out and soon he and his family were taken to a ghetto in Łódź where he worked for over 5 years in a clothes factory. In August 1944 he and his father were transported to a German concentration camp Auschwitz in Oświęcim.

A camp doctor – dr Josef Mengele acknowledged that they were able to work and they were sent back to the Hannover-Ahlem camp. This camp was liberated in April 1945 by the American Infantry Division 84. Tramelski gained freedom after the years of a real hell on the Earth, unfortunately, his father did not live till that moment. He probably died from typhoid, but there is also a version that he was killed with an injection during one of German medical pseudo-experiments. Tramelski remained under the care of allies in a refugee camp for two years, trying to come back to normality.

Emigration

In 1947 he emigrated to the USA and got to New York. – The journey was paid by a Jewish organisation, which in America gave 10 dollars for small expenditures – he mentioned and added: - There, among emigrants, I felt like in Poland, the same language, the same smell of pickles and herrings. He worked as a mechanic in a shop. He also changed his surname for a more recognizable to the Americans and he learnt English quite quickly. It is proved by the fact that in 1948 he joined an American army where his duty was repairing office equipment – mainly typewriters. After a few years of service, in 1953 he left the army and opened a shop with typewriters in Bronks in New York. Unfortunately, the business was not successful, so he emigrated to Canada and in 1955 he established his own company dealing with repairing typewriters. He called it Commodore Portable Typewriter because he wanted his company have a military name, and because the names of military degrees ‘General’ and ‘Admiral’ had already been in use, he decided on a commander (Commodore). His skills were noticed by the managers of Seas Roebuck Company and the proposed Tramiel creating a new typewriter of his own construction. Surprised, Jack agreed. He built a machine on a Czech license and since then the characteristic logo of the company – the sign ‘C’ – appeared on machines which conquered the Canadian and American markets.

Business

Since 1970 the Commodore Company has produced calculators, basing on chipsets Texas Instruments. It seriously limited the marketing policy of the company because of the prices of chipsets dictated by their supplier. So, another movement of Tramiel was buying the company MOS, producing competitive chipsets which in the mid of the 70s fruited with producing the first computer Commodore – PET. Jack did not want to risk with building his own computer from the basis, therefore he was trying to buy the Apple Inc. Company. However, the price was too high. The success of the Commodore Company was another computer model – VIC-20, which had already been produced in the amount of millions. Finally, this company became famous for the production of the model Commodore 64 – a computer called the first computer ‘for masses not for classes’ by Tramiel. The device which appeared in 1982 was sold in the number of 22 millions and is thought to be the most popular in the history of a domestic computer. It became also popular thanks to wonderful marketing movements: possibly the lowest price of sale and adjusting the Commodore 64 to computer games.

Unfortunately, after a serious quarrel with shareholders in 1984, Jack Tramiel left the company and established a new - Tramiel Technology Ltd. Many other specialists of games and engineers left with him. In 1984 Tramiel bought the Atari Company being on the verge of a collapse at that time. Then he introduced new computer models into the market – Atari 800XL and Atari65XE, and a bit later – Atari ST. It is worth knowing that thanks to technical solutions applied in his computers (for example, the connection MIDI) and a perfect practical programming (among the others Calamus, DEGAS, Cubase) these computers were used in DTP and by musicians. Among the latter ones we can mention such prominent composers like Mike Oldfield, Jean-Michel Jarre or Czesław Niemen.

Family

In the mid of the 90s Jack Tramiel sold Atari to the JTS Company and retired. Then he settled down with his wife Helena in Monte Sereno.

Jack Tramiel had three sons: Sam, Leonard and Gary with whom he worked in a company and he had a few grandchildren. He acted in a League against Libel, fighting mainly against the anti-Semitism. ‘I am a happy man’ - the inhabitant of Łódź and a co-creator of the history of computers and IT declared in the last interviews.

(AA)

"Niedziela" 20/2012

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Lidia Dudkiewicz • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl