Preserving the History of Apple

David Greelish has a passion for vintage computers. He is one of the leading voices in the growing vintage computing collecting world and is active in promoting the history of computers, including writing blog posts, conducting interviews, and writing books. I spoke to him recently about his upcoming vintage computer festival and advocacy of Apple history.

You may know Greelish from a story that circulated about a year ago in which he advocated for Apple to include a Visitor’s Center at its new Campus that would show the history of the company. His idea was fairly simple – a small section of the campus would be devoted to visitors that would display various historical Apple computers and have exhibits about the history of Apple over the last thirty plus years. He wrote a blog post laying out his idea, including mock ups of what the visitor center would actually look like. However, his advocacy met some resistance within Apple, with Phil Schiller himself responding that Apple has no plans for any type of visitor center at its new campus.

While he has not given up on the visitor center idea, Greelish has redirected his passion for the history of Apple by organizing an upcoming vintage computing festival in Atlanta, GA (April 20-21, 2013). The Vintage Computer Festival Southeast (VCFSE) is part of a series of vintage computing festivals that date back to 1997, and have occurred at various places in the United States. This will be the first time it has come to Atlanta, and the highlight of the festival is the unique idea of having an Apple Pop-Up Museum.

Greelish spoke to me the origins of the Apple Pop-Up Museum.

It was mentioned to me that there was this guy here locally who had an unbelievable collection of old computers. That he wanted to one day open his own museum. I contacted him, his name is Lonnie Mimms, and we all toured his collection. His collection was / is amazing! He has every significant American personal computer, plus some foreign ones too. Also some classic Intel development machines, a couple of other pre-Altair computers (Altair being the first commercially successful “microcomputer), and much, much more.

So, I pitched Lonnie to join us and to create his first museum quality exhibit for our show. It could then be used in his museum one day, or possibly tour on its own, or be loaned out. He thought that this was a great idea. He then chose Apple as the theme, mostly to do with its overwhelming success and stardom these days, but also because of Steve Jobs’ recent passing.

Greelish and Lonnie then worked together on the museum, including hiring a professional museum designer named Thereze Almström. Greelish had the idea of referring to the museum as “pop-up computer museum.”

The museum will include most of the significant computers produced by Apple, including an Apple I, which only 200 were ever made and one has recently sold for $640,000. In addition, it will have other famous tent pole Apple computers such as the Apple II, Lisa, original Mac, and iMac. It will also have some unusual specimens, including an Apple III, various NeXT computers, and even an original Xerox Alto, which helped inspire Steve Jobs in the creation of the original Macintosh. There will also be non-computer exhibits including Think Different posters and numerous photographs that trace the history of Apple over the years.

One of the parts I like most about this Pop-Up Museum is that it will take place in a former CompUSA, which brings back many memories for anyone who loved computers back in the 90s. They will literally build a temporary museum, with actual rooms, all within this old CompUSA. Patrons will be able to walk through the museum and see some of these computers that most people have not seen in decades.

In my mind, this museum is a template for Greelish’s vision of a visitor’s center on Apple’s campus. However, Apple itself still seems unwilling to fully embrace that history, which probably stems from the legacy of Steve Jobs. When Jobs returned in 1997 he famously nixed an idea of an Apple museum and banished a significant amount of Apple’s history to an archive at Stanford. Apple’s resistance to building a visitor’s center on its new campus shows the current Apple executives seem set in the Jobs way of thinking and are unwilling to change. I asked Greelish if he thinks Apple will eventually come around to the idea of an official place celebrating its history.

I think it really could happen. Perhaps it hasn’t been long enough since Steve’s death though. I believe the other executives might feel like it would be going against his beliefs to do so. I just hope that somehow it got on Tim Cook’s and some other exec’s radar too. It would be best if they planned this into the Apple Campus 2 from the start of construction.

In the meantime, the public will have to celebrate Apple on its own, and the Pop-Up Museum is a great start. Hopefully it will not be a one time event and will make its way to other parts of the country or become a permanent building.