At events such as this week’s WWDC keynote, Apple routinely shows that it’s as good as any company in the world at orchestrating onstage product announcements. But on January 24, 1984–the day the company unveiled the original Macintosh at its annual meeting—it was still a relative neophyte at the practice. And it managed to blow it. So many people wanted to see the Mac in person that Cupertino’s 2,600-seat Flint Center filled up to capacity. Thousands of people were stuck outside, unable to see Steve Jobs unveil Apple’s latest breakthrough.
Apple made up for its crowd-control failure by giving the unlucky throngs the opportunity to watch a replay of the meeting at a later date. This videotaped version is available on YouTube (with a few segments cautiously muted out of copyright concerns).
The video begins with Apple president/CEO John Sculley apologizing for the whole mess at the Flint Center. Then there’s a card in which Apple expresses regret for the quality of the video. And later on, during the annual meeting itself, VP Al Eisenstat apologizes on the fly and announces the plan to show the video to those shut out of the meeting. It’s rare to see Apple—or any company—so unreservedly sheepish about anything.
But you know what? The original Mac was so powerful a product, and Jobs’s presentation of it was so memorable, that they’re what people remember. The logistical meltdown is a footnote, albeit a fascinating one.
One more thing: In 2014, I wrote about Apple’s east-coast Mac unveiling—held a week later, also with people stuck outside—which is also on YouTube and worth your time.