40 years of the Mac at the Computer History Museum

40 years of the Mac at the Computer History Museum

4 min read#Reviews&interviews#Exhibitions

Earlier this year, the original Macintosh celebrated its 40th birthday. The Computer History Museum hosted a small pop-up exhibit and a live event celebrating the occasion. Though I didn’t attend the event, I had a chance to visit the exhibit.

The Computer History Museum

The Computer History Museum (CHM) is a jewel nestled among nondescript office parks and housing tracts in the heart of Silicon Valley. It began as Gordon Bell’s collection of historical computing artifacts in a DEC lobby in the late 60s. Over the decades, the collection grew, becoming The Computer Museum in 1982 and then relocating to Boston in 1984.

By the late 90s, the museum collection relocated again to Silicon Valley under the new name of the Computer History Museum. Soon, work was underway for a new dedicated museum building which opened in 2002.

The building it occupies is itself a piece of computing history. 1401 N. Shoreline Blvd, as seen in a 90s magazine advertisement below, was originally occupied by Silicon Graphics (SGI). The rest of the Silicon Graphics campus has gone on to become the Googleplex.


One of several prominent Silicon Valley companies founded by Jim Clark, Silicon Graphics was instrumental in the development of 3D graphics. One notable example is its involvement in the computer-generated imagery used in Jurassic Park.

Mark Horton Architecture redesigned the interior of the former office building into the museum. It is well worth the visit for anyone interested in technology and how it shapes culture. Every important computing breakthrough is represented, including several one-of-a-kind pieces.

exterior shot Museum exterior.Photo courtesy Mark Richards

The Event

The Computer History Museum puts on live events throughout the year, including anniversary celebrations like the 40th anniversary of the Apple Lisa.

To celebrate the momentous 40th anniversary of the Mac and the opening of the pop-up exhibit, the CHM held a two-hour-long set of panel discussions called Hello: The Apple Mac @ 40. It was a star-studded fest. The panelists were either part of the original Mac team or involved in the Mac community at its inception. In the crowd were current and past Apple executives, including co-founder Steve Wozniak.

It began with a short introduction from Dan’l Lewin, President and CEO of the CHM and himself an accomplished technologist with a past at Microsoft, NeXT, and Apple. David Pogue, who built a career around writing about the Mac since the late 80s, was the host for the rest of the show.

What I loved about the event was how unpretentious it was. Apple is well known for the unmatched production quality of its product launch events. This event, however, felt much closer to an intimate university lecture. Watch the whole video and make sure to stick around for a fun surprise at the end.

If you are interested in learning more about computing history, check out the underrated videos on the Computer History Museum YouTube channel.

The Exhibit

The pop-up exhibit titled Insanely Great: The Apple Mac at 40 occupied a corner of the lobby area of the CHM. It was humble in nature just like the event. To an unknowing passerby, they wouldn’t have immediately realized that artifacts from one of the most important computers in history were on display.

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It featured a screen showing a variety of Mac content including Steve’s unveiling of the device at the Flint Center in 1984.

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There were signed pieces like a poster signed at the event and a copy of original team member Andy Hertzfeld’s book Revolution in the Valley.

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There was also hardware on display, like an original Mac, a prototype logic board, and a deconstructed mouse.

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There was a leotard like the one worn in the legendary Apple Superbowl Commercial.

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And there were other bits of ephemera like business cards and pamphlets.

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I’m happy I had the chance to see original work by some of the giants whose shoulders I stand on today. I’m also grateful to the CHM for gathering so many original members of the Mac team and putting on the event.

Camera setup

Camera setup

Thanks to Q for reading drafts of this.

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