Stephen Wozniak grew up in suburban Santa Clara Valley, California (the area now known as Silicon Valley), where his father was an engineer for Lockheed and his mother the president of a Republican women's club. Already Santa Clara Valley was a technological center, its growth accelerating in the wake of Sputnik, the first satellite to be put in orbit, by the Soviet Union.
Wozniak (called "Woz" by his friends) was into electronics even as a kid. He made many homemade devices from kits and from scratch, including a voltmeter, ham radio, calculator, and games. He was extremely bright, but school bored him. He went to the University of Colorado and flunked out.Wozniak went back to school at the University of California in 1971, but dropped out and returned to Hewlett-Packard. Back at home he met Steve Jobs through a mutual friend. Jobs was another computer hobbyist, bored by school but obsessed by electronics.
In the early 1970s Silicon Valley was teeming with computer hobbyists and video game lovers. Wozniak and Jobs both belonged to the Homebrew Computer Club, one of many users' groups that sprung up in the mid 1970s when personal computers where just taking off. This boom in personal computers owed its existence to the development of the microprocessor in 1970. In 1975 the first personal computer kit, the Altair 8800, was announced. Orders for it poured in, though the computer couldn't do very much once it was assembled.
In 1976 Wozniak couldn't afford an Altair. So he built his own computer, using a cheaper microprocessor and adding several memory chips. As a circuit board alone, it could do more than the Altair. He and Jobs called it Apple I, and Jobs took on the task of marketing it while Wozniak continued to improve it. By 1977, Wozniak had built Apple II and quit his day job. Wozniak and Jobs formed Apple Computer, Inc. When it went public in 1980, its stock value was $117 million; three years later it was $985 million.
Though Wozniak became very rich, he remained mainly interested in the technical aspects of the business. In 1981 a plane he was piloting crashed on the runway. He suffered injuries and amnesia, and his recovery lasted two years. In that time he became involved in other ventures, sponsoring concerts and pursuing New Age interests. He returned to Apple in 1983, but retired in 1985 after he and Jobs received the National Technology Award from President Reagan.
He started other businesses and became involved with protecting First Amendment rights in the computer field. He moved to Los Gatos, California with his third wife and six children. After retiring from Apple, he returned to Berkeley and earned his bachelor's degree in computer science and electrical engineering.
"It was like a revolution that I'd never seen. You read about technological revolutions, the Industrial Revolution, and here was one of those sort of things happening and I was part of it."