Ed Roberts


Henry Edward "Ed" Roberts (September 13, 1941 – April 1, 2010) was an American engineer, entrepreneur and medical doctor who invented the first commercially successful personal computer in 1975. He is most often known as "the father of the personal computer". He founded Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS) in 1970 to sell electronics kits to model rocketry hobbyists, but the first successful product was an electronic calculator kit that was featured on the cover of the November 1971 issue of Popular Electronics. The calculators were very successful and sales topped one million dollars in 1973. A brutal calculator price war left the company deeply in debt by 1974. Roberts then developed the Altair 8800 personal computer that used the new Intel 8080 microprocessor. This was featured on the cover of the January 1975 issue of Popular Electronics, and hobbyists flooded MITS with orders for this $397 computer kit.
Mims wrote an article about the new technology of light-emitting diodes that was to be published in the November 1970 issue of Popular Electronics magazine. He asked the editors if they also wanted a project story, and they agreed. Roberts and Mims developed an LED communicator that would transmit voice on an infrared beam of light to a receiver hundreds of feet away. Readers could buy a kit of parts to build the Opticom LED Communicator from MITS for $15. MITS sold just over a hundred kits. Mims was now out of the Air Force and wanted to pursue a career as a technology writer. Roberts bought out his original partners and focused the company on the emerging market of electronic calculators.
Editor Alexander Burawa recalls a less dramatic version. The Altair was originally going to be named the PE-8 (Popular Electronics 8-bit), but Les Solomon thought this name to be rather dull, so Solomon, Burawa, and John McVeigh decided that: "It's a stellar event, so let's name it after a star." McVeigh suggested "Altair", the twelfth-brightest star in the sky.
In 1976, MITS had 230 employees and sales of $6 million. Roberts was tiring of his management responsibilities and was looking for a larger partner. MITS had always used Pertec Computer Corporation disk drives and on December 3, 1976, Pertec signed a letter of intent to acquire MITS for $6 million in stock. The deal was completed in May 1977 and Roberts' share was $2–3 million. The Altair products were merged into the Pertec line, and the MITS facility was used to produce the PCC-2000 small-business computer. The Albuquerque plant was closed in December 1980 and the production was moved to the Pertec plants in Irvine, California.
Roberts died April 1, 2010 after a months-long bout with pneumonia, at the age of 68. His sister, Cheryl R Roberts (b. November 13, 1947 – d. March 6, 2010), of nearby Dublin, Georgia died at age 62, a few weeks before his death. During his last hospitalization in Macon, Georgia, hospital staffers were stunned to see an unannounced Bill Gates, who had come to pay last respects to his first employer. He was survived by his wife, all six of his children and his mother, Edna Wilcher Roberts. All live in Georgia.