A BMW Z8 once owned by Apple founder Steve Jobs, is going up for auction.
What’s the Blue Box?
To New Yorkers, the Blue Box is a classy cafe painted robin’s-egg blue at the flagship store of Tiffany’s, known for selling costly baubles in blue boxes.
To Acuity Brands in Atlanta, it’s a trade-marked line of electronic switches. And to denizens of Windsor, Ont., it’s the name of their city-wide recycling program.
But to fans of computer history, the Blue Box led to the founding of Apple Computer — and it soon will be on display at The Henry Ford in Dearborn.
Museum officials said Friday they acquired a rare 1972 Blue Box in an auction in New York City. This one was one of the earliest collaborations between the founders of Apple — Steve Wozniak and the late, legendary Steve Jobs.
“It was designed and built by Steve Wozniak and marketed for sale by Steve Jobs,” said a news release about the purchase. The partners built dozens of the boxes — accounts differ as to how many — and sold them to people seeking to make free long-distance calls by fooling the telephone company, according to the news release. So, in effect, Apple began with a product that encouraged phone fraud, although the early users tended to be electronic experimenters and pranksters, said Patricia Mooradian, president and CEO of The Henry Ford.
“Blue Boxes were the first joint business venture between the two innovators, three years before the founding of Apple Computer Inc. in 1976. The new acquisition joins The Henry Ford’s collection, which also includes an original 1976 Apple I Computer. The Blue Box was purchased at Bonhams’ History of Science and Technology Sale,” Mooradian said in the release.
“At the time when this device was created, they were just young adults who had an unbridled passion for learning how things worked, and making things for their own use,” she said, adding: “This artifact speaks to ingenuity, curiosity and resourcefulness and fits perfectly within The Henry Ford’s Archive of American Innovation.”
According to online histories of phone pranking, Blue Boxes worked by artificially supporting the voltage of a phone line, slipping past the involvement of ATT switchboard operators and allowing users to place free incoming calls. Users of the devices were called “phone phreakers.” The future Apple founders sold their Blue Boxes in the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas.
“The Blue Box played an essential role in the growth of hacker culture, electronics, information exchange (and) led to Apple Computer Inc,” said Kristen Gallerneaux, curator of communications and information technology at The Henry Ford.
“It’s an artifact that speaks not only to how one of the most innovative American companies came to fruition, but it also documents the 1970s-era “phone phreaker” as a cultural force — or even as cultural hero. These sophisticated pranksters tested and broke down the boundaries of technological systems.” Gallernerneaux said in the museum’s news release.
The museum’s newly acquired Blue Box was once owned by David Claxton, brother to Bill Claxton, who helped Wozniak build the the boxes in 1972, according to information from the auctioneer. Just a year later, the FBI began paying close attention to the telephone tricksters and confiscated many of the devices.
“Because of this, as well as the illegal nature of the devices, not many have survived,” The Henry Ford’s release said. The museum declined to disclose the purchase price of the Blue Box, although the tab was less than the museum’s historic Apple 1 computer, which cost nearly $1 million, a museum spokeswoman said.