Who Invented the Laptop?

The first-ever laptop was invented by a British citizen named Adam Osborne in the early 1980s. Born in Thailand in 1939, Osborne spent most of his childhood in southern India. After moving back to Britain as a teenager, Osborne attended Birmingham University and received a degree in chemical engineering.

After getting a doctorate in chemical engineering, Dr. Osborne worked for the Shell Corporation in California. In the 1970s, Osborne became interested in computers and used them to begin a small publishing company. He would go on to found Osborne Computers in 1980 by selling his company and acquiring venture capital.

The first laptop was introduced in June of 1981 by Dr. Osborne at the West Coast Computer Faire. The Osborne 1 computer weighed in at twenty-four pounds, came with a five-inch display screen, and offered users a variety of useful software. The laptop came with a spreadsheet, word processor, access to programming languages, and an internal database.

While most people in 1981 were blown away by the utility of the first laptop, Dr. Osborne described his creation merely as adequate. To quote the man himself, “I liken myself to Henry Ford and the auto industry. I give you 90 percent of what most people need.”

Dr. Osborne’s invention was an overnight success and inspired other companies to follow in his footsteps. People could buy the Osborne 1 for just under $1,800, which was roughly half the cost of any other computer with similar options. The Osborne Company received over 100,000 orders in 1982 and claimed a twenty-five-month order backlog.

Unfortunately, Dr. Osborne became a victim of his creation’s success. When he made an early announcement that the company was rolling out a new model, many people canceled their Osborne 1 orders to buy the new computer. This turn of events left the company flushed with unsold inventory, leading to bankruptcy in 1983.

With Osborne Computer’s rapid rise and fall, the company became a symbol of Silicon Valley’s boom-and-bust economy. While Osborne had created a technological marvel, his company was unable to keep pace with IBM compatibility and new processors.

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