The Macintosh computer at 40.

On 24th January 1984, the Macintosh computer was released, as all the media are informing us. Apparently, some are still working. I thought I would give my own personal recollections of that period.

In fact, the Mac reached UK stores via a dealership only in 1985. What brought it to the attention of our university chemistry department was that also in 1985 the Chemdraw program was released and visitors to e.g. ACS meetings that year (probably the spring meeting) brought news of it back. A third piece of the puzzle, the Laserwriter also appeared that year. What difference would all this make? Well, take a look at the diagram in this 1983 article[1]. I drew that with stencils and transfer lettering, and the diagrams in this article took me ages! The article was submitted to what was called a “camera ready” journal, as part of the process of accelerating its publication, so it had to be as perfect as I could make it. I had to start from the beginning several times, since sometimes even Typex could not fix the errors or rescue the diagram from being a bit to big to fit onto the Journal provided template.

After drafting these diagrams, I vowed never again! Fortunately, the Mac, Chemdraw and the Laserwriter appeared some 18 months later! I remember going around the (mostly organic) chemists in the department, asking if they would like to join in a bulk purchase and we ended up with 10 Macs. By 1985, the model had moved on to the Mac 512K which were the ones actually purchased and photos of the front and rear of one are shown below (I still have it, hoping a collector might make me an offer one day).

The first year of use revealed an infamous quirk. The port on the rear of the Mac 512K did not support attachment of any hard drives (although in 1985 these were ferociously expensive for a 10 MB drive!) and so most of the time one spent not using eg Chemdraw but pushing floppy disks in and out of the machine. A year later, the Mac Plus 1Mb version was introduced (third photo) and this had a SCSI port. I attached such a 10 Mbyte drive to this port and the bliss at not having to rotate floppy disks was immense.

Back to the 512K model. After they were delivered, I gathered all 9 other users and introduced them all to the mouse. In the first 15 minutes, there were rumblings that they would never get used to such a strange object, but at roughly the 45 minute mark, they were all converts. The program demonstrated was of course Chemdraw. Microsoft Word was not yet available but another simple word processor was (WriteNow) and everyone practised constructing diagrams such as the above. What joy! And no Typex, or starting the diagram from scratch – merely a simple 10 second edit.

By 1987 as I recollect, there were many 1MB models now installed and we set about networking them all together and connecting them to the Laserwriter. We even managed to use the Mac to connect to STN international to search Chemical Abstracts[2] and the modern era was well under way.

So this is my tribute to the Mac on its 40th birthday. I still use them to this day.


  1. A.M. Lobo, S. Prabhakar, H.S. Rzepa, A.C. Skapski, M. Tavers, and D.A. Widdowson, "C-substitution reactions of c,n-diaryl nitrones", Tetrahedron, vol. 39, pp. 3833-3841, 1983.
  2. H. Rzepa, "A trip down memory lane: An online departmental connection map from 1989.", 2023.

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