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Chuck Peddle Dies at 82; His $25 Chip Helped Start the PC Age

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His invention brought digital technology to a new breed of consumer devices and powered early Apple and Commodore computers. The computer engineer Chuck Peddle in 1977. The chip he helped develop powered the first big wave of personal computers.Credit…Tom Munnecke/Getty ImagesDec. 24, 2019, 2:52 p.m. ETChuck Peddle, the engineer and entrepreneur who helped launch the age of the personal computer after designing a microprocessor that sold for a mere $25, died on Dec. 15 at his home in Santa Cruz, Calif. He was 82.His partner, Kathleen Shaeffer, said the cause was pancreatic cancer.In 1974, Mr. Peddle and several other engineers were designing a new silicon chip at the Motorola Corporation in Phoenix when the company sent him a letter demanding that he shut the project down.Mr. Peddle envisioned an ultra-low-cost chip that could bring digital technology to a new breed of consumer devices, from cash registers to personal computers. But his bosses saw it as unwanted in-house competition for the $300 processor Motorola had unveiled that year.So Mr. Peddle moved the project to MOS Technology, a rival chip maker near Valley Forge, Pa., taking seven other Motorola engineers with him. There they built a processor called the 6502. Priced at $25 — the cost of a dinner for four, and the equivalent of about $130 today — this chip soon powered the first big wave of personal computers in both the United States and Britain, including the Apple II and the Commodore PET.“The market needed a cheap one,” Mr. Peddle said in a 2014 interview with the Computer History Museum.In later years Intel, the Northern California chip giant, would come to dominate the personal computer business. But the market was seeded in Valley Forge, not Silicon Valley.“Chuck Peddle is one of the great unsung heroes of the personal computer age,” said Doug Fairbairn, a director at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif. “Virtually all of the early, successful, mass-market personal computers were built around the 6502, not chips from Intel or anyone else.”Charles Ingerham Peddle was born on Nov. 25, 1937, in Bangor, Maine, the oldest son of Thomas and Maxine (Denno) Peddle. His father was a salesman, his mother a commercial illustrator. In high school Chuck dreamed of being a radio announcer. (Television was still in its infancy.) But after traveling to Boston for an audition, he realized that his talents lay elsewhere. At the suggestion of a neighbor, he enrolled in the engineering school at the University of Maine.After graduation, his aim was twofold: He wanted to live in California, and he wanted to build computers. So he took a job with General Electric, where he helped design early space vehicles, electronic cash registers and so-called time-share computers, massive mainframes that could be shared across companies, schools and other organizations.Later, at Motorola, he worked on the 6800 chip, a $300 processor used in pinball machines and other arcade games, before turning his attention to a lower-cost processor. When the company sent him a letter killing the
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