Cromemco was founded in Mountain View, CA by two Stanford Ph.D. students in 1974, Harry Garland and Roger Melen. It received its name in honor of their residence at Stanford University, Crothers Memorial, which was a dormitory reserved for engineering graduate students. The two had already been working together on a series of articles for Popular Electronics magazine.The articles were for non-computer electronic hobbyist projects. In late 1974, Roger Melen was visiting the New York editorial offices of Popular Electronics and he saw the prototype of the MITS Altair 8800. He was so impressed with it that he immediately changed his next flight to go to Albuquerque, NM. There he met with Ed Roberts, president of MITS, and Roberts encouraged Melen to develop add-on products for the Altair.
Garland and Melen’s first product was the Cyclops Camera interface for the Altair. Then when they saw no other convenient way to store software than paper tape, the two went on to create the “Bytesaver.” The Bytesaver was a programmable read-only memory card that supported a resident program. This allowed the computer to function immediately when powered up, without having to first manually load a bootstrap program. When they discovered no easy way to see a Cyclops image stored in the Altair, they designed a graphics interface card which allowed the Altair to interface with a color television set. This product was called the Dazzler, which was the first commercial graphics card available for microcomputers.
By 1976, it seemed inevitable that Cromemco might create their own computer one day, since they already designed and sold most of the separate parts. So, in August 1976, they released their first computer, it was called the Z-1. The Cromemco Z-1 came with 8K of static RAM already installed and surprisingly used the same chassis as the IMSAI 8080. Unlike the IMSAI however, the Z-1 featured a 4 MHz Z80 microprocessor rather than the Intel 8080.
The Z-1 was followed by the Z-2 in June 1977, which featured 64K of RAMand the ability to run Cromemco DOS or CDOS, which was similar to the CP/M operating system.The evolution continued when Cromemco essentially re-packaged and upgraded the Z-2 to produce the System One, then followed by the larger System Two and System Three.
By 1983, Cromemco employed over 500 people and had an annual revenue of $55 million. The company was still wholly owned by Garland and Melen when it was purchased by Dynatech in 1987 as a supplier to their ColorGraphics Weather Systems subsidiary. By 1986, more than 80% of the major-market television stations in the U.S. used Cromemco systems to produce their news and weather graphics.
- “The Night We Stopped Traffic” in the first episode of Stan Veit’s History of the Personal Computer
- Build your own Dazzler
- Cromemco Dazzler,The Worlds First Microcomputer Color Graphics Cards Running Magenta Martini.
- Cromemco videos uploaded by Harry Garland