Andrew Kay was the son of Russian immigrants and grew up in New Jersey. He graduated from MIT in 1940 with an engineering degree, then he moved to California to work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena before moving to San Diego County in 1949 to join Bill Jack Scientific Engineering. In 1952, he invented the digital voltmeter to precisely measure electrical current. A year later, he founded Non-Linear Systems. In 1981, Non-Linear Systems decided to design
a personal computer to compete with the popular Osborne 1 portable. Though briefly called the “Kaycomp II,” the “Kaypro II” was actually the first marketed model of the computer. This was because in 1982, a daughter company was organized called the Kaypro Corporation and thus the computer was rechristened with the same name.
|Listen to our podcast episode about the Kaypro computer (along with the Altair 8800) here|
Unlike the heavy-duty plastic case of the Osborne, the Kaypro had a case entirely made out of aluminum. Kaypro computers were designed with the same philosophy as the company’s test instruments: rugged, reliable, well equipped, yet reasonably priced. Also, the advantage of a 9” screen was immediately recognized by consumers as compared to the barely usable 5” screen of the Osborne. The system started out at $1,795, but by mid-1983, Kaypro reduced the price to $1,595 and sales rose to more than 10,000 units a month. This briefly made Kaypro the fifth-largest computer producer in the world.
Over the next few years, Kaypro released a half-dozen or more similar systems, all based on the Z-80 microprocessor and all running the CP/M operating system. It wasn’t until 1985 that Kaypro began producing “IBM PC compatible” MS-DOS machines, and that late start put them in a poor market position. The company filed for bankruptcy in 1990. By the mid-1980s, it was the third largest computer seller behind Apple and IBM, and Kaypro employed nearly 700 workers in Solana Beach. However, because Kaypro missed a key technology landmark when it was late to adopt Microsoft’s MS-DOS operating system, the de-facto industry standard at the time. Kaypro ended up filing for bankruptcy in 1990.
Andrew Kay passed away on August 28, 2014.