A history of the Amiga, part 1: Genesis

The dream (1977-1984)

Jay Miner and his dog, Mitchy
Jay Miner and his dog, Mitchy.

There were many people who helped to create the Amiga, but the dream itself was the creation of one man,  known as the father of the Amiga. His name was Jay Miner.

Jay was born in Prescott, Arizona on May 31, 1932. A child of the Depression, he was interested in electronics from an early age. He started university at San Diego State. By this time, the Korean War was in full swing, and Jay opted to join the Coast Guard. His education and interest worked in his favor, landing him in electronics school in Groton, Connecticut. It was here that he met his future wife, Caroline Poplawski. They were married in a quiet ceremony in 1952.

Jay's interest in electronics continued to grow, and he brought his new bride with him to California where he enrolled at the University of California-Berkeley. He completed his degree in electrical engineering in 1958. Berkeley would later become a hotbed of computer science, contributing, among other things, the TCP/IP communications protocol that would later become the standard for the entire Internet.

For the next ten years, Jay moved around from company to company, many of them startups. His desire to be involved at a fundamental level in the design process was far greater than his need for steady employment. At startups, all the traditional rules about management and procedure are typically thrown out the window. People don't worry about sticking to their job descriptions; employees on every level from intern to CEO simply do whatever work needs to be done. This type of environment suited Jay well.

Jay then landed a position at a hot young company called Atari, which had gone from nothing to worldwide success overnight with the invention of the first computerized arcade games, including the blockbuster PONG. Atari was by no means a typical company. Its founder, Nolan Bushnell, was a child of the 1960s and believed that corporations could be more than emotionless profit machines: they should be like families, helping each other to prosper in more ways than just financially. There were few rules at Atari, and it didn't matter how weird a person you were if you could do the work. (One such Atari hire was Steve Jobs, who later moved on to bigger and better things.)

The man at Atari who hired Jay Miner in the mid-1970s was Harold Lee, who became a lifelong colleague and friend. Harold once said of Jay that "he was always designing. He never stopped designing." That kind of attitude could get you far at a company like Atari. Jay wound up being the lead chip designer for a revolutionary product that would create a multibillion dollar industry: the Atari 2600, otherwise known as the Video Computer System or VCS.

The Atari 2600
The Atari 2600 and the game that made it famous.

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