Computers were bulky, expensive, and a luxury many couldn’t afford before they became a staple of workplaces, schools, libraries, and many homes.
Clive Sinclair enters the picture. The ZX80, the British inventor’s first personal computer, was a bargain at $200. The invention, as well as its more advanced successors, aided in the mass adoption of computing (and inspired a generation of programmers to create inventive computer games).
He’s just as well-known for the Sinclair C5, a small, low-speed electric car that was widely panned when it was released, as he is for his far more successful computers.
Despite the mixed reviews, he stood firm in his support for his creations.
“If the idea is good enough, it’s going to appear pretty crazy to almost everybody,” he told the Independent in a 2010 interview. “Either you do it yourself or it ain’t going to happen.”
Sinclair, who was knighted for his contributions to computing in the United Kingdom, died this week, according to his daughter, Belinda. He was 81 years old when he died.
Sinclair, a London native, was always looking for ways to improve efficiency, whether it was in calculus, commuting, or computing. According to the Independent, it’s an idea he’s had since his first invention at the age of 12, when he designed a one-man submarine.
He, like another illustrious tech pioneer, skipped college and went straight to work. After a few years as a tech journalist, he had his first hit in 1972 with The Executive, a small portable calculator that fit neatly into a pocket. The calculator received a Design Council Award for Electronics for its ingenuity.
Sinclair made his name selling mini TVs and the Black Watch, an electronic watch widely criticized for its low battery life and tendency to tell time incorrectly, among other issues, over the next decade through his company, Sinclair Radionics.
Sinclair, undeterred by his first failure, started a new company, Sinclair Research. The company released the ZX80 personal computer in 1980, which was the first computer to sell for less than $200. Although it was small enough to fit in one’s hand and weighed only 12 ounces, it lacked a screen and had limited storage. According to Old Computers, an online archive of, well, old computers, the small machine had only one-tenth of the parts that other computers had at the time.
Sinclair introduced the Sinclair C5, an electric car, in 1985, which was advertised as a “safe, reliable, pollution-free” vehicle that even 14-year-olds could drive. According to the Independent, the car was widely panned upon its release because it had only three wheels, no doors or roof, and a top speed of 15 miles per hour. The C5 was dubbed a “disastrous flop” by the BBC in 1992, and it scared motorists who drove it alongside much larger and faster vehicles on major highways.
The rights to Sinclair Research’s ZX computer line were purchased by British electronics company Amstrad a year after the C5 was released. Sinclair, on the other hand, was not deterred by the poor reception for long. He introduced the “Zike,” a miniature electric bike, in 1992. He followed it up in 2006 with the A Bike, a foldable, lightweight two-wheeler that could be carried on users’ backs when they weren’t riding it.
Sinclair, who spent much of his career working with computers, shocked the world when he told the Guardian in 2010 that he didn’t use one. (He claimed he knew how to use them; he just found it inconvenient.)