Macintosh Assembly Plant

By Mike Carroll

January 20, 1985, Super bowl XIX was held at Stanford University's coliseum. Even though the NFL spent a lot to retrofit the stadium, attendees lucky enough to score one of the $50 tickets were stuck with sitting on uncomfortable benches suited for 1930s college games. Along came the innovative Steve Jobs to resolve this dilemma and at the same time promote his company. Cushions with the colorful Apple logo were placed on each seat. Fans could enjoy the game with some relief in the behind, and were even encouraged to take them home as souvenirs. Attending this historic event myself, I've kept mine. Before the game and some thirty miles across the bay, the pillows were being stored at Apple Computer's manufacturing campus in Building 4.

The Macintosh assembly plant was located in Fremont, California, on the south east side of the San Francisco Bay. I worked in security at the campus from the mid to late 1980s and was lucky enough to be trained on the new graphical user interface (GUI) system, allowing a head start in a world where desktop computers had yet to become mainstream.

Apple CEO, John Scully, had just ousted Steve Jobs when I arrived. But in the year and a half that I was there, Mr. Scully only visited the campus once that I know of, and that was on a weekend to give his kids a tour.

There were many perks if you worked there. Thousands were spent on lavish parties every Friday, held at the park in the middle of the campus. It was said that employees received free computers or could get them at a steep discount.

According to March 19, 1984, Infoworld, the 160,000 square foot facility cost the company $20- million to build. Apple's goal was to produce one Macintosh every 27 seconds.

It was on of the most automated facilities in its time, employing many Japanese manufacturing methods, such as Just-In-Time (JIT) delivery and robotics that were driven by Macintosh computers.

Building 1 is where the Macintosh was put together. The top image is a CG rendering from its lobby looking out at the parking lot. The cafeteria was also located in the building.

By the mid eighties, they also produced the laser printer (Building 3) as well as early desk top publishing software from a small trailer at the south end. Mac Draw and Mac Paint provided illustrators and artists tools to finally put their ideas on the computer in "glorious" black-and-white. Mac Write was the word processing software of the day; often used by newspapers and print media. However, early versions lacked a spell check.

Building 2 was the administration, which included facilities engineering and HR. A work-out room was off to the side of the lobby.

Building 4 was primarily used as a warehouse until the interior was built up in 1986 and opened for business in early 1987. A fifth building south of the campus came on line later.

The lobbies were staffed by Vanguard Security personnel dressed in civilian attire, as seen at the lower right. Some of the receptionists were given tasks to perform on lobby Mac128ks. If they showed talent, their contracts were bought off and hired into the company.

In 1992, Apple began to move manufacturing operations to Elk Grove, California. A study concluded that to remain competitive, manufacturing functions would need to be integrated with distribution. And this was a time when IBM compatibles were chewing away at their market share. Around 700 employees were either laid off, moved to Elk Grove or to the corporate headquarters, in Cupertino. The Elk Grove facility closed by 1994.

Not long after, other companies saw the writing on the wall, and a mass exodus of manufacturing jobs began in the Silicon Valley as well as the rest of the country.

Macintosh assembly plant in the 1980s. In the early 90s, another building was added south on Warm Springs Boulevard.

 
George Irwin, one of the original factory engineers, poses in Building 1. (courtesy of March 19, 1984 Infoworld).
 

My souvenir from Superbowl XIX, held at the Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, California. These seat pillows were stored in Building 4.
 
CG rendering of the Building 1 lobby. Extravagant lobbies were common among early Apple campuses. A pin-sized camera was located within the Apple wall engravement, viewable in the security control room.
 
Building 2 lobby, circa 1986. All lobbies were equipped with "state-of-the-art" Mac 128ks. This one is lucky enough to sport the new external hard drive (courtesy of History of the Mac OS; part 1). Behind the receptionist was a work-out room.
Fremont Macintosh Assembly Plant Santa Clara Valley in the Fabulous 50s