What a difference 34 years makes. In 1977, Chuck Heaberlin began selling the first Apple computers in Mankato, some with cassette drives for storage. Now long retired from selling electronics, Heaberlin still uses Apples for his home computer.

Pat Christman
The Free Press

Meet Chuck Heaberlin: the first man in town to have an Apple Computer.

The year was 1977, and Heaberlin was the owner of the Team Electronics franchise in Mankato. He had just returned from a conference at the Thunderbird Hotel in Minneapolis and was impressed by a pair of bright-eyed youths from the West Coast who were trying to convince retailers to sell their new machine.

Those two young men were the co-founders of Apple, Steve Wozniak and the late Steve Jobs, who died Wednesday from pancreatic cancer. And their machine was the trailblazing Apple II, perhaps the world’s first successful home computer.

“They were just a couple friendly, young guys,” said Heaberlin, who was in his 50s at the time. “I didn’t know if they were nerds or what, but they were very impressive.”

So impressive, in fact, that Heaberlin agreed to sell the computers in Mankato and become the only Apple dealer in southern Minnesota.

Those first models had no software and Heaberlin remembers using a Panasonic cassette player for storage. Users had to write their own programs and the price tag was expensive. One of his first customers, he said, paid $3,400 for a computer and a handful of components.

But even then, Heaberlin could see the potential.

“I was always willing to take chances on something new,” he said. “I thought I’d try it.”

Heaberlin’s daughter, Sandi Lubrant, said her father was quick to see the wider appeal of innovations in the electronics industry. She remembers him jumping on the video game movement, being one of the first in the region to sell Atari and Commodore 64 systems. And she remembers being the only person she knew in college at Minnesota State that used a computer to write papers, instead of a typewriter.

“He believed in Apple from the get-go,” she said.

In 1981, Heaberlin gutted his store — which was primarily selling stereo equipment and televisions — and began featuring computers. He began requiring his employees to wear shirts and ties, instead of their usual T-shirts and blue jeans, because businesses and schools were beginning to see the potential of computers, too.

Initially, Heaberlin said, Apples were difficult to use and difficult to sell. But then came the Macintosh in 1984 that featured a mouse, built-in monitor and a graphical interface.

“Those were big improvements,” Heaberlin said.

Heaberlin retired in 1988, well before the meteoric rise of Apple that followed Jobs’ resignation, and then return, to the company.

Still, Heaberlin said he has never owned a PC, has only used Apples in his home and is still awed by the innovative power of the man in blue jeans and a black, mock turtleneck.

“It’s amazing what (Jobs) has come up with,” Heaberlin said.

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