The Keyboard Company - History


Here is a brief background of The Keyboard Company, TKC with the disclaimer that I have not dug up the exact dates of events.


I was general manager at Datanetics in Fountain Valley, Southern California. We built keyboards for cash registers and desktop calculators. IT&T bought the company around 1976. Steve Jobs dropped by on the way back from New York and asked me to build keyboards for the Apple II.  By the spring of 1977 we were in full production.

In early 1978, Datanetics built keyboards for Mattel and others which prompted Steve's suggestion that I start a new company dedicated to supply Apple's needs.


People had asked me what Datanetics does .... we make keyboards. Hence the new company's name The Keyboard Company. Then people knew what we were about .... Piano keyboards. Right! It took a couple more years before keyboards became synonymous with computers. TKC designed and two color molded the stepped key caps emulating the popular IBM Selectric feel and shape for the Apple II keyboard. Soon, TKC produced some 50,000 keyboards per month.


The Apple II's initial market was accounting and a numeric keypad was missing. TKC built a stand alone keypad that became popular with Visicalc users. Then gamers were attracted to the Apple II and TKC built various joysticks and sold them through the Apple dealer channel.


In the spring of 1980, TKC started producing the Apple III keyboard with integrated numeric keypad. In the summer, TKC was acquired by Apple for stock and became the Accessory Products Division (APD). As such, I built an assembly plant in Millstreet Town, outside of Cork, Ireland where Apple had a plant. International markets had taken off and keyboard legend requirements became a challenge with Arabic and Katakana fine detail. We paved the way for the sublimation process of a full keyboard set by transferring the dye from a sheet of printed paper.


APD designed and procured the Imagewriter and Apple II and Apple III monitor in Japan and opened an office in Tokyo for quality control. When Apple III sales stalled, I had to manage access monitors and introduced a stand to fit over the Apple II, accepting the Apple III. The dealer channel loved it.


Keyboard switches in the early times were a challenge because contact bounce caused undesirable multiple characters. Later refinement of microprocessor intelligence overcame this challenge and drastically reduced keyboard costs.


In late 1982, keyboards and mice for the Lisa went into production and in late 1983, keyboards and mice for the Macintosh followed and in the summer we shipped the Laserwriter. The Peripheral's division ran into trouble producing Twiggy for the Lisa and I took over the team to manage the 5MB Profile from Seagate for schools and as the Macintosh team was not interested in a 20MB  1 inch high hard drive matching the Macintosh footprint, the Wolfgang Dirk's design was sold to Sony.


In early 1984, we built the Apple IIc keyboard and procured the Frog designed monitor in South Korea.


By 1985 keyboards, mice and hard drives had become a commodity and Alps Electric of Japan took over the manufacturing sites in Garden Grove and Millstreet Town.


I left Apple in 1987 after a 10 year association.


Michael Muller


*Presented with permission of the Author