History of the Washington Apple Pi [to 1985]
by David Morganstein and Bernie Urban
The Washington Apple Pi began in December of 1978 when a few recent purchasers of the Apple ][ microcomputer decided to sit down together to discuss how little they knew about the machine [an activity we have continued to do, ever since). While some of these individuals knew a fair amount about computers in general, none were or could be experienced in equipment which was so new. Yet, there was an understanding that a users group could help all participants, even though each had their own interests and applications.
The preliminary meetings were held in computer stores and libraries. A decision was made early on to collect useful facts into a newsletter, first published in February of 1979, which became our Journal. Good fortune resulted in an opportunity to use facilities at the George Washington University for a meeting place. GWU had a fairly central location, and a laboratory containing more than a half a dozen Apples, made available in a limited capacity to the group. By the end of 1979, the group had grown enormously to 110 members who continued to meet at the GWU location.
The monthly meeting featured club business issues followed by a formal talk and a general question and answer session. A small library of public domain software was assembled. Copies of the library disks were distributed to members at the meetings for a nominal fee. In those early days, the library reproduction was done on the spot with the out-of-breath librarians trying madly to churn out the required numbers of disks!
During 1980 increasing numbers of Apple purchasers contributed to exponential growth. The club accepted its 500th member at the January 1981 meeting. Special Interest Groups were formed to allow people with common interests to gather in a less formal setting and to focus on those topics. Additional activities included a computerized bulletin board, written by one of the club's first presidents, and using one Apple through which club and individual announcements could be made.
Other services included a group purchase arrangement allowing members to obtain computer items at a low cost. The opportunity of low prices carried with it an understanding that the usual support expected from a local dealer could not be provided by the club. A telephone "hot-line" list of members willing to respond to pleas for help was added to the newsletter. That list has grown to over fifty topics supported by several dozen volunteers.
At the end of 1981 the first formal tutorial was given. This program consisted of two 3-hour sessions for Apple owners having familiarity with the use of the machine but lacking in the understanding of microprocessor fundamentals.
By December of 1981, the club had grown past the 1,000 member mark. The GWU began to request a rental fee for the use of their facilities. Limited parking for the now 250 or so regular attendees at meetings further decreased the desirability of that location. Our new sponsor, the Uniformed Services University for the Health Sciences (USUHS), was found. The USUHS, located near the Beltway in Bethesda, Md., offered free parking! (Unheard of in the D.C. area...) Also, several auditoriums featured overhead projectors on which displays could be projected.
During 1982 additional tutorials were given in Pascal, Machine Language, VisiCalc and Personal Finance programs. The club public domain software library expanded to almost 100 disks and mail orders were accepted. By the summer, member 2.000 joined the WAP. The organization incorporated, rewrote its by-laws to meet the incorporation requirements of the state of Maryland and obtained a non-profit status from the Federal Government.
At most meetings over 400 attendees can be expected. A one hour question and answer session and informal demonstrations of new products are part of the usual monthly meeting program. Twice a year, (in May and December) the WAP hosts a garage sale, in honor of the Apple's humble origins. These special meetings usually attract over 600 people interested in selling or buying slightly used programs and hardware.
To provide a smaller group atmosphere, the WAP organized Apple Teas to be held around the area. These sessions, held on week nights or weekends, usually attract from 3-8 people, most of whom are newcomers to the Apple. The purpose of the teas is to allow an informal discussion of hardware and software questions. At least one experienced user is sought to attend each session.
In the fall of 1982, the WAP opened an office (8227 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda, Md. 20814. 301-654-8060) [editor's note: the current number is 301-984-0300, and the current address is 12022 Parklawn Drive, Rockville, MD 20852] to serve its then over 2,000 members. The office is maintained with some paid and considerable volunteer help. It is accessible about 30 hours a week, including Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Saturday afternoons. A books and periodicals library has begun which now contains one of the best collections of Apple related material in the Washington, D.C. area. The WAP public domain software disks can be purchased there and items bought through the group purchase program can be picked up there.
In May of 1983, the WAP took in member number 3.000. In the fall of 1983 the club began a regular four-part tutorial held on Tuesday evenings at the office. Taught by volunteers, the tutorial is aimed at helping the new owner to overcome their shock of owning a computer and teaching the fundamentals, which we all must master, in a friendly environment. Member 4.000 joined in December of the same year.
In January, 1984, the WAP held its largest and most ambitious activity, an introduction to the 68000-based Macintosh computer hosted by Steve Wozniak and four of the Macintosh developers. The program was held a few days after the Mac's official release and, although advertised only in our Journal, drew over 2,000 attendees. The cover of the Journal was printed in multi-colors to celebrate the occasion. The interest in the "snazzier" cover was sufficiently keen, that the membership decided to keep a two-color style.
In the spring, WAP added a new service to its membership, the Hardware Helpers. This group of hardware sophisticates offer phone advice to those in desperate straits. If they cannot solve your problem by phone, they make their homes available for a visit from you, and use WAP supplied diagnostic software to try and isolate your hardware difficulties. They will not make changes or adjustments to your equipment, only suggestions which you can choose to follow or ignore but many members have been saved possibly expensive equipment surgery through their guidance.
By May of 1984, member number 5,000 was added to the roster.
Although not all of our members renew and not all of those who participate are "paid-up", the WAP continues to enjoy phenomenal growth. Its success has been due entirely to the efforts of its many contributors. There are those faces we all have known for many years, those that we have not seen for a long time but will not forget, and those that we have only just met. The WAP has generated a camaraderie and a sense of giving to the community which is hard to find in a "technically" oriented organization. We welcome you and encourage your efforts to share with others what you are learning.
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Revised January 3, 1998 lic
Washington Apple Pi