New York Times Article Explores Apple's Failed Attempt to Build the Macintosh in California

The New York Times today printed an interesting article exploring how Apple co-founder Steve Jobs set up a Macintosh manufacturing plant in Fremont, California in the 1980s that failed early on into its tenure.

Titled "When Apple Was Homegrown," the piece by John Markoff offers an insight into Jobs' fascination with Henry Ford's mass automobile manufacturing in Detroit and the high-quality manufacturing capabilities of Japanese companies like Sony, and how Jobs aimed to synthesize the two cultures in a "highly automated" Mac factory.

terence mccarthy new york times old mac manufacturing plant in california

Apple's ill-fated California Macintosh facility (Credit: Terrence McCarthy for NYT)

"Steve had deep convictions about Japanese manufacturing processes," recalled Randy Battat, who joined Apple as a young electrical engineer and oversaw the introduction of some of the company's early portable computers. "The Japanese were heralded as wizards of manufacturing. The idea was to create a factory with just-in-time delivery of zero-defect parts. It wasn't great for business."

Construction of the plant, located just across San Francisco Bay from Apple's headquarters, began in 1983. The first reporters to tour it were told that factory labor would account for 2 percent of the cost of making a Macintosh, thanks to its state-of-the-art production line. Expectations were therefore high, but the practical realities of working at the plant were markedly different.

Mr. Gassée, a French specialist in office automation, had just been promoted to president of Apple’s product division by John Sculley, then Apple's chief executive, and was responsible for the company's engineering and manufacturing work. When he first started, Mr. Gassée decided to spend two days learning how the company actually built its products by working on a factory production line.

[...]

"I embarrassed myself attaching a display to the computer bezel with a screwdriver," Mr. Gassée recalled in a recent interview. At the end of his shift, Mr. Gassée grabbed a broom and swept up the parts that had fallen off the production line. "It was really shameful," he said of the noticeably slipshod process.

Lacking the requisite schooling and subcontractors, Apple's Macintosh manufacturing in California was unable to reach the production volume that Jobs had envisioned. Eight years later, the plant was shuttered.

Jobs made a second attempt to establish a manufacturing culture in Silicon Valley shortly after leaving Apple. In 1990 he oversaw another $10 million plant to build his Next personal workstation. The facility featured robotic devices, but it too was unable to produce in quantities that would support a long-term assembly operation, and it failed just like its Apple predecessor.

Jobs' thinking on manufacturing had changed by the time he returned to Apple in 1997, and the next year he hired veteran supply chain overseer Tim Cook as Apple's senior VP for worldwide operations. Apple's manufacturing outsourcing quickly expanded to form a sprawling ecosystem of global suppliers.

"When I started my career, all my flights were to Japan," said Tony Fadell, one of the hardware designers of the iPod and iPhone at Apple. "Then all my flights went Korea, then Taiwan, then China."

Aside from specialist operations like the Mac Pro facility in Austin, Texas, the vast majority of Apple's manufacturing takes place outside of the U.S. Indeed, in recent years under Cook's watch as CEO, Apple's complex web of global suppliers has boomed in response to the demand of making products like the iPhone for mass markets. "You can't bring manufacturing back because of those webs," said Andrew Hargadon, a former Apple product designer who worked on the Macintosh Powerbook Duo in the early 1990s. "You would have to bring the entire community back," he told Markoff.

Recently, Apple announced plans to build a new $1 billion campus in Austin, Texas, as well as plans for a general expansion of operations over the next three years in cities across the United States. The plans are expected to create thousands more jobs, although the large majority of them aren't thought to be in manufacturing. Apple says it is on track to create 20,000 jobs in the U.S. by 2023.

Interested readers can find John Markoff's full New York Times article online but with the alternative headline, "Apple Computers Used to Be Built in the U.S. It Was a Mess."

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Politics, Religion, Social Issues forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.

Top Rated Comments

Southern Dad Avatar
37 months ago
When I hear that things can't be manufactured in the USA, and I see companies moving their assembly outside of the country, I have to wonder what Lenovo knows that we do not. They assemble computers in the USA. Not all of them, but some.

What about in the automobile industry? While Ford and GM are sending their assembly outside of the USA, there are companies like Honda, Kia, Hyundai, BMW, Mercedes, and VW that assemble cars right here in the USA. What is different for those companies?

Could it be where they locate their production facilities? Just tossing this out there but Steve Jobs opened his factory in California. That's not a real corporate friendly climate. Would it have been more successful if it had opened in Texas, away from a major city? In North Carolina like Lenovo?
Score: 16 Votes (Like | Disagree)
magicschoolbus Avatar
37 months ago
NYTimes talking down on American manufacturing... what a surprise. Their Chinese investors must be so happy.
Score: 14 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Shivetya Avatar
37 months ago
I love how the NYT bends over backwards to support the regime in China that is accused of human rights issues daily and act as chief apologist for Apple's continued reliance on workers in that country.
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Kaibelf Avatar
37 months ago
A.K.A Apple is too cheap to pay factory workers in America.
Oh please. Who made the clothes that you are wearing, and why didn’t you pay more to make sure it was from America end to end? If you want to see why businesses try to cut costs look in the mirror, and then turn it around and see where THAT was manufactured and think about why you bought the less expensive one.
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
s2mikey Avatar
37 months ago
When I hear that things can't be manufactured in the USA, and I see companies moving their assembly outside of the country, I have to wonder what Lenovo knows that we do not. They assemble computers in the USA. Not all of them, but some.

What about in the automobile industry? While Ford and GM are sending their assembly outside of the USA, there are companies like Honda, Kia, Hyundai, BMW, Mercedes, and VW that assemble cars right here in the USA. What is different for those companies?

Could it be where they locate their production facilities? Just tossing this out there but Steve Jobs opened his factory in California. That's not a real corporate friendly climate. Would it have been more successful if it had opened in Texas, away from a major city? In North Carolina like Lenovo?
Good points. I know with cars the major hang up with making cars here is that the UAW is a huge cost burden for GM, Ford, etc and Toyota, Kia, etc do not/will not use union labor. They pay good wages/benefits but the avoid the union bloat which saves a ton of money. And Im sure that location has something to do with it too.

As for computer stuff? I believe Apple is a tad greedy here anbd could easily build everything in the USA. Sure, some profit would have to be used for this but why should shareholders be first? I hate that. Didnt used to be that way. Companies used to tke care of employees first, customers second and then shareholders got theirs. Thats how it ought to be. But, Wall Street blood-suckers ruined it. Its never enough profit or money. Ever.
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
EvilEvil Avatar
37 months ago
A.K.A Apple is too cheap to pay factory workers in America.
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Related Stories

studio buds family

Beats Studio Buds Debuting Today With Active Noise Cancellation, Stemless Design, and More for $150

Monday June 14, 2021 8:00 am PDT by
We've seen a lot of teasers about the Beats Studio Buds over the past month since they first showed up in Apple's beta software updates, and today they're finally official. The Beats Studio Buds are available to order today in red, white, and black ahead of a June 24 ship date, and they're priced at $149.99. The Studio Buds are the first Beats-branded earbuds to truly compete with AirPods...
gradiente iphone white

Brazilian Electronics Company Revives Long-Running iPhone Trademark Dispute

Tuesday May 19, 2020 1:06 pm PDT by
Apple has been involved in a long-running iPhone trademark dispute in Brazil, which was revived today by IGB Electronica, a Brazilian consumer electronics company that originally registered the "iPhone" name in 2000. IGB Electronica fought a multi-year battle with Apple in an attempt to get exclusive rights to the "iPhone" trademark, but ultimately lost, and now the case has been brought to...
youtube apple tv

YouTube Discontinuing 3rd-Generation Apple TV App, AirPlay Still Available

Wednesday February 3, 2021 3:09 pm PST by
YouTube is planning to stop supporting its YouTube app on the third-generation Apple TV models, where YouTube has long been available as a channel option. A 9to5Mac reader received a message about the upcoming app discontinuation, which is set to take place in March.Starting early March, the YouTube app will no longer be available on Apple TV (3rd generation). You can still watch YouTube on...
YouTube Picture in Picture Feature

YouTube Premium Subscribers Can Now Use iOS Picture-in-Picture: Here's How

Wednesday August 25, 2021 3:55 am PDT by
Google has rolled out picture-in-picture support as an "experimental" feature for YouTube premium subscribers, allowing them to watch video in a small window when the app is closed. If you're a premium YouTube subscriber looking to try out picture-in-picture, follow these steps: Launch a web browser and sign into your YouTube account at YouTube.com. Navigate to www.youtube.com/new. Scroll...
2012macpro

Apple Outlines Metal-Capable Cards Compatible With macOS Mojave on 2010 and 2012 Mac Pro Models

Monday September 24, 2018 3:26 pm PDT by
Apple's new macOS Mojave update is not compatible with mid-2010 and mid-2012 Mac Pros with stock GPUs, but it is supported on 2010 and 2012 Mac Pro models that have been upgraded with graphics cards that support Metal. Apple today shared a new support document that provides a list of graphics cards that are Metal-capable, which will be useful for 2010 and 2012 Mac Pro owners who want to...
apple privacy

Apple Publishes FAQ to Address Concerns About CSAM Detection and Messages Scanning

Monday August 9, 2021 1:50 am PDT by
Apple has published a FAQ titled "Expanded Protections for Children" which aims to allay users' privacy concerns about the new CSAM detection in iCloud Photos and communication safety for Messages features that the company announced last week. "Since we announced these features, many stakeholders including privacy organizations and child safety organizations have expressed their support of...
iphone 13 teal with text

Apple Expecting iPhone and iPad Supply Constraints in September Quarter

Tuesday July 27, 2021 2:34 pm PDT by
During today's earnings call covering the third fiscal quarter of 2021 (second calendar quarter), Apple CFO Luca Maesteri said that Apple is expecting supply constraints to affect the iPhone and the iPad in the coming quarter. "The supply constraints that we've seen in the June quarter will be higher in the September quarter," said Maestri. The constraints will impact iPhone and iPad sales...
anker lightning cable mfi

Unwrap a New Apple Device? Stock Up on Extra Certified Lightning Cables for as Little as $6

Monday December 25, 2017 5:45 am PST by
If you unwrapped an Apple product today it likely came with one of the company's first-party Lightning cables, but having an extra on hand is always a good idea, so you can place it in other rooms in your house, in your car, or in a bag when you travel. For that reason, now's a good time to shop for third-party Lightning cables that are cheaper than Apple's own accessory, but still Made For...
apple screen time screen icons

Persistent Kids Finding Loopholes in Apple's Screen Time Limits

Tuesday October 15, 2019 9:44 am PDT by
Apple is currently engaged in a cat-and-mouse game with persistent kids looking to circumvent Screen Time restrictions, but the company has been receiving some criticism for not moving quickly enough to lock down some of the loopholes, reports The Washington Post. A few of the loopholes and ways for parents to shut them down are documented on the site Protect Young Eyes, while these and...
os x mountain lion macs 16x9 2

Apple Makes OS X Lion and Mountain Lion Free to Download

Wednesday June 30, 2021 12:19 pm PDT by
Apple recently dropped the $19.99 fee for OS X Lion and Mountain Lion, making the older Mac updates free to download, reports Macworld. Apple has kept OS X 10.7 Lion and OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion available for customers who have machines limited to the older software, but until recently, Apple was charging $19.99 to get download codes for the updates. As of last week, these updates no...