WOZNIAK, STEVE & STEVE JOBS. Blue Box, 1972. An original first iteration "blue box" populated circuit board made by Steve Wozniak and marketed by Steve Jobs and Wozniak, 51 x 72 mm, with speaker wire and 9volt battery connector.

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Lot 62
WOZNIAK, STEVE & STEVE JOBS.
Blue Box, 1972. An original first iteration "blue box" populated circuit board made by Steve Wozniak and marketed by Steve Jobs and Wozniak, 51 x 72 mm, with speaker wire and 9volt battery connector.

Sold for US$ 31,325 inc. premium
WOZNIAK, STEVE & STEVE JOBS.
Blue Box, 1972. An original first iteration "blue box" populated circuit board made by Steve Wozniak and marketed by Steve Jobs and Wozniak, 51 x 72 mm, with speaker wire and 9volt battery connector.
Provenance: Purchased directly from Steve Wozniak by the consignor in Autumn 1972 during a drive together from Sunnyvale to Los Angeles.

While "phone phreakers" (hobbyists who were fascinated by the phone system) had used a "blue box" since the 1950s to avail themselves of free phone service, the first digital blue box was designed by Steve Wozniak in 1972. It was marketed and sold by Wozniak (who took the phone phreak name "Berkeley Blue"), Jobs (known as "Oaf Tobar"), and friends in Berkeley and throughout California in 1972 and 1973. Wozniak cites the number of boxes they produced at 40 or 50, while Jobs put the number at 100; but certainly many of those were confiscated as phone phreaking arrests increased throughout 1973 to 1975, in part due to the commercial distribution of the devices. These blue boxes represent the first commercial collaboration between the two Apple computer giants, and the circuit boards the first printed boards by Woz. Very few of the Wozniak originals have survived and even fewer of these first iteration boards as Wozniak soon changed the circuit board layout to accommodate a less expensive membrane keypad. The early models would have been made by Wozniak himself.

In 1971, Esquire magazine published an article titled "Secrets of the Little Blue Box," subtitled "A story so incredible it may even make you feel sorry for the phone company," about a loose band of engineers who had figured out how to hack Bell telephones automatic switching systems, moving freely through Bell's "trunk" telephone systems with the use of specific frequency tones generated by "blue boxes." The story of these "phone phreaks" was a sensation, and one particularly important reader was a young engineering student at Berkeley named Steve Wozniak. As Wozniak recalls, his first move after reading the piece was to call his good friend Steve Jobs, then still a senior in high school, and the next day they jumped in Woz's car and headed to the Stanford Linear Accelerator library to comb through the stacks searching for clues that would substantiate the details presented in the Esquire account. They found it, according to Wozniak: "I froze and grabbed Steve and nearly screamed in excitement that I'd found it. We both stared at the list, rushing with adrenaline. We kept saying things like 'Oh, ....!' and 'Wow, this thing is for real!' I was practically shaking, with goose bumps and everything. It was such a Eureka moment" (Wozniak, p.100). As they drove back to Berkeley they discussed the possibility of creating a "blue box" in a state of elation, and within three weeks Wozniak had devised one. Finding the frequencies produced by the analog blue box to vary widely, he then designed the world's first digital blue box. In his biography, he recalls, "I swear to this day—the day I'm telling you this and the day you're reading it—I have never designed a circuit I was prouder of: a set of parts that could do three jobs at once instead of two. I still think it was incredible" (Wozniak, p.102).

Over the next few weeks, with the fortuitous assistance of "Captain Crunch," a blue boxer named John Draper who featured prominently in the Esquire article and became an instant hero to hackers and phreakers everywhere, Wozniak honed his design, eventually creating the world's first digital blue box, which was able to produce a much more consistent frequency than the analog contraptions that had existed previously. Now equipped with a "blue box," the two young men and their friends explored the phone system, including Wozniak's famous story about reaching the Vatican, and pretending to be Henry Kissinger calling for the Pope (who was unfortunately asleep at the time). Before long, Jobs came up with a plan to market these boxes to willing Berkeley students eager to make free phone calls. They would knock on random doors in the Berkeley dorms and ask for a made-up name, who of course was not available. They would explain they were looking for the guy who makes all the free phone calls, you know, with the blue box. If their mark expressed interest or curiosity, they would proceed to sell him a box. With Jobs' novel marketing plan and Wozniak's design, they ended up earning about $6000 on the project, making blue boxes for $40 in parts, and selling them for $150. According to Bill Claxton, who Captain Crunch notes as being in the dorm the first time he went to meet Woz, the earliest blue boxes used solid keys (this present iteration), which were quickly replaced with a soft keypad (as the example sold in these rooms on December 6, 2017) in order to make the boxes more affordable. Looking back on the entire experience, Steve Jobs would observe, "Woz and I learned how to work together, and we gained the confidence that we could solve technical problems and actually put something into production." Lapsley, Phil. Exploding the Phone: the Untold Story of the Teenagers and Outlaws Who Hacked Ma Bell. (New York, 2013). Wozniak, Steve. IWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon (New York, 2006). Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. (New York, 2011).

Footnotes

  • "If it hadn't been for the Blue Boxes, there would have been no Apple. I'm 100% sure of that."
    -Steve Jobs

Saleroom notices

  • PCB was purchased unpopulated directly from Steve Wozniak by consignor and parts were later added by consignor. Wozniak confirmed in an email to the consignor that this was one of his boards and that Steve Jobs had it printed.
Contacts
WOZNIAK, STEVE & STEVE JOBS. Blue Box, 1972. An original first iteration "blue box" populated circuit board made by Steve Wozniak and marketed by Steve Jobs and Wozniak, 51 x 72 mm, with speaker wire and 9volt battery connector.
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