Every company has a creation myth, and Apple's centers on the two Steves, and their early, illicit foray into the nation's telephone system.
Ed Piskor/Internet Archive
Editor's note: The following essay is excerpted from Phil Lapsley's Exploding the Phone.
Like the flap of a butterfly's wings causing a hurricane half a world away, the ripples of unintended consequences from Ron Rosenbaum's "Secrets of the Little Blue Box" continued to spread. "You know how some articles just grab you from the first paragraph? Well, it was one of those articles," Steve Wozniak recalls. "It was the most amazing article I'd ever read!"
Wozniak happened to pick up a copy of Esquire from his mother's kitchen table the day before starting classes at Berkeley in the fall of 1971. Rosenbaum's article "described a whole web of people who were doing this: the phone phreaks. They were anonymous technical people who went by fake names and lived all over the place," he recalls, how they were "outsmarting phone companies and setting up networks that nobody imagined existed." It seemed unbelievable. And yet, he says, "I kept reading it over and over, and the more I read it, the more possible and real it sounded."
Oddly enough, part of what made the article seem so real to him were the characters. Despite their fanciful nature and funny names, Wozniak remembers, "I could tell that the characters being described were really tech people, much like me, people who liked to design things just to see what was possible, and for no other reason, really." There was something about the whole thing that just rang true, despite how crazy it seemed. "The idea of the Blue Box just amazed me," he says. The article even gave a few of the frequencies it used. As for Joe Engressia being able to whistle free calls? "I couldn't believe this was possible, but there it was and, wow, it just made my imagination run wild."
The twenty-year-old Wozniak put down the magazine. He picked up the phone and called his friend Steve Jobs--then a seventeen-year-old senior in high school--to tell him about it. Less than an hour later the duo were on their way to raid the library at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. SLAC was the atom smasher at Stanford University. It had a great technical library, Wozniak says, and he had a long history of sneaking into it to look stuff up. "If there was any place that had a phone manual that listed tone frequencies," he says, it would be SLAC.