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Chuck Peddle, Marine Corps veteran called ‘father of the personal computer,’ dies at age 82

Chuck Peddle (Jason Scott/WikiCommons)

Charles “Chuck” Peddle, a Maine native credited with inventing the microprocessor that paved the way for the development of modern day personal computers, died last week at his home in California at the age of 82.

Peddle, who grew up in Augusta, was a Cony High School and University of Maine graduate who led the team that invented the 6502 microprocessor, a low-cost chip used in early computers, such as the Commodore 64 and Apple II.

“He’s been called by some the father of the personal computer,” said Dana Humphrey, dean of engineering at the University of Maine. “His work was absolutely necessary to make that happen.”

Peddle, who lived most recently in Santa Cruz, California, was born in Bangor and grew up in Augusta as the oldest of five children.

After high school, he studied engineering at UMaine and graduated in 1959, going on to serve in the Marine Corps Reserves and then joining General Electric, where he worked for 11 years as an engineer.

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In the early 1970s, Peddle went to work at Motorola on the 6800 microprocessor, but failed to convince his bosses that a less expensive microprocessor — an electronic chip that acts like the brain of the computer — could be used to produce affordable machines for the general public, according to an obituary written by family members.

Within six months of starting at another company, MOS Technologies, he led a team in developing the 6502 chip, which sold for a fraction of the cost of the Motorola 6800.

“The story he used to tell was he was selling for about 25 bucks and everyone else was selling (microprocessors) for about 10 times that,” Humphrey said. “He was basically able to design one that was sold for a low cost, and that was one of his geniuses.”

The 6502 microprocessor is known as the chip that was used in the development of some of the first home computers, including the Apple II, which debuted in 1977, and the Commodore 64, which launched in 1982.

It has also been used in other popular video game and computer technology, including by Atari, Nintendo and Microsoft.

In April, Peddle received the University of Maine Alumni Association’s Alumni Career Award, the association’s most prestigious award, which recognizes outstanding contributions in professional, civic, business or public service areas.

“Chuck Peddle’s contribution to the world goes much further than the start of personal computers, to countless embedded processor applications,” Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak told Maine Alumni Magazine at the time. “Chuck’s name is totally famous among techies who go back to the start of our modern tech life.”

At an awards reception, Peddle used the opportunity to ask the crowd gathered in his honor to recognize the work of Doctors Without Borders, especially in Sri Lanka, where he lived part time and started a microchip reconditioning company.

“Chuck was not a person who went on about any accomplishments,” said his sister, Martie Peddle Furber of Hallowell. “Once he finished something he just moved on to something else. He was an inventor and innovator and just moved on. He was very casual.”

Peddle, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in late November, is survived by his partner of 35 years, Kathleen Shaeffer; daughters Debbie and Diana Peddle and Cheryl Prestia; sons Thomas and Robert Peddle; his sister, Peddle Furber; three brothers; seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

“He hasn’t gotten the credit he deserves,” Humphrey said. “When you think of all the big names we know of that are associated with personal computers, Chuck was instrumental in allowing their products to go forth.

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© 2019 the Portland Press Herald