The forgotten founder of Apple

Ronald Wayne could have had the same fame and fortune as Steve Jobs, but instead the Apple co-founder walked away with just $800.

Peter Iantorno May 25, 2015

On April 1, 1976, Apple, the company we now all know as the world’s biggest brand, came to be. The famous founding forefathers, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, were the ones who guided the company to the astounding success it has become today, earning fame and vast personal fortunes in the process. However, on that Spring day in ’76 when the contracts were signed, Jobs and Wozniak’s names weren’t the only ones included – there was a third man in on the deal: a Mr Ronald D. Wayne.

Wayne was named alongside Jobs and Wozniak as one of the three founders of Apple, but after just 12 days of working with the intense pair, he decided it was too much to handle and sold his 10 per cent stake in the company for just $800.

Financially it turned out to be the biggest mistake of Wayne’s life. A year after leaving, Wayne agreed to relinquish any future claims over the company for a further payment of $1,500, by which time Apple had sales of more than $2.7 million. By 1978 sales had grown to $7.8 million, then $117 million by 1980, and by 1982, annual revenue had gone over $1 billion.

By February 2015, Apple’s value climbed over the $700 billion mark – it doesn’t take an economist to figure out that 10 per cent of that pie would come in handy right about now for Wayne, who turned 81 earlier this month and described his finances in an interview with as, “in a hole for last 40 years”.

“I was 40 and these kids were in their 20s,” Wayne said on his reasons for walking away. “They were whirlwinds – it was like having a tiger by the tail. If I had stayed with Apple I probably would have been the richest man in the cemetery.”

According to his original contract, Wayne was responsible for overseeing the mechanical engineering and documentation for the company, but in his 12 days he managed to get through more than just that, even designing the company’s first logo, which depicted Sir Isaac Newton sitting beneath a tree with the fabled apple hanging above his head. Although looking back the logo isn’t a patch on the sleek, simple Rob Janoff design that replaced it less than a year later, to say the original Apple logo designer and co-founder came away with a combined figure of just $2,300 beggars belief.

While Wayne claims that he doesn’t rue his decision to walk away from the company that would have made him a multibillionaire, one part of his affiliation with Apple that he does regret occurred in 2000, when he decided to sell his copy of the original Apple contract he, Wozniak and Jobs signed all those years ago. An autograph dealer took the contract off his hands for $500, held on to it for 11 years and then sold it for the princely sum of $1.6 million. Again, Wayne had cashed out far too early and ended up with the thin end of the wedge.

And it’s not just unfortunate business deals that have plagued Wayne’s finances over the years. In 2004, when he was aged 70, his house was broken into and his life’s savings – including $3,000 worth of silver coins and more than four kilograms of gold – were taken from a safe. He didn’t get anything back and ultimately had to sell his house and move somewhere smaller to recover.

In December last year, Wayne’s long and unfortunate affiliation with Apple came to an end, when he sold the rest of his remaining original documents at auction, including original working proofs of the Apple-1 manual, design renderings of a proposed Apple II case and his original company logo sketch. After Christie’s took its premium, Wayne was left with just over $20,000 from the sale.

For a man who has lived a modest life earning his income from selling stamps and coins over the internet and seen people who were once his contemporaries rise up to become rich beyond their wildest dreams and superstars in the tech world, there must be at least a niggling feeling of regret.

However, as Wayne says in a December 2014 post to his Facebook page, “I’ve never been very successful at business. I’ve never been rich. But I’ve never been hungry either.”

Perhaps ‘the world’s unluckiest man’ isn’t so unlucky after all.