Commodore International Ltd. started life as a small typewriter sales and repair shop in Toronto, Canada. It was founded in 1958 by Jack Tramiel, a Polish emigré. Apparently, he chose ‘Commodore’ as he wanted a name with a naval ring and because higher ranks, such as General and Admiral, were already taken. Down the years, Tramiel’s company pioneered and popularised so much of the technology we use today.
Introduced in 1962, the Commodore logo was a single letter ‘C’ linked with a red and blue burgee flag – a swallow-tailed flag, or pennant, which is generally used to denote the rank of Commodore in the navy. In some circles, the logo was affectionately nicknamed the ‘chicken-head’.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the compact C logo featured on best-selling business devices such as adding machines, typewriters and electronic calculators. However, it was not until 1982, with the release of the Commodore 64 (C64), that the logo became one of the most recognisable in the world. Parents bought this home computer for their children as an educational tool, but disguised beneath its chunky keyboard were two features that invited other uses. As the first personal computer that could generate high-res graphics and great sound the C64 was perfect for playing games. Titles such as The Last Ninja and Elite were big favourites and the inspiration for much of today’s Playstation Generation.
In its heyday, from 1983 to 1986, Commodore enjoyed absolute dominance of the home computer market. In fact, the C64 is the best-selling single personal computer model of all time. However, Commodore failed to understand the true nature of the personal computer industry and the power of marketing. By 1987, IBM had captured the market and Bill Gate’s Microsoft Windows was beginning its conquest. The company tried to respond but it was too late, and in 1993, it reported crippling losses of $357 million. The following year, Commodore declared bankruptcy and it was finally Game Over.
In early 2011, Commodore was relaunched as a niche retro brand. Nostalgic geeks and enthusiasts can buy a C64 emulator and games in Apple’s App Store. The resurrection of this well-loved brand reveals the enduring equity and credibility of defunct names, and the simple fact that brands never really die.