I’d lean toward giving equal credit to Turing, Church, and von Neumann - but it’s a slippery slope to give credit to just one, two, or three individuals.
Your title should have been “When did that happen, starting with the IBM PC?”. You seem to forget that the computer that created the personal computer market cam out before the IBM PC. If it had not been for that one computer and the company behind it, the PC market would be totally different. IBM would not have even looked at the market because it was so small and populated by small companies, most starting in their garage. None of the companies back then had the funding to impact the market and start the revolution until one company was forced into the arena by one of their employees that would not give up. His job was even told he was fired if he was working on “that damn computer”. He used his own computer to do his work for the company managing over 50% of the products the company sold even though he had to keep it at home and have his wife run programs he wrote to give him what he needed. The company would not even allow him to use the printed output from the computer directly, He had to had hand copy the information on to columnar paper for submission.
The hobby computer started in 1975 with the Popular Science article “Build your own Computer’. This person build one and recognized that there might be a market after learning that the company that sold the printed circuit boards for the article had sold over 2000 in a short period. That is when he started pushing his company to make a computer. The next year Mitts came out with their Altair computer. Still there was no interest in the company entering into the Hobby Computer market. “The market is not big enough”, “Nobody would ever have a computer in their home”, “A computer is a business tool and we are not in the business market” were some of the excuses he heard for not entering the market.
Finally in 1976, one of the company VPs and this person happened to be in California during one of the “Computer Fairs” and the VP was talked into going and seeing what it was about. After waiting in line to get in for a couple of hours and seeing all the interest, the VP was interested. This person was asked how many computers the company could sell and he responded with 50 thousand the first year. He was laughed at. They decided to produce 1000 computers to test the market. Later that number was raised to 3500 because that is how many stores they had. When the number was raised, the President of the company made made the comment that “when the computer failed, we can use it in the stores”. It was never felt that it would be a real product. It was just a stunt to show that the company could be innovative. The rest of the story is a little more public and the result was the computer that started the Personal Computer revolution, the Radio Shack TRS-80.
I know that others will say that Apple created it, but they did did not have the resources to create the demand from the consumer. There are a couple of good books that tell the real history of the personal computer, “Fire in the Valley” and “Priming the Pump”.
By the way I know what I am speaking about as I lived it. That person who convinced Radio Shack to at least try the market is the author of this post, Donald French. If you would like more information as to really how the PC revolution started just ask.
Don, great to hear from you. You speak with authority and truth. My own first personal computer was a TRS-80 Model 1. Oh, and thanks for plugging my book. -Mike