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The First Steps on Apple's Long Road to Greatness

On this day in economic and financial history...

In 1976, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) was just two young guys trying to sell their first product -- a circuit board for entry-level computer hobbyists called the Apple I. On Jan. 3, 1977, the Steves (Jobs and Wozniak) took a step out of Jobs' parents' garage and into the business world by incorporating the company in the state of California.

Apple hit the ground running in 1977, with Wozniak already hard at work on the groundbreaking Apple II. Mike Markkula had provided the seed funding necessary to build the Apple II, and his participation was what originally prompted the incorporation so that he could be granted a substantial ownership stake. Wozniak contributed the tech savvy by stripping the Apple II's board design down to the bare minimum number of chips without sacrificing performance. Jobs, ever the aesthete, helped design the Apple II's appearance. This combination proved wickedly effective when the Apple II was introduced to the public that April at the West Coast Computer Fair. Jobs took full advantage of a prime exhibit location near the entryway to capture everyone's attention with a fully built computer sporting a rare color monitor, and orders started to roll in.

Few personal computers were sold during these early years, and market leadership changed frequently. The Altair 8800, which heavily influenced Jobs and Wozniak and which had also given Bill Gates his first work at Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) , faded by 1976, its market share usurped by RadioShack's (NASDAQOTH: RSHCQ  ) TRS-80. RadioShack lost out to the Commodore 64, which lost out to the IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) PC and its clones in the early '80s. Apple's costlier computers never crept above a 20% market share, but they continued to sell well throughout the 1980s. About 6 million Apple IIs, across all variants, had been sold by the time production was ceased in 1993.

The consistent sales of Apple's higher-end machines would be buoyed by VisiCalc -- the first spreadsheet program and the first "killer app" -- which was released in 1979. Apple rode this increased popularity to one of the highest first-day valuations in history (up to that point in time) when it went public a year later. These two cash-generating events gave Apple the resources necessary to develop the Macintosh, which had a profound influence on the computing landscape.

Despite becoming the world's most valuable company in 2012, Apple has never been made a part of the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) . Its high share price undoubtedly has something to do with this, as the Dow's weighting is calculated by share price. However, over the years, Apple's innovations have directly shaped the fortunes of four of the Dow's components: Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) , Intel (NASDAQ: INTC  ) IBM, and Microsoft.

Apple has been a longtime selection of Motley Fool co-founder David Gardner, and it has helped lead his stock picks to gains of more than 113% in our Stock Advisor service since 2002. Those returns have beaten the market by more than 87%. David has managed to trounce the market by always being on the lookout for revolutionary stocks and recommending them before Wall Street catches on to their disruptive potential. If you're interested in how David discovers his winners, click here to get instant access to a personal tour of David's brand-new Supernova service.

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