The early history of hackers is centered around MIT in the 1950's and 1960's. Naturally curious and intelligent MIT students who had been exploring the phone switching network and the control systems of the Tech Model Railroad Club were drawn to the computers of the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab (MIT AI Lab). The director of the lab, Marvin Minsky, was sympathetic to the hackers' desire to explore and impressed enough with their accomplishments that he allowed them to have direct access to the machines, even though the true hackers among the group had by then dropped out of school to spend more time hacking. Legendary hacker figures from this time include Peter Deutsch, Bill Gosper, Richard Greenblatt, Tom Knight, and Jerry Sussman.
This was the ``golden age'' of the computer hacker. The machines were large, slow, cumbersome to use, and it took an extraordinary effort to make them do even the simplest computation. Although this less than 40 years ago, to the programmer of today it is like looking through the mists of time into the genesis of computing. The legendary feats of the early hackers are made all the more amazing by the primitive nature of the machines they were using and the tools they had at their disposal.
As computers spread to other parts of the country, so did the hacker culture. Largely initiated by hackers who had their beginning at MIT, the mid 1960's saw centers of hacker culture develop at other universities such as Carnegie Mellon University, and Stanford University. The Stanford AI Lab (SAIL), under the direction of John McCarthy, for example, became the center for west-coast hacker activity. When the SAIL machine was finally shut down in 1991, hackers sent an email goodbye message to Internet as if the SAIL machine was itself sending a last farewell to its friends . Even commercial research centers were home to hackers. ATT, Xerox, and others all had programmers of legendary skill working for them. Legendary hackers from this second wave of activity include Ed Fredkin, Brian Reid, Jim Gosling, Brian Kernighan, Dennis Ritchie, and Richard Stallman.
The third wave of hacker activity was born in northern California without direct genealogy to the MIT hackers. It started with the Homebrew Computer Club in the San Francisco bay area. This was a group of electronic hobbyists with a common interest in the then radical idea of building their own computers. Because of the size and cost of the early computers, early hackers were restricted to using a small number of machines built by large companies and installed at universities or industrial research centers. This third wave of hackers wanted their own machines that they could not only program at home, but also build and modify the computer hardware at home. It was this group of hackers, which includes legendary figures such as Lee Felsenstein, Steve Dompier, Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates, that formed the foundation for the entire personal computer industry of today.