My First Computer: The Coleco ADAM

It was the Christmas of 1985. I had just turned 9 a few weeks before and I don’t recall much about that day except for one very large present, which was placed in between my tree and the bookcase. It was standing upright. It was SO big I could not see the top of it (I was a short kid). The present had both mine and my brother’s name written on it. We had already opened all out other presents, so this would be the final gift we would open that Christmas morning.

My brother and I tore the wrapping off. There, sprawled on the floor before us, was a box with the name ADAM written on it.

Of course, my brother thought the gift was meant only for him since his name is Adam. I knew better, even at 9 years old, I could tell that “ADAM” was a product name for… something. I saw ColecoVision written on it as well and I got very excited. Everyone knew what a ColecoVision was, but this thing didn’t look like a game console. I asked my mother what this is.

“A computer.”

“A computer..? Why?”, I was so confused.

“It’s your future.”

She would have been more correct if she said it was THE future (as in everyone will be using them). Remember, this is 1985; computers were becoming commonplace in the office, the personal computer was still just for hobbyists. From the box, you can see the Coleco ADAM came with a daisy-wheel printer, a memory console with had a tape drive, the ColecoVision game console built-in (I didn’t realize this until later), a keyboard and a couple of game controllers, one of which could be attached to the side of the keyboard to act as a keypad. No monitor though, this computer system used a television as the monitor. It also came with a word processor built into the ROM called SmartWRITER, a SmartBASIC program, and the Buck Rogers Super Game. Thinking back on it, this thing really did come with a lot of stuff.

Within a month, it was sitting in the basement gathering dust. I had no use for a computer. I didn’t understand what it was for. My brother didn’t understand either, nor did he care. He went back to playing the old Atari 2600 on our black & white 13 inch television.

A few months later, in the summer of 1986, I got my hands on a movie called War Games. I was amazed at what a computer could do. I was impressed that animations and games could be made with a computer. So as soon as the movie was over, I ran into the basement and dragged the ADAM into my bedroom and started messing around with it.

After a couple weeks, I felt I needed more. I had to get my hands on more software and hardware for the ADAM, but unfortunately, by this time, Coleco had discontinued the ADAM. That’s a story for another time…

So, the quest for accessories for the ADAM began. My mother found a mail-order catalog. There were so many things I wanted, but I could only afford so much on my five dollar a week allowance. The ADAM used tape drives for storage. Which was a cheap alternative to the floppy disk drive. The ADAM had a slot for a second drive, so I bought one. I now had dual tape drives!

I could load a program on one and save it to another without having to remove & replace the tapes. Now for a graphics creation program. I ordered SmartLOGO. You know, the program where you program the “turtle” to draw things on the screen. The program came with a manual. I learned, not only how to create shapes, but animations and music as well! I would eventually get a program called SmartFILER that would allow me to organize my files through a graphical user interface. Actually, it resembled files in a cabinet. Quite clever.

I wasn’t able to save up money to buy the disk drive, the modem or the memory expander which gave you another 64K of memory to go along with the 64 or 80K of RAM built-in (most likely 80K). Remember, I was just a kid; not even old enough to get working papers to take orders at Burger King.

I found that I spent most of my time learning how to program with SmartBASIC. I am far from an expert, but looking over the SmartBASIC commands, I feel it was one of the better interpretations of BASIC. After getting familiar enough with the language, I made every attempt to get my hands on different computer magazines that had programs written in BASIC for us to try. Great memories! Some of the magazines would have more than one version of the program, because Apple BASIC, Commodore BASIC, and even IBM BASIC were not always compatible with each other. By the way, anyone remember the 3-2-1 Contact magazine? That had some cool BASIC programs written in the back.

1990 was the year my mother bought me an IBM PS/1 and the ADAM unceremoniously went into the garbage. If I had a time machine, I’d go back and stop myself from doing that. Then I’d go back even further and tell the folks at Coleco about their fate and how to prevent it (Coleco went out of business in the late ’80s). Then I bet on a few World Series, maybe a couple of Super Bowls, then buy both Microsoft and Apple and create some sort of crazy super hybrid company and take over the WORLD… Um…

Around the year 2000, I was walking through a Salvation Army when I saw an ADAM computer for sale. I didn’t even have a dollar to my name. Believe me, if I had the five bucks to get it, I would have (my friend dragged into the place). From then on, I had this gnawing feeling. Like I was missing something. Then in 2009 I figured out what it was; I missed my ADAM computer.

Thanks to the internet, I found someone selling a working system. Not for five bucks, more like a hundred and fifty, but I had to have it. I now own AND USE a Coleco ADAM computer again.

In fact, there is a loyal following of ADAM users. They still have annual ADAM conventions called “ADAMcons”. I was amazed to find out that people took it upon themselves to create more hardware and software for the computer, such as SD card readers and hard drives. Fandom can be an amazing thing.

So if you’re ever in my home office, don’t be surprised to see a vintage ADAM computer sitting along with my Dell Inspiron laptop. You too may feel the itch to start a vintage computer collection of your own. If you do, be sure to snag a Coleco ADAM Computer. Just not mine. It is not for sale.

Photos of My Adam Computer (Then and Now)

* Note: My memory could be off by a year. It’s possible it was the Christmas of 1984.

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Justin M. Salvato

Writer/Vlogger at Retroist
Seeker of 1980s nostalgia, rummager of vintage computers and player of retro video games.When not writing posts of The Retroist, I'm converting Retroist audio podcasts to Retroist video podcasts.My own videos can be found at www.YouTube.com/JustinSalvato.
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14 thoughts on “My First Computer: The Coleco ADAM

  1. Oh man. Sometime in that era, 3-2-1 Contact magazine had a contest to give away an Apple //c, which I DESPERATELY wanted. (I’d leave magazine ads for it all over the house, a la Ralphie and his Red Ryder BB gun).

    All you had to do for the contest was make up ‘new’ names for basic computer components. As an adult, I presume that the winner was randomly drawn, not based on actual cleverness, but I remember *throwing my entry away* instead of mailing it, because I was embarrassed at my dumb renaming ideas. (The one that I still remember was “Floppy Disk = Disc of Knowledge.”) Lack self-confidence much? Sheese, kid…

    (and it surely says something about me that I still remember this little episode!)

  2. mwentworth says:

    Sooooo….Adam didn’t need the Colecovision to play the game carts??? Hmmm…I want to get a CV, but maybe I just need an ADAM. Maybe after I get some bigger living quarters.

  3. @ mwentworth, that’s right, if you got an ADAM, you got a ColecoVision built in. It’s to the right of the tape drives, on top. However, there was something called the ADAM expansion module, which was the ADAM computer that you attached to the ColecoVision. The only difference was this didnt have ColecoVision built-in because you were attaching it a ColecoVision. Looks exactly like the standard ADAM, only has a smaller memory console. Thanks for the comments guys.

  4. @ VicSage2005, I must have read my article 5 times before sending it, yet I am just now seeing the typos! Anyway, thanks for the comment. The game is actually not a game. I was messing around with SmartBASIC and drew a couple of triangles just so I had something on the screen :) I should have drew the ColecoVision sign like the other monitors.

  5. @ Ugly American, actually, I had gotten an Atari 400 from a family friend a few years later and enjoyed that much. However, it was the ADAM I used as my primary computer. Also, before I got the IBM PS/1, which I loved, my folks bought me a Commodore 128, but it didn’t work, so back to the store it went. So yes, from the ADAM to the PS/1 :-) Then to the IBM Aptiva A14, then a Gateway Tower, then my Dell Inspiron 1545 laptop.

  6. UPDATE: According to the Personal Computer Museum,

    “H & R Block in Canada actually did consumer taxes using ADAMCALC for a number of years and was one of the biggest consumers of after market products as they used the system well beyond the normal life cycle of the product (the Adam was discontinued in 1985). ”

    Link: http://www.pcmuseum.ca/details.asp?id=20

  7. ADAMcomputer says:

    You see, i was too old to get itnerested in the ADAM or any otherr computer at the time. Finally got into computers (reluctantly) when the 1 kid “needed” one to print out school stuff and the 2nd kid found out it could play games…..AND it was inexpensive in 1989. An ibm was about $2500 and did no more than the ADAM; but we got into the ADAM (full version from different sources) for about $200. In retrospect, the best $200 I ever spent. Found GREAT friends, son went into computers and is designing ADAM hardware that the ADAM News Network will have available when produced. Even I “play” with the ADAM and have moved on and up into the pentium world; although I still use the ADAM computer and support it thru ANN and the conventions.

  8. I decided to reread this post for inspiration on a blog post I am working on.

    Oh VicSage2005, I didn’t realize it until now what you were asking, in the photo I am using SmartLOGO, so it wasn’t a game.

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