Computer Pioneer Max Palevsky Dead At 85

Max Palevsky was a mainframe computing pioneer and one of Intel's initial investors, but grew disenchanted with technology later in life.

W. David Gardner, Contributor

May 7, 2010

2 Min Read

Computer industry pioneer Max Palevsky, who helped finance several important high tech firms including Intel, died Wednesday at age 85. In recent years he turned against the high tech world, refusing to use a computer, or even a cell phone.

Palevsky built a considerable fortune based on the sale of his Scientific Data Systems small mainframe company, which he sold to Xerox for $1 billion in 1969.

A native of Chicago, Palevsky graduated from the University of Chicago, which he attended on the G. I Bill. He and a group of scientists and engineers spotted an opening below IBM’s dominance of business machines and formed Scientific Data Systems in 1961. Eager to compete with IBM, which had entered the copier business, Xerox bought SDS, but it failed to gain much traction in business computing.

The renamed Xerox Data Systems quickly foundered and was closed in 1975, costing Xerox hundreds of millions more. Some critics said Xerox had bought a pig in a poke while others said the operation was mismanaged.

Flush with money from the sale of SDS, Palevsky went on to finance Rolling Stone magazine, and produce movies. He became one of Hollywood’s most prominent escorts of beautiful young starlets, and was married and divorced several times.

Palevsky contributed heavily to several liberal political candidates including Robert Kennedy and Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, but he later gave $1 million to conservative candidate Ron Unz, irritating many of his old liberal friends.

He made several successful investments in California high tech firms including Intel. But gradually he become disenchanted with the industry he had played such an important role in founding. Toward the end of his life, Palevsky complained that searching on Google had become a replacement for genuine inquiry and that instant messaging had replaced social discourse.

“I am a Luddite,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 2001. “I haven’t touched a computer, watched TV, or used a credit card in 15 years.”

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