Commodore International went out of business in 1994, after nearly a decade of declining revenue. But the company left a significant legacy, which leads to some logical questions. What became of Commodore? Who bought Commodore?
Believe it or not, Commodore had several suitors. The earliest rumors involved Samsung. In some ways the acquisition would have made sense. Samsung had the ability to produce the Amiga’s custom chips in its fabs. Samsung also manufactured memory chips. They would have had even better vertical integration than Commodore ever had. At the time Samsung was a few months away from signing an agreement to produce Alpha CPUs under license, and Commodore had considered switching the Amiga to the Alpha architecture. But chances are Amiga fans were more interested in Samsung than Samsung was in the Amiga and Commodore.
Bachelor No. 1: Dell
Dell, of all companies, expressed interest. Yes, that Dell, the PC maker. Dell mostly wanted Commodore’s 47 patents and its cross-patent license with IBM. In 1994-95, this likely still had significant value to a PC maker. Dell was late to the game and wasn’t able to determine on time if they could find $14 million in value in it. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Bachelor No. 2: Samsung
If Samsung really ever did want Commodore, I’m sure it was for the patents as well. Had they gotten the rights, I’m sure they would have built the Amiga. They couldn’t have marketed it any worse than Commodore did. But the overall package wasn’t worth $14 million to them either.
Bachelor No. 3: Commodore UK
Commodore’s UK subsidiary didn’t go down with the rest of the company. It remained profitable even as the parent company sunk, and survived afterward by scrounging around for inventory to sell. Commodore UK had $14 million to buy the rest of the company, but wasn’t able to secure the additional $14-$15 million in funding it thought it would need to start building machines again. Not wanting to buy the rest of the company only to quickly go out of business, it didn’t place a bid.
In retrospect, perhaps it shouldn’t have been so concerned about what happened after placing that bid. One of the competitors wasn’t.
The winner: Escom. Who?
The winning bidder? A European computer maker called Escom, who paid–drum roll–$14 million. Escom put the Amiga back into production, and put the Commodore brand name on some of its PCs. But due to an acquisition spree, Escom ran out of money and went bankrupt in 1996. Commodore and Amiga were back on the market again.
The suiters were different the second time around.
Enter Tulip and Gateway 2000
In 1997, Tulip Computers bought the Commodore brand name. PC maker Gateway 2000 bought the Amiga and the patents. Gateway’s plans for the Amiga never panned out. In 1999, Gateway sold the Amiga brand and licensed the technology to a company called Amino Development for $5 million. There have been a number of product announcements over the years but not a great deal of follow-through. Arguably, Amiga isn’t dead, but it’s in a rather deep coma.
Commodore’s brand name has been sold and licensed numerous times since 1997, but never with much longevity or success. I’ve speculated on those reasons before.
Remnants rising from the ashes
Remarkably, the fabrication plant in Norristown, Penn. that Commodore shut down in 1992 also came back from the dead, albeit briefly. The management of Commodore’s chip subsidiary bought it for $5.3 million in 1995 and resumed operations under the name GMT Microelectronics. By 1999 it had $21 million in revenues and 183 employees. The plant had been subject to an Environmental Protection Agency investigation since 1989, and in 2001, the EPA shut the plant down. GMT ceased operations and was liquidated, and the plant became a Superfund site. It was an inglorious end to a six-year run. After cleanup finished, the old plant was cleaned out for redevelopment in 2017-2018 and yielded a few Commodore-era artifacts.
Who bought Commodore? I’ll bet you didn’t realize the answer was that complicated.