In 1994 Apple agreed to bundle $500k worth of the Who Built America CD-rom with all computers purchased by schools and libraries. In January of 1995 we got a note from Apple saying they were discontinuing distribution in response to complaints from schools in Oklahoma and California about the CD-Rom’s open portrayal of homosexuality and abortion,. We wrote a press release accusing Apple of censorship. The release was picked up by Time and The Wall St. Journal among others. Apple stonewalled until something wonderful happened. They reversed their decision and resumed distribution. The reason for the change of heart — internal dissension. Apple employees all over the world, but particularly in Europe, were deeply disappointed by Apple’s cave-in to homophobic dissent and made it known throughout the company.
This is a 2-minute promo video. Remember, when you look at it, that the piece was created 23 years ago when 800×600 was the maximum resolution and quicktime windows were the size of post-it notes.
The following is a statement by the American Social History Project, the authors of Who Built America (originally published by Knopf) and now available as a text book from Macmillan.
IS THE INFORMATION SUPERHIGHWAY ONLY OPEN TO “EDUCATIONALLY
As members of the board of directors of the American Social
History Project (ASHP) we want to bring to your attention the
recent attempt by Apple Computer to censor the Project’s WHO
BUILT AMERICA? FROM THE CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION OF 1876 TO THE
GREAT WAR OF 1914 (WBA), a CD-ROM conceived and written by Roy
Rosenzweig, Steve Brier and Joshua Brown, and published by the
Voyager Company in 1993.
In January 1995, after distributing more than 12,000 copies
of WBA in the previous month as part of its “Apple Educational
Series: Elementary and Secondary Reference” bundle installed in
computers sold to schools, Apple informed the Voyager Company
about unspecified complaints regarding material in the disk
discussing homosexuality, birth control, and abortion between
1876 and 1914. Voyager refused Apple’s request to make the CD-
ROM “educationally appropriate” by removing all references to
these subjects. The material that Apple wanted censored
represents a small number of historical documents and oral-
history interviews, the equivalent of 40 pages and 15 minutes of
sound out of more than 5,000 pages of text and four and a half
hours of sound. The inclusion of the history of gay Americans
and birth control is part of a comprehensive social history of
the period that covers a wide range of experiences and
perspectives. On January 31, 1995, Apple notified the Voyager
Company that it would no longer distribute WBA to schools.
Ironically, Apple’s decision occurred only three weeks after
the American Historical Association awarded WBA the biennial
James Harvey Robinson Prize as “the most outstanding contribution
to the teaching and learning of history in any field for public
or educational purposes.” In addition, since its publication in
1993, WBA has been praised in major newspapers and in computer
trade and scholarly publications for its innovative application
of multimedia to education and rigorous scholarship. For
example, Walter S. Mossberg wrote in the WALL STREET JOURNAL:
“Once in a while . . . a truly exciting, high-quality electronic
book turns up to reveal the real potential of electronic
learning. My latest nomination to this CD-ROM Hall of Fame
is . . . WHO BUILT AMERICA?”
Apple’s new restrictions threaten the intellectual and
educational efficacy of electronic information, from interactive
programs to the Internet, an arena that has been heralded for
providing greater opportunities for accessibility, expression,
In response to publicity being given to this case in various
media, Apple has apparently backed away from its initial stance
and now maintains it is re-evaluating the status of WHO BUILT
AMERICA? In that light and in the light of the company’s
previous reputation for respecting human and civil rights,
comments from scholars and educators might have an important
effect on Apple’s decision. We urge you to write Apple CEO
Michael Spindler to resist pressure from those who want to censor
the past (e-mail: email@example.com; address: Apple
Computer, Inc., 20525 Mariani Avenue, Cupertino, California
Please send a copy of your correspondence to any of the
three authors: Roy Rosenzweig (firstname.lastname@example.org), Steve Brier
(email@example.com), or Josh Brown (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The Voyager Company can be reached via Braden Michaels,
Voyager, 578 Broadway, Suite 406, New York, N.Y. 10012, tel: 212-
431-5199, fax: 212-431-5799, e-mail: email@example.com.
Ira Berlin, Department of History, University of Maryland
Loni Ding, Department of Ethnic Studies, University of
Eric Foner, Department of History, Columbia University
Carol Groneman, Department of History, John Jay College, CUNY
Leon F. Litwack, Department of History, University of California,
Patricia Oldham, Social Science Faculty, Hostos Community
Silvio Torres-Saillant, CUNY Dominican Studies Institute at the
City College of New York
CHRONOLOGY AND INFORMATION ABOUT WHO BUILT AMERICA? PROVIDED BY
THE VOYAGER COMPANY:
* September-October 1994: Apple approaches Voyager about the
possibility of purchasing copies of WHO BUILT AMERICA? to give to
schools (K-12) buying certain Apple computers. Voyager and Apple
agree to terms.
* December 1994: Apple bundles more than 12,000 copies of WBA
with computers in the first month of a year-long program.
* January 1995: Apple calls Voyager to say that it has received
complaints about WBA because of the CD-ROM’s discussion of
homosexuality, abortion, and birth control at the turn of the
century. Apple asks Voyager to make available a version with
these subjects edited out. Voyager refuses but offers to send
schools that don’t like WBA any CD-ROM from the Voyager catalog
(school’s choice). Voyager also proposes that WBA be bundled
only with computers for high-schools, colleges, and libraries.
Apple rejects both of these suggestions.
* January 31, 1995: Apple informs Voyager that it will no longer
include WBA in the K-12 bundle, and asks Voyager to name a
replacement title. Apple makes clear that any replacement must
not mention homosexuality, abortion, or birth control.
ABOUT WHO BUILT AMERICA?
WHO BUILT AMERICA? is a new “electronic book” on CD-ROM.
Conceived and written by Roy Rosenzweig, Steve Brier and Josh
Brown (visual editor) and published by the Voyager Company in
collaboration with the American Social History Project, it
includes more than four and a half hours of audio (oral history,
actuality sound, and music), 45 minutes of archival film, more
than 5,000 pages of historical documents, more than 700 pictures
as well as dozens of graphs, maps, and many other features.
Among the special features of the “book” are:
FILM: More than twenty film clips, including the early silent
film classic, “The Great Train Robbery,” immigrants arriving at
Ellis Island, candidates campaigning for the presidency in 1912,
women suffragists marching down Fifth Avenue, and more.
ORAL HISTORY: More than thirty interviews with immigrants,
sharecroppers, Native Americans, coal miners, and others. Hear
survivors of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and eyewitnesses to the
1906 Atlanta Race Riot.
MUSIC: More than two dozen songs from the period, including
protest and labor songs, black spirituals and work songs, hits
from Tin Pan Alley, country music, and brass band tunes.
ARCHIVAL AUDIO: Rare recordings of Booker T. Washington, Andrew
Carnegie, Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, William Howard Taft,
and others as well as humor from early vaudeville stars.
DOCUMENTS: Thousands of pages of primary documents, including
letters home from immigrants, congressional testimony, newspaper
accounts, court decisions, famous essays, fiction, poetry, and
IMAGES: Hundreds of exquisitely reproduced pictures include
cartoons and advertisements from newspapers, magazine
illustrations, paintings, and rare documentary photographs,
including the work of Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine.