The History of Photoshop - Two Brothers Saw the Future

You know a product is popular when its name becomes a verb. As in, “I’ll just photoshop it.” If course that means that the person is going to use the graphics program Photoshop to in some way make changes in an image.

These changes may be simple, such as making a specific color more vivid, or they may include mixing and matching images from various sources so that it looks as though they were all in the original photo. The origins of Photoshop can be traced to two men who formed a partnership that would make creative graphics on the computer easy enough so that anyone could learn to do it.

The Brothers Knoll

In 1987, Thomas Knoll, who was a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Michigan, began writing a program for his Macintosh Plus. He discovered that his Mac would not display greyscale images. Thus, he hacked his own code that would allow the computer to do what he needed it to do.

At the same time, Thomas’s brother, John, was employed at Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), the special effects division of Lucasfilm. At ILM, brother John was also focused on image processing.

During a holiday, the brothers met and John was very impressed with what Thomas had created. They decided to call this initial version Display. A little later, after John purchased a Macintosh II with a color display, he convinced his brother to ensure that Display would work in color.

These small steps and the devotion of Thomas and insight of John led to the creation of Photoshop 1.0 in three short years.

Photoshop Timeline

The high tech trek that led to the launch and acceptance of Photoshop as a viable program for Macs and PCs is a relatively short historical jaunt. Here are some important milestones in the history of Photoshop.

1987 The Beginning:

  • Thomas starts working on a code to display greyscale images on his Macintosh Plus.
  • That same year, he and his brother, John, start working together to create a new application based on Thomas’s work. 
  • The new application is called Display.

1988 Display:

  • The brothers refine Display.
  • The new version of Display is renamed ImagePro.

1989 Going Public

  • In a humble beginning, BarneyScan licenses ImagePro, bundling it with their slide scanner. Approximately 200 copies are shipped.
  • The brothers convince Adobe to license Photoshop.
  • 10 months of product development begins.

1990 Adobe Photoshop for the Mac

  • Photoshop 1.0 ships in February.
  • Known as “Fast Eddy,” Photoshop 2.0 comes out in the fall.

1993 Adobe Photoshop Expands

  • Version 2.5.1 is released.
  • This version runs on a PowerPC chip.
  • In April, the first Windows version of Photoshop is made available.

Photoshop an Industry Standard

In the history of Photoshop, the brothers Knoll made some smart moves along the way. They focused their product on the average user and not the professional. This put retouching photographs, editing of pictures and redefining images taken using using infrared photography simply a few clicks away.

Thomas and John Knoll also managed to make a sweetheart deal with Adobe. By allowing the company to license it and distribute it, the Knolls retained their rights to royalties generated by the product they created.

About the Author

When it comes to having fun Melissa Cameron has found that spending the day surfing with her three children and husband is all that she needs. When not at the beach enjoying the waves, Melissa works as a bookkeeper for a very busy medical practice. When she goes off on her own and does her own thing, she loves to engage in infrared photography, using the latest infrared technology. Melissa and her husband have two young boys that keep them very busy.

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