Steve Jobs, a restless, inventive and visionary entrepreneur whose technical innovations and marketing genius profoundly changed the way people around the world work, play and interact with each other, died Wednesday at 56. His death closes a career that began in a California garage in 1976 and that concluded with him as chairman of Apple, a firm whose name and logo are among the most familiar in the world, and one which ranks among the most valuable companies of any kind in the United States.
Jobs' contributions to the nation and to the world, however, are best measured in ways other than size and dollars. Apple, under his leadership, produced and sold products whose names are now household words and whose functions animate and energize contemporary life.
Most entrepreneurs and innovators would be content to bring a single lifestyle-altering product to market. Jobs did far more than that. The Macintosh computer, developed with Steve Wozniak and named for Jobs' favorite variety of apple, made computers accessible to ordinary people and businesses, not just scientists and hobbyists. The Macintosh II, introduced in 1977, was a runaway success. Jobs was a multimillionaire by the time he was 25.
Jobs-inspired innovations continued over the years. The Macintosh was followed by the iMac, iPod, IPad and iPhone. Indeed. Apple continues to innovate. The company introduced a new iPhone to the public just a day before Jobs' death.
Jobs' life story is well known. His rise from bright child of an adoptive family to inveterate tinkerer to technological innovator to failed corporate manager to successful entrepreneur is well-chronicled. His last years, when he struggled to overcome pancreatic cancer and had a liver transplant, are less well known, but his death was not unexpected. He had appeared increasingly frail in infrequent, recent public appearances.
Jobs always said that he would leave his post as CEO of Apple when he felt he could not longer do the job adequately. He honored that pledge. He resigned in August.
His legacy, though, is immense. President Barack Obama offered the perfect assessment when he said in a statement that Jobs "exemplified the spirit of American ingenuity" and that "Steve was among the greatest of American innovators -- brave enough to think differently, bold enough to believe he could change the world and talented enough to do it." That is a fitting epitaph for an American genius.