From Atari to the iPhone: Made in California

London's Design Museum explores The Golden State's global influence on design, from counterculture to Silicon Valley. Step inside with CNET.

Kent German
Kent was a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he's planning his next vacation, walking his dog or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).
Kent German
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'Captain America' chopper

"California: Designing Freedom" is an engaging exhibit showing at London's Design Museum until October 15. It chronicles the global design influence and innovation of the Golden State, in everything from pop culture, to counterculture to the technology boom of Silicon Valley. 

Personal liberation and expression, whether it be through a gadget or a political movement, is a key theme of the exhibit. We started with a replica of Peter Fonda's "Captain America" chopper from the 1969 film "Easy Rider." The motorcycle is part of "Go Where you Want," one of the exhibit's five sections.

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Naturally, technology giants such as Apple are well represented in the exhibit. The first Macintosh from 1984 has a prime spot while Ridley Scott's infamous "1984" TV commercial played on a loop nearby.

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PowerBook 100

Also part of the exhibit's "Make What You Want" section is an Apple PowerBook 100. Released in 1991, it was notable for its portable design, dark grey color and the placement of the trackball below the center of the keyboard. It cost $3,200 when it first went on sale.

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The Apple Newton from 1993 was an early PDA and was one of the first gadgets with handwriting recognition. One of Apple's few less-than-successful products, it was discontinued in 1998. 

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EarPod module

An especially cool piece was this stainless steel and titanium mould, which Apple used in 2001 to make its first EarPods. Each EarPod required 56 adjustments to form its shape.

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Original iPod

Next door was a sample model of the first iPod, which Apple introduced the same year.

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Original iPhone

An entire case was devoted to the iPhone, now a decade old. A first-generation iPhone rotated through sample screens of the original skeuomorphic iOS interface. Beside it are prototype designs.

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iPhone prototypes

Some of the prototypes are deconstructed. This one shows an antenna-concept test model wrapped in copper.  

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Macintosh touchscreen

This prototype of an Macintosh touchscreen model is from 1984. It was never released. 

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Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs released the Apple 1 in 1976 as Apple Computer's first product. The initial price was $666.66. The pair built the Apple 1 while they met at the Homebrew Computer Club

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Page's stool

Cross-Valley rival Google gets a section across the room. This stool from Google's first office in 1998 belonged to then-CEO Larry Page

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'Trekker' backpack

Google uses "Trekker" backpacks like this one to record Google Street View images in areas that its photography cars can't reach. This model from 2013 weighs 41 pounds (19 kg) and has 15 cameras. 

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Google Earth

You could play with Google Earth on an addictive giant display.

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Google's design

Google's Material Design is the design language behind the user interface for many of the company's products like Gmail and Google Calendar.

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Google Glass

The original Google Glass Explorer Edition debuted in 2013. It never went mainstream, but Google pressed ahead last month with a new enterprise edition.

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Google Cardboard

Google Cardboard was part of the exhibit's "See What You Want" section, which showcased not just VR, but also psychedelic posters and acid tablets.

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The most California building

This photo spread showed four famous California garages. Clockwise from top left: the garage of Walt Disney's uncle in Garden Grove near the present site of Disneyland; David and Lucille Packard's garage in Palo Alto where HP was founded in 1939; the garage of YouTube CEO and former Google exec, Susan Wojcicki, in Menlo Park; and the garage of Steve Jobs's parents, Paul and Clara, in Los Altos.

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A centerpiece of the exhibit's "Say What You Want" section is Gilbert Baker's original rainbow flag made in 1976. The flag, which is now used worldwide as a symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pride, first flew publicly at the 1978 Gay Freedom Day Parade in San Francisco.

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Atrai 2600

As someone old enough to remember playing Frogger on this console, I enjoyed seeing a pristine Atari 2600. Until it was formally discontinued in 1992, the 2600 was hugely responsible for bringing video games from the arcade into the home. Its original price was $199, which included two joysticks and a Combat Cartridge. Iconic games like Space Invaders were sold separately. 

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Atari, which was founded in Silicon Valley, also created the classic game Pong in 1972. Once a mainstay of arcades and pizza restaurants, it plays on a loop above the exhibit. 

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Waymo self-driving car

This Waymo self-driving car was built in 2014.

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Snapchat Spectacles

Snapchat released its video-recording spectacles late last year.  

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Palm V

Silicon Valley-based Palm introduced its V PDA in 1999. It was the first Palm device with a rechargeable battery.

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Amazon Kindle

Though Amazon has its headquarters in Seattle, Lab126, its research and development subsidiary in Sunnyvale, California, created the first Kindle e-reader in 2007.

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Jawbone Up

Jawbone's first Up fitness tracker debuted in late 2011. Jawbone's offices are in San Francisco. 

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GoPro Hero 3

GoPro, based in San Mateo, California, released this Hero action camera in 2014.

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Apple's 'spaceship'

On one wall were drawings of the headquarters of some of technology's biggest Silicon Valley companies. Here's Apple's "spaceship" campus in Cupertino, which opened this year.

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Aeron chair

The Aeron chair supported the rear end of many a startup employee during the dotcom boom of the late 1990s. Though comfortable and a fine example of modern design, the chair's high price (north of $1,000) became a symbol of the excess of the dotcom bust.

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World of Warcraft

Two screens next to each other showed scenes from World of Warcraft (seen here) and Second Life. San Francisco-based Linden Lab launched Second Life in 2003 and Blizzard Entertainment in the Southern California suburb of Irvine released World of Warcraft the next year. 

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Los Angeles of the future

Drawn in 1985 by artist Syd Mead, here's a utopian vision of how Los Angeles could look in 2015.

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Blade Runner

Mead also drew this depiction of a dystopian City of Angels as concept art for the 1982 film "Blade Runner."

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1984 Los Angeles Olympics

The very-1980s graphic design samples made for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics were part of the exhibit's last section, "Join What You Want."

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