When Heathkit launched its first computer in kit form, the Benton Harbor, Michigan company was the biggest electronic kits maker.
59 years before, in 1926, Ed Heath sold the first Heath kit, an airplane. Sadly, he died a short time later while testing a new airplane model. After the World War II, the company really found its way selling low-cost electronic kits made of U.S. Army surplus parts.
When a customer ordered the H8 kit, for $375, he received a bunch of circuit boards, various chips and passive components, a case, a power supply, and clear and progressive assembly instructions. After several hours or several weeks, the system was assembled, tested and ready to run. To run what? Only programs keyed in on the keypad and read on the Led display. The basic version didn't include any monitor display, ASCII keyboard and tape backup. When the computer was turned off, all the programmer work was gone and had to be typed again.
Hopefully, Heathkit immediately provided a set of essential software including the first version of the Benton Harbor BASIC, a text editor, an assembly language, and some simple games.
The first peripheral was the well-known H-10 paper tape puncher/reader, followed by the H-17 disk drives unit, H-9 video terminal and modem also sold in kit form. One year after it was launched, the H8 could run various operating systems including HDOS (Heath operating system) and CP/M.
When HEATH Company was sold to ZENITH Data Systems in November 1979, the H8 got the ZENITH logo. It was still manufactured until Heath closed down their kit business in the mid-80's.