Don Lancaster, 1940?–2023, R.I.P

On 2023-06-07, the electronics hobbyist and entrepreneurship communites lost one of its founding fathers with the death of Don Lancaster at the age of 83.

Don was truly a microcomputer pioneer and held a patent for one of the original Apple parts that he developed. One example of Don’s genius is his creation of the “TV Typewriter,” as it was originally called, which used TTL (transistor-transistor logic) to allow words to be seen on a TV screen. This forerunner of the modern computer keyboard was featured in Popular Electronics magazine in 1973; Don’s prototype TV Typewriter is on display at the Computer History Museum.

Always glued to his computer, either researching or writing, Don authored over 2,200 technical papers. and was a contributor to major electronics magazines. He wrote an incredible 44 books related to computers and electronics including the million+ seller TTL Cookbook and a unique self-help book, The Incredible Secret Money Machine.

A large collection of Don Lancaster’s life’s work is collected on his “Guru’s Lair Resources” Web site, including free PDF editions of all of his famous books, including the TTL Cookbook, which opened the door to modern digital design for a generation of engineers including myself, the TV Typewriter Cookbook, which showed how hobbyists on a shoestring budget could build an ASCII computer terminal, bulldozing through one of the financial barriers and enabling the first personal computer revolution in the 1970s, and The Incredible Secret Money Machine, the very best book about low-budget, no-bullshit entrepreneurship ever written.


Download and save copies of all of these books while you can—life on Earth is ephemeral and so are Web sites, so the opportunity may not last forever. If you find yourself in the situation of rebuilding technological civilisation after a bad asteroid day or collapse due to stupid and mendacious politicians, you’ll need these books at hand.

Don Lancaster wrote his own short biography [PDF] on his Web site, and published a detailed story of his life, times, and work in the July-August 2001 issue of The Blatant Opportunist, “The Way Things Were” [PDF].

Don was not only endlessly creative and motivated to share his enthusiasm with others, he was opinionated and persuasive. One of the central pieces of advice to entrepreneurs in The Incredible Secret Money Machine was avoiding the trap of obsession with patents. He expanded this argument in a Blatant Opportunist article in 1990, “The Case Against Patents” [PDF], and collected his thoughts and writings on the subject on his “Patently Horrible” Web page.

Other wisdom from Don Lancaster which has guided my life and career are these section headings from chapter 7 of The Incredible Secret Money Machine:

  • Get it in writing
  • Don’t mess with the eagle
  • Third party all unpleasantries
  • No patents
  • Don’t sweat copyright
  • Watch publicity

Here are Don’s instructions for how to modify your television set to improve your entrepreneurial success.


Don Lancaster was one of a kind. There was nobody before and none since who motivated and enabled so many to dive into the world of digital electronics and computers by pellucid explanation that caused them to exclaim those most powerful of words, “I can do this!”.

He will be sorely missed.


Don was wonderful and did wonderful things.


Well that part of the obit was wrong. Don went on plenty of Tinaja Quests, usually looking for cable tramways or ancient canals in the desert.


Thank you for this sad news.