Adobe Co-Founder Charles Geschke, Pioneer of Desktop Publishing and PDFs, Dies at Age 81
By James R. Hagerty
Charles Geschke, who studied Latin and liberal arts as an
undergraduate and once considered the priesthood, discovered
computer programming more or less by accident in the 1960s.
That led to a job at Xerox Corp.'s research arm in Silicon
Valley, where he bonded with a colleague, John Warnock. They worked
on software that eventually would translate words and images on a
computer screen into printed documents.
When Xerox was slow to recognize the potential of their ideas,
the two men bolted in 1982 and formed what is now Adobe Inc., a
software colossus with a market value of about $250 billion, or
around 50 times the current value of the company they left behind.
Adobe software spawned desktop publishing with such familiar
programs as Photoshop, Acrobat and Illustrator, along with the
ubiquitous Portable Document Format, or PDF, technology.
"We were on a rocket ship," Dr. Geschke said in a 2011 speech
recounting the early years of Adobe, when he served as president
and Dr. Warnock as chief executive. Dr. Geschke said he had never
studied business and recalled reading only one business book, which
introduced him to the goal of finding an unserved need or gap in
the market. Adobe found one of those, he said, "and the gap was
His success brought some unwelcome attention. In May 1992, while
arriving at an Adobe parking lot in his Mercedes sports coupe, Dr.
Geschke faced a young man pointing a gun at him. Two kidnappers
blindfolded the 6-foot-2 executive with duct tape and kept him tied
up in a rented house for several days before Federal Bureau of
Investigation agents rescued him.
Dr. Geschke died Friday at the age of 81, Adobe said. The
company didn't provide information on the cause of death.
"We were best friends," Dr. Warnock said in an interview Sunday.
"We never had an argument."
Charles Geschke, known as Chuck, was born Sept. 11, 1939, and
grew up in Cleveland. His father was a photo engraver, producing
metal plates clamped onto printing presses to create images in
newspapers, books and magazines -- a technology later supplanted by
He attended a Jesuit high school and enrolled at Xavier
University. He studied liberal arts because he wanted a broad
education, he said later, and added a masters in mathematics
"because I figured eventually I'd have to figure out something to
While working as a math teacher at John Carroll University near
Cleveland, he met one of his former students who had joined a
computer company. The student offered to teach his former professor
to write simple programs. Dr. Geschke recalled that one of his
first programs involved printing envelopes for a birth
Fascinated by the technology, he joined a doctoral program at
what is now Carnegie Mellon University and obtained a Ph.D. in
computer science in 1973. He was involved in research funded by the
Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency, or ARPA.
Later he described himself as an "ARPA brat" of the sort that
spawned scores of Silicon Valley startups.
Xerox hired him to work at its Palo Alto Research Center, or
PARC, the source of many of the ideas behind early personal
computers designed for the mass market. Dr. Geschke recruited Dr.
Warnock to PARC. The two men found they had much in common: Both
had beards and three children. Both were volunteer referees for
Dr. Geschke recalled that Xerox executives informed him that the
company needed seven years to launch a new product. "I was
concerned that here was technology that was state of the art," he
told Computer Reseller News later. "Technology is like fish: If you
don't cook it, it spoils."
With funding from the venture capital firm Hambrecht &
Quist, the two men launched Adobe. Apple Computer Inc. was an early
customer. Adobe's PostScript language drove Apple's LaserWriter
printers. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Apple and Microsoft
Inc. joined forces to challenge Adobe in desktop-publishing
software, but Adobe prevailed in what was dubbed "the font
Dr. Geschke is survived by his wife, Nancy Geschke, and three
He was known for his gentle personality and self-deprecating
sense of humor. He often said his policy was to hire people smarter
than himself and quipped that was "a larger pool."
Write to James R. Hagerty at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
April 18, 2021 13:16 ET (17:16 GMT)
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