Sep 13, 2020
Kai and George Esbensen, Micro-Ed Software
I first heard about the Micro-Ed software company when a member of the Atari community sent me a batch of educational cassette tapes to digitize. The tapes had titles like Maps and Globes, Punctuation, and Spelling Level E. Intriguingly, the tape labels said "Micro-Ed, creators of more than 2,500 programs, pre-school through adult." 2,500 programs? Why had I never heard of this company?
I asked 4AM, a software preservationist specializing in the Apple II — and specializing in little-known educational software — if they had heard of the company. The answer was also no. So I started to research.
A two-page advertisement in Compute! magazine issue 4, May 1980, provided my first glimpse into the company: "LOOK at all the MICRO-ED programs for the PET!" The titles listed include Agreement of Subject and Verb; Run on Sentences; Higher, Same, Lower; Word Demons; and (oddly) Usage Boners. Many of the software tapes were sold in packs, for instance $84 for a pack of 12 elementary school programs. $49.95 for a grade's worth of spelling lessons on 7 tapes.
An item in the Washington Apple Pi journal, four years later, January 1984, intrigued me: "$10,000 EDUCATIONAL SOFTWARE GIVEAWAY. Micro-Ed Incorporated has announced its willingness to donate up to $10,000 worth of software to any school district, Special Education cooperative, or parent group willing to establish a school-to-home lending library. No limit has been established on the number of grants Micro-Ed will make. The donation is not contingent upon the purchase of any Micro-Ed products. ... Thorward Esbensen, Micro-Ed's president, 'envisions the establishment of a free lending library of educational software for families.'"
Less than a year later, in November 1984, the Commodore magazine The Transactor (v5n3) wrote that Micro-Ed had donated "more than a half million dollars worth of its instructional programs to school systems" for those free software lending libraries.
So. Micro-Ed was established in 1979 by Thorward (Tory) Esbensen. Based in Eden Prairie, MN, the company specialized in low-cost educational software. The software, written in the BASIC programming language, was available for Commodore PET, VIC-20, and Commodore 64, Atari 8-bit, Apple II, TRS-80, and Texas Instruments computers. Micro-Ed's best-known title was perhaps "Trail West," an Oregon Trail-like game.
Mr. Esbensen died in 2012. I interviewed two of his sons, both of whom worked with their father at Micro-Ed. First, I talked with Kai Esbensen, the youngest in the family. Kai told me in email: "My siblings had all moved out by the time Micro-Ed was in motion, but I lived it. Helping out with Micro-Ed was my first paid job, in 2nd/3rd grade, and I was still on the payroll helping out through age 22." This interview took place on May 28, 2020. ...
Next, I talked with Kai's older brother, George Esbensen, who was a salesman for Micro-Ed, and later was president of Cycle Software Services, a software duplication company that spun off from Micro-Ed. This interview took place on June 3, 2020.
Very old Micro-Ed/Thorwald Esbensen web site
AtariMania's partial list of Micro-Ed Software for Atari
Micro-Ed advertisement in Compute! magazine May 1980
Thorwald Esbensen obituary in StarTribune
Thorwald Esbensen obituary in Duluth News Tribune
Washington Apple Pi, January 1984
The Transactor v5n3