Apple co-founder Steve Jobs dies at age 56

Apple announced Wednesday that co-founder and chairman Steve Jobs has died at age 56.

"We are deeply saddened to announce that Steve Jobs passed away today," a statement from Apple's board of directors said. "Steve’s brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives. The world is immeasurably better because of Steve."

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An icon of American business on par with Henry Ford and Walt Disney, Jobs founded Apple in a California garage in 1976 with high school friend Steve Wozniak. Together they developed the Macintosh personal computer and pioneered the graphical user interface, leaving a permanent imprint on the development of consumer technology.

"Steve was among the greatest of American innovators - brave enough to think differently, bold enough to believe he could change the world, and talented enough to do it," President Obama said in a White House statement.

"Steve was fond of saying that he lived every day like it was his last.  Because he did, he transformed our lives, redefined entire industries, and achieved one of the rarest feats in human history: he changed the way each of us sees the world."

Jobs was forced out of Apple in 1985 after a bitter power struggle with the board of directors. The next year he purchased the graphics division of filmmaker George Lucas' firm, which Jobs renamed Pixar and built into one of the most successful animation studios of all-time. Pixar was sold to Disney in 2006 for over $7 billion in stock.

Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 and was reinstated as CEO soon after, overseeing a run of innovative products unmatched in the technology industry. The firm successively developed and produced the iPod, iPhone and iPad while re-imagining desktop and laptop computers as sleekly-designed consumer electronics devices rather than traditional beige boxes. 

The firm's stock price rose an average of 44 percent per year from 2000 through this September.

Jobs stepped down as head of Apple in August due to his continuing battle with pancreatic cancer and was succeeded by Tim Cook, formerly the company's chief operating officer.

"Apple has lost a visionary and creative genius, and the world has lost an amazing human being," Cook said in an email to Apple employees on Wednesday. "Those of us who have been fortunate enough to know and work with Steve have lost a dear friend and an inspiring mentor. Steve leaves behind a company that only he could have built, and his spirit will forever be the foundation of Apple."

As news spread of Jobs' passing, tributes poured in from Washington and the technology community.

"His sage advice was respected by policymakers on both sides of the aisle," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement calling Jobs a "visionary." "His courageous fight against cancer brought strength to many."

"We have lost an American hero," Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski said. "Steve Jobs is irreplaceable, but he will inspire people for generations - to innovate, to tackle great challenges, to do what you love, to change the world."

"Steve and I first met nearly 30 years ago, and have been colleagues, competitors and friends over the course of more than half our lives," said longtime rival and Microsoft founder Bill Gates. "The world rarely sees someone who has had the profound impact Steve has had, the effects of which will be felt for many generations to come."

"He was a great man with incredible achievements and amazing brilliance. He always seemed to be able to say in very few words what you actually should have been thinking before you thought it," said Google CEO Larry page. "His focus on the user experience above all else has always been an inspiration to me."

Soon after Apple announced Jobs's death, the company put his picture with "1955-2011" on Apple's homepage. On the second page of the website, Apple set up an email address rememberingsteve@apple.com for the public to send "thoughts, memories, and condolences."

—This story was last updated at 12:25 a.m.