NEW YORK, Aug 2 (Reuters) - Donna Fenn bought shares of Apple Inc in the 1980s on the recommendation of a stockbroker a good friend of hers was dating. She'd heard of the company because its co-founder Steve Jobs had appeared on the cover of the magazine she worked for.
At the end of 1985, not long after Fenn, now 59, made her investment, shares of Apple were trading at the equivalent of 39 cents each, adjusting for subsequent stock splits. Little could she imagine that the value of Apple shares bought then would climb more than 50,000 percent.
On Thursday, the market capitalization of Apple hit $1 trillion as its shares rose 2.8 percent to a high of $207.05. Apple, whose initial public offering was in December 1980, is the first U.S. company to reach that milestone.
Fenn and other Apple shareholders who first picked the stock in the 1980s and 1990s said they maintained a strong appreciation for the company, its products and its co-founder Jobs even as Apple teetered on the brink of bankruptcy in the late 1990s.
"It's now an iconic American brand," said Fenn, who lives in Pelham, New York.
For much of the 1980s, Bruce Pfeffer used an Apple IIe to help run his company, which teaches children to perform circus arts such as juggling and fire-eating. He's owned Apple computers almost exclusively since then and travels in his RV, where he lives and works, with an array of iPads and iPod Touches.
Pfeffer, 59, first bought Apple's stock in 1998, the year after Steve Jobs rejoined the company as chief executive. At the time, Pfeffer wasn't aware of the company's struggles.
"I didn't realize how bad off the company was at the time," he said. "I was just part of that cult that just loved Apple."
Elliot Levin, on the other hand, was quite aware of Apple's challenges and anxious about its survival. As a teenager in Seattle, he enjoyed tinkering with computers and longed to buy a Mac for college. In 1997, his parents bought him Apple shares for his 15th birthday. Levin specifically requested the gift, in what he viewed as a small gesture to help keep the company alive.
"It almost felt like an act of solidarity," Levin, now 36 and living in Portland, Oregon, said.
At least one shareholder Reuters contacted anticipated that Steve Jobs' return to Apple in 1997 would mark a turning point for the company.
John Wallner, 61, a consultant in Portland, Oregon, had seen Jobs' business acumen firsthand. From 1983 to 1992, he worked at Apple, first as a product cost accountant for the original Macintosh and later as a factory manager.
While at Apple, Wallner routinely sold the shares he bought through the company's employee stock purchase plan, because he didn't want both his income and the bulk of his investments to come from a single company. But he kept the shares he acquired in his last few years at Apple. When Jobs returned to Apple, Wallner sensed rosier days ahead.
"I had no motivation to get rid of (the stock)," Wallner said. "At the time, I said, 'Well, let's just keep it lying around and watch what he does.'"
Even since Jobs' death in 2011, long-time Apple shareholders said they have kept confidence in the company under Tim Cook, its current chief executive.
"I see big upside, both for the products they're going to work on as well as the stock price," Wallner said.
Robert Emnett, 76, a retired management consultant in Manchester, Missouri, first bought Apple shares in 1996. He keeps nearly his entire investment portfolio in stocks and picks them according to criteria developed by BetterInvesting, a nonprofit that supports investment clubs. The average annual return for his Apple shares has exceeded that of most of his other holdings, Emnett said.
Those strong returns have come in handy for several long-time shareholders. Emnett and his wife retired earlier than planned and have used their portfolio to supplement their employer-provided pensions. Pfeffer has sold some of his shares in order to fund his circus-arts education company, whose business is seasonal. Wallner used a portion of his stock to pay off loans he and his wife took out to finance their twin sons' college educations.
But even as Apple's market capitalization has breached the $1 trillion mark, they say they don't plan to sell off the entirety of their shares any time soon. Over the years, Emnett and Fenn have even given shares to their children.
"I think I will always hold on to a little bit," Fenn said, "so I can be that old lady who bought it when I was 25 years old."
Reporting by April Joyner and Lewis Krauskopf Editing by Nick Zieminski