The first member of the 'A' series of Canon cameras. It was released in 1976 out of a need for a rugged, durable SLR camera with ease of use as a priority. It featured "automatic exposure" (AE) which, on this model camera, is synonymous with shutter priority (this is not true of all cameras. See aperture priority). Additional features were such things as settable film ASA/ISO, light metre, and a microprocessor of sorts which controlled the camera's features. This camera was the first 35mm in the world to make use of the technology.
The "-1" portion of this camera's name is said to be representative of the fact that this was to be the number one SLR camera on the market. Which, inevitably, it was.
In 1981, a sequel to this camera was produced, entitled the "AE-1 Program". It featured most prominently, a "program" automatic exposure mode.