by Gene Wright
In January 1939, two Stanford Electrical Engineering graduates flipped a coin, to see if their partnership would be called Packard-Hewlett or Hewlett-Packard. Dave Packard lost on that coin flip, and Bill Hewlett had his name first. The occasion was the receipt of the first big order from Walt Disney Studios for nine audio oscillators called the Model 200A. The early experimental workshop was literally a 'garage' operation. In 1947, the firm incorporated and had annual sales of $1.5 million. New products were added to the expanding product line of signal generators, microwave instruments, amplifiers, etc., and by the 1950's, the company was developing instruments at the rate of 20 new ones per year.
The strong leadership exerted by Bill Hewlett and David Packard is what has made Hewlett-Packard the unique company it is today. Another key factor has been people -- the employees. Over 20,000 people work for Bill and Dave, who hold 51% of the company stock. The company operates on policies that strongly reflect the philosophy of the two men. The open and free exchange of information among engineers and designers is encouraged by not allowing offices and cubicles. Even today, employees feel that they are part of a family. When times are good, the family shares the prosperity through profit sharing checks, liberal fringe benefits, etc. When the economy is down, Hewlett-Packard does not lay off its employees (who know the H-P philosophy and will work a 4 day week if asked to).
In March 1968, Hewlett-Packard introduced the HP-9100A table-top programmable calculator. At that time, Bill Hewlett wondered if the next calculator would not be a tenth the size and cost of the 9100A. Later the goal was formalized to be a series of ten machines to be handheld, battery operated, and capable of being carried in his shirt pocket -- which was measured on the spot. Thus the HP-35, HP-80, HP-65, HP-55 were born, along with machines yet to be announced. (Most notably the HP-67/97, HP-41 series, then the HP-28, HP-48, and HP-38).
This brainstorming effort was being carried out in earnest by the newly-formed Advanced Products Division (which later became the Corvallis Division) by the fall of 1970. The technological accomplishment was in getting the HP-35 to market, from concept to announcement, in less than 18 months.
Operating by the philosophy of providing technically advanced products of high quality, based on excellent executive direction, Hewlett-Packard continues to be the leader in the electronics industry. Traditionally, H-P has not sold its products to the general public.
The Advanced Products Division, with its pocket calculator, was the first market of this type that the company entered. When H-P did enter the calculator market, it did not compete with existing manufacturers. It created a completely new market - the scientific calculator market.
This article first appeared in the V2N1 issue of 65-Notes (January 1975), published by Richard Nelson. Gene Wright made additions to the article.