HP is incorporated, August 18, 1947
Hewlett and Packard met during the 1930s while studying engineering at Stanford University, and became close friends. In 1938, the pair, along with Dave’s wife, Lucile, rented a small apartment, which came with a garage and a garden shed, for $45 a month. (The Packards were to live in the apartment; Hewlett took up residence in the shed.) Using $538 in start-up cash and encouragement from a former professor, Fred Terman, Hewlett and Packard began work on their technology company.
The 12×18-ft, one-car garage at 367 Addison Ave in Palo Alto, CA, the site of Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard’s first workshop, has been designated a historical landmark and the “Birthplace of Silicon Valley.” Source: Flickr user raneko
HP’s history of the company states that early products from the pair included a diathermy machine, a device to help astronomers at the University of California’s Lick Observatory accurately set a telescope, a harmonica tuner, and even a foul-line indicator for a local bowling alley.
Their first product to find some commercial success was based on a design Hewlett had outlined previously in his Stanford master’s thesis. The result was an oscillator used to test sound equipment - the HP Model 200A. Rumor has it “200” was chosen for the model number as a way to disguise the fact that the product was the company’s first.
In developing the Model 200A, Hewlett opted to use a light bulb in a Wien bridge oscillator circuit as a way to regulate the output of the circuit without causing distortion, simplifying the circuit, improving performance, and reducing the price (See the HP image below).
According to HP, Walt Disney Studios ordered eight modified versions of the 200A, to be named the 200B, in 1938 to prepare the sound systems in movie theaters that would show the animated musical Fantasia, which was released in 1940 and was the first commercial motion picture to utilize stereophonic sound.
Following a coin flip in 1939 to determine the order the founders’ names would appear in the company name, Hewlett-Packard saw its business start to pick up. With additional employees, the young company outgrew its garage and moved to a larger rented space in Palo Alto in 1940 and was even able to offer its employees a $5 Christmas bonus. HP’s first international expansion came in 1957, when it established a marketing organization in Geneva, Switzerland, and a manufacturing plant in Boeblingen, West Germany.
In 1987 the garage where it all began was registered as California Historical Landmark No. 976 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. HP acquired the property in 2000 for $1.7 million and restored it to a recreation of how it appeared in the 1930s. The garage is not open to the public, but many engineering history buffs stop by when they are in Palo Alto to snap a picture of it from the sidewalk.
The company celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2014, and announced plans to split into two companies: Hewlett Packard Enterprise and HP Inc. The former focuses on "IT, technology & enterprise products, solutions and services," while the latter retained the HP logo and the personal systems and printing business.
- Come home, Bill and Dave
- Patents: Hewlett-Packard's team racks up over 400 plaques
- How HP Got Its First Calculators: Video Interview with Tom Osborne
- IEEE Recognizes HP 35 Calculator as a Milestone: The Day Spreadsheet Management Failed
- Tell your Bill and Dave stories
- More on Bill and Dave
- Electronic test 1936-1955, a look back
For more moments in tech history, see this blog. EDN strives to be historically accurate with these postings. Should you see an error, please notify us.
Editor's note: This article was originally posted on August 18, 2014 and edited on August 18, 2017.