Like many game-changing tech companies, the story of Hewlett Packard began in a garage in Silicon Valley. What sets HP apart is that the company was founded long before that term was coined, in 1938 to be precise. The company name is an amalgam of the surnames of its founders, William “Bill” Hewlett and Dave Packard; two friends from Stanford University with a strong passion for technology and electronics. From humble beginnings, HP has grown into an industry-leading tech juggernaut that employs more than three million people around the globe.
After graduating from Stanford, Packard and Hewitt were encouraged by mentor Fred Terman to start their own tech company. The two friends wholeheartedly took Terman’s advice, managed to scrape together a startup investment of one drill press and 538 dollars, and set up shop in a garage behind Packard’s home. HP’s first product was a machine based on Hewlett’s master degree thesis, a resistance-capacitance audio oscillator. The HP Model 200A was designed to test sound equipment, such as telephones, microphones, and speakers. The machine was so good that Walt Disney bought eight of them to test sound in movie theatres. Believe it or not, this strategic alliance is still going strong to this very day. By 1940, the company had outgrown the garage and moved into an office space on Page Mill Road in Palo Alto.
Packard, by and large, led the company during the WW2, as Hewlett joined the war effort in Europe, where he served as a US army officer. HP was commissioned by the government to work on various defense projects. These projects were extremely successful and lucrative, rocketing sales to one million dollars by 1943. The extra injection of capital allowed them to provide health insurance policies to all employees, as well as other extremely generous benefits that were almost non-existent in other businesses of that time. As the need for large-scale defense projects died out after the end of the war, HP transitioned into the consumer electronics market and focused on the development of microwaves. This pioneering research and development put HP in good stead to become the leaders in signal generators and electronics in general.
The 50s and 60s: growth and expansion
The 50’s were a prosperous time in most developed countries around the world, as industries flourished and economies went through drastic economic growth. The 50s saw HP’s range of products expand exponentially, as did their number of employees. Always on the bleeding edge of tech, HP invented a high-speed frequency calculator in 1951 and an oscilloscope in 1956. HP went public at the end of 1957, with shares going for $16 each and employees becoming eligible for stock options. The 60s ramped up the economic expansion of the previous decade to whole new levels. HP was listed on the New York Stock Exchange for the first time in 1961 and cracked the Fortune 500 list just a year after that. The company gained worldwide respect and notoriety in 1964 with their HP 5060A atomic clock that was used as the official timekeeper of the entire planet. The first computer came in 1966, as part of their ever-growing line of measurement and test products that had become highly coveted in the scientific world. This huge machine was sold to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and was in constant use on one of their vessels for over a decade.
1982 saw the launch of the HP-75C, HP’s first handheld computer. The machine was a predecessor of mobile computing, as it could be connected to cassette drives and printers. We think of touchscreens as relatively new inventions, but HP released the first touchscreen PC in 1983, followed by their first laptop a year later. In the eighties, printing became the foundation of HP’s sales market with the release of their ThinkJet printing system. The release of a new Deskjet model in 1991 made color printing truly accessible to the masses, whether in a home or office setting. This was all thanks to the innovative scientists and researchers at HP who managed to compress ink cartridges in the way that drastically cut down on production costs, and in turn, made the printers affordable to a wide audience. The first all in one printer hit the market in 1994, and the fact that little has changed in its design since then is a testament to its impeccable design.
The journey from a two-man passion project in a garage to the large and successful global company it is today is a testament to innovation and creative thinking. Not only is HP responsible for great strides in technology, but has consistently been a leader in the field of management and employee satisfaction. Many of the best practices so revered by the tech companies of today can be traced back to the very early days of Hewlett Packard.