Bill Hewlett Bio, Founder of Hewlett Packard

  • January 07, 2020
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Born in Ann Arbor on May 20, 1913, before moving to San Francisco at age 3, Bill Hewlett was the co-founder of the Hewlett-Packard Company, with David Packard.

Packard and Hewlett met as undergraduates at Stanford, and in 1939, after Hewlett finished his graduate engineering work at Stanford and MIT, the two began working out of a garage in Palo Alto and decided on the company name Hewlett-Packard, over Packard-Hewlett, on the basis of a coin toss.

A small-scale initiative at first, the company didn’t incorporate until 1947, and went public a decade later.

Hewlett-Packard designed a manufactured a wide variety of electronic products, with no real focus in its first years — products included signal generators and oscilloscopes, oscillators used by the Walt Disney Company in the surround sound systems used for the groundbreaking movie Fantasi.

And agricultural equipment, and the company’s biggest early success was the Model 200A, a precision audio oscillator that was more reliable than their competitors’ but cost barely a quarter the price, thanks to Hewlett and Packard’s innovations. That particular product was so successful that it continued to sell well into the 1970s, despite all the changes in the industry in the meantime.

In time, the company came to focus on test equipment and measuring devices, such as voltmeters, signal generators, and electronic thermometers; the company’s hallmark was to increase the range or accuracy of measurement over what was offered by other companies, even if only by a little.

HP’s headquartering in Palo Alto precipitated the shift of the tech industry to that part of California, surrounding Stanford University, and it is today considered the founding company of Silicon Valley.

The company began developing semiconductors in the 1960s, principally for use in their own devices rather than sale, and when it was dissatisfied with Digital Equipment Corporation’s minicomputers, it began to manufacture its own in 1966, introducing the HP 2100 and HP 1000 series of computers.

While the series went through many upgrades, the basic design persevered through the 1980s, and HP’s first line of desktop computers premiered in the 1970s — ten years before IBM introduced the market-defining PC.

HP’s calculators and printers were groundbreaking. Among other products, it introduced the first handheld programmable calculator (HP-65) in 1974, containing as much power as many business computers of the time.

Its first inkjet and laser printers for desktop computers were introduced in 1984, when dot matrix and thermal printers were still the common standard, but it wasn’t until the next decade that HP started to target consumers — prior to that, businesses and especially fellow businesses in the technology industry had been their presumed base.

They acquired other smaller computer manufacturers, and by the end of the 90s, computers became HP’s main focus: everything not related to computers, storage, or imaging was spun off into Agilent, the largest IPO in Silicon Valley history.

Hewlett passed away in 2001, some fourteen years after his retirement from the board.

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