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  • Writer's pictureRich Honiball

Today in Brand History: Hewlett-Packard

Updated: Dec 30, 2023

Hewlett-Packard, now known as HP, was founded on January 1st, 1939 by Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard. The two young entrepreneurs began their venture by working out of a garage in Palo Alto, California. They named their company Hewlett-Packard, using their own last names as the brand name.

Bill Hewlett was born in 1913, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He was the son of a doctor and was raised in a family with a strong commitment to education and public service. Hewlett attended Stanford University, where he studied electrical engineering and met future co-founder, David Packard. He was born in 1912, in Pueblo, Colorado, the son of a farmer and was raised in a family with a commitment to community service. After college, they both went to work for General Electric before founding their company. Their first customer was Walt Disney Productions, which purchased eight audio oscillators to use in the making of its full-length animated film, Fantasia.

During World War II, the company switched to developing products that had military applications. Because of this work, Packard was granted a draft exemption while Hewlett served in the Army Signal Corps. Throughout the war, Hewlett-Packard worked with the Naval Research Laboratory to build counter-radar technology and advanced artillery shell fuses.

In 1947, the company was incorporated with Packard as president. He handed the presidency over to Hewlett when he became chairman in 1964 but remained CEO of the company. At the end of 1968, Packard handed over the duties of CEO to Hewlett to become the United States Deputy Secretary of Defense for the incoming Nixon administration. He resumed the chairmanship in 1972 and served until 1993, but Hewlett remained the CEO.

In the following World War II, HP continued to grow and expand its product line, eventually branching out into the personal computer market. HP is widely recognized as the symbolic founder of Silicon Valley, even though it didn’t initially work on semiconductor devices. Its early work was mainly for internal use but would eventually lead to greater success in the commercial market.

HP was identified by Wired magazine as the producer of the world's first device to be called a personal computer: the Hewlett-Packard 9100A, introduced in 1968 but referred to by the company as a “desktop calculator.” That changed in the 1970’s when the first true desktop computers, the HP 9830, was launched. This was a major achievement in the computing industry and helped to establish HP as a major player in the personal computer market. In addition to personal computers, HP also established itself as leader in the production of printers and other computer peripherals.

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak originally designed the Apple 1 computer while he was an employee at HP and offered it to them as was required under a policy called “right of first refusal” for innovations created while under their employ. HP turned it down because they wanted to stay focused on the scientific, business, and industrial markets. Wozniak claims to have offered Apple 1 to HP five times because of his loyalty to the company, but each time they turned him down, leading him to start Apple with Steve Jobs.

Along with their technological innovations, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard were also known for their commitment to corporate responsibility. They believed in treating their employees with respect and providing them with a positive work environment. This commitment to corporate responsibility has continued to be a major part of the company's culture and despite noted challenges, it has contributed to HP's success over the years.


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