The HP Guys: The Early Years of Technology Giants Hewlett and Packard

“Here we were with about $500 in capital trying whatever someone thought we might be able to do,” recalled Bill Hewlett. “So we got into this thing not by design but because it worked out that way.”

Hewlett and his fellow Stanford pal, Dave Packard, might not have planned for their success, but the two friends would go on to create what is today the largest information technology company in the world. From their days tinkering with gadgets in Packard’s one-car garage, to becoming two of the founding fathers of Silicon Valley, Hewlett and Packard have left a company – and a legacy – that has stood the test of time.

William Redington Hewlett was born on May 20, 1913 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The family relocated to San Francisco when he was three years old. While attending Lowell High School, Hewlett’s father died of a brain tumor. After the tragic event, Hewlett decided to enroll in Stanford University to study electrical engineering. “I'd always been interested in scientific things, but my father – who died when I was 12 – was a greatly beloved doctor, and I did not want to compete with his image,” recalled Hewlett, “so instead of getting interested in medicine I invested a lot of hours disassembling door locks and things like that. My mother just called it mischief.”

Hewlett would receive his Bachelor’s degree in 1934, and follow that up with a Master’s degree from MIT in 1936 and another Electrical Engineer degree from Stanford in 1949.

David Packard was born on September 7, 1912 in Pueblo, Colorado to a lawyer father and high school teacher mother. “I remember that while quite young I got a thrill from looking at pictures of railroads, bridges, motors, generators, and other mechanical and electrical equipment,” said Packard. “I tried to simulate some of these devices with small-scale models in our backyard.”

Following high school, Packard decided to move to San Francisco and pursue a degree in electrical engineering from Stanford. It was there that he would meet Bill Hewlett. Both students were studying under Frederick Terman, a pioneer in the field of radio engineering. After noticing how much the two had in common, Terman encouraged them to go into business together and start an electronics company.

“When I talked to business schools occasionally, the professor of management is devastated when I say we didn’t have any plans when we started,” said Hewlett. They did not have a plan, nor did they have much money – just $538 to their names. But with that, and Packard’s one-car garage, they figured they had enough to get going. Hewlett rented a cottage behind Packard’s house and the two began working away in the garage.

The two college buddies did not have a specific plan, but they envisioned creating a global company from day one. Today, that garage – now called the birthplace of Silicon Valley – is a California state historical landmark which hints at the things that were to come.

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