History in Computing

The Beginning:

HP began investigating entry into the computer industry in the early 1960s. By then, it had become apparent that computers would play a major role in the instrument field. While Bill Hewlett was concerned about entering the "highly-competitive" new field, Dave Packard firmly believed that computers would play an increasing role in controlling instrument applications and in analyzing the data collected by instruments. Many HP managers were also skeptical about getting in to the IBM-dominated business. As a result, HP's early computers were usually referred to internally as "instrument controllers" (even though from the first year, most of the machines were sold into general-purpose data processing applications).

HP began shopping for small companies to buy to facilitate entry into the computer industry. It also had discussions with larger companies. Packard visited Wang Laboratories while it was designing its first electronic calculator. He also spoke to Digital Equipment Corporation about the possiblilty of joining HP. HP even had discussions about buying DEC for $25 million, but the matter did not proceed for a variety of reasons. Subsequently, much of the design of HP's first computer was based on DECs successful PDP-8.

In the middle of 1964, HP's Dymec Division took the lead and decided a new computer should feature in sophisticated HP instrumentation systems. The 8-year-old Dymec division had originally formed to build customised instrumentation systems based on standard HP products, modified HP products and third-party products integrated for specific customer applications. Dymec Division had already investigated incorporating DEC PDP computers into HP instrumentation systems. To gain additional software expertise, HP purchased Data Systems, Inc of Detroit in 1964.

HP entered the computer industry in November, 1966 with the introduction of the 2116A by the Dymec Division. The 2116A represented the birth of HP's 1000 product line (originally known as the 2000 product line).

HP entered the desktop computer business in 1968 with the introduction of the 9100A.

HP entered the multi-user business computer market in 1972 with the introduction of the 3000 .

In its first 25 years in the computer industry, HP entered almost every major product segment. After only sixteen years in the industry, HP's computer revenues accounted for just over half of the company's total business of $4.25B in fiscal year 1982. By the end of the 1980s, no computer company had a broader product offering than did HP.

 

HP Computer History Reference Books:

For an excellent summary of HP history, culture and business philosophy, the museum recommends The HP Way – How Bill Hewlett and I Built Our Company, written by David Packard and published by Harper Business (1995). Much of the Bill and Dave profile information on the museum's web site comes from this book. ISBN 0-88730-817-1.

For a detailed look at how HP operated on a daily basis and numerous illustrative examples of HP's culture, the museum recommends Inside HP: A Narrative History of Hewlett-Packard From 1939-1990, written and self-published by John Minck (updated in 2006). John was a 37-year veteran of HP, based primarily in Palo Alto. This book includes excellent examples of how HP's business practices evolved as the company grew. Download file size is 1.4 Mb.

How It All Began, Hewlett-Packard's Loveland Facility is a detailed history of the first HP division located outside of California. HP's desktop computer business was born in Loveland Colorado. The Loveland Division spawned other HP divisions including Fort Collins and Greeley (both located in Colorado). The book was written by Kenneth Jessen and published by J.V. Publications. ISBN 1-928656-02-1. (1999).

Tom Peter's 1982 book In Search of Excellence analyzes over 40 companies with a long term record of financial success to determine what common characteristics they each possess. HP is one of the companies identified, along with Proctor & Gamble, McDonald's, IBM and others. ISBN 0446385077.

Michael S Malone (2007). Bill & Dave: How Hewlett and Packard Built the World's Greatest Company. Published by Penguin. ISBN 1591841526. This is a terrific book about the history of the company and the personalities involved. It has a few factual inaccuracies but very much captures the spirit of the company.

Albert Yuen (2007). Bill & Dave's Memos. Self Published via Amazon's BookSurge Publishing. ISBN 1424327814. This book is a collection of reprinted memos and presentations by Bill and Dave. I found it especially interesting to read Bill and Dave's views on various non-company happenings of the time (eg communism, the Vietnam War, the British economy basket case of the 1960s, radicalization of Berkeley's local government).

Peter Burrows (2003). Backfire: Carly Fiorina's High-Stakes Battle for the Soul of Hewlett Packard. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. ISBN 0471267651.

Jim Collins and Jerry I Porras (1994). Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. HP is discussed extensively. Published by Collins. ISBN 0060566108.

Marv Patterson held various R&D executive positions during his time at HP. He was director of corporate engineering when he retired from the company in 1993. Since 1993, Marv has written three books on innovation and the product development process: "Accelerating Innovation" (1993, ISBN: 0-442-01378-7), "Leading Product Innovation" (1999, ISBN: 0-471-34517-2), and "Build An Industry Hot Rod" (2008, ISBN:13:978-0-9817284-0-7). Naturally, the books cite numerous interesting examples at HP.

George Anders' book Perfect Enough is the story of the 2002 Compaq proxy fight. This book also contains interesting snippets of HP history and insights into the personalities of key HP employees, including Bill and Dave. Perfect Enough is published by Penguin Books. ISBN 1-59184-003-1.

The HP Phenomenon (2009) is probably the most thoroughly researched book ever. House and Price do a great job of putting HP's successes and failures into meaningful context relative to the performance of the company's peers. The book also does a unique job of analyzing many breakthrough business processes invented at HP (in addition to the technological breakthroughs). If you're only going to read one book about HP, this is the one. The HP Phenomenon is published by Stanford University Press. ISBN 978-0-8047-5286-2.

Richard Gibbs' book "Rock Stars, Spies and Scandals: The H-P Way" (2011) looks at HP during the post-Platt years (from 1999), with particular emphasis on the three non-HP CEOs hired by the company during that time. The book comments on the evolution of the company's culture during the period. The book concludes with an analysis of the extent to which "The HP Way" still exists within the company. ISBN-13: 978-1466384293.

 

Web Links to HP Computer History:

HP 1000 History: http://www.bitsavers.org/pdf/hp/21xx/poyner1.htm. This article by Todd Poyner is the most comprehensive summary of the HP 2000/1000 history available on the web.

HP 3000 History: http://www.robelle.com/library/smugbook/classic.html. This article by Bob Green is an excellent summary of the origins of the HP 3000, from its difficult beginning through the 1970s. Chris Edler's outstanding article provides a more detailed examination of the origins of the HP 3000: http://www.3k.com/index_papers_hp3000_history.html.

HP Technical Desktops: http://www.hp9825.com/html/the_9100_project.html. This article by Steve Leibson provides a very detailed look at the 9100A and related projects. This summary highlights key design and manufacturing technologies used. It also includes some wonderful historic photographs and application stories.

HP LaserJet Beginnings: http://www.printerworks.com/Catalogs/CX-Catalog/CX-HP_LaserJet-History.html. This article by the Printerworks company summarizes the origins of laser printing technology. The article identifies the original players in the market and examines why HP succeeded so spectacularly in the 1980s.


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