Company History, the beginning

garage small logo


Bill Hewlett (standing) and Dave Packard
in front of their first model 200 production line
Courtesy of Hewlett Packard Company

The Garage


Dave Packard and Bill Hewlett met as electrical engineering students at Stanford University. Professor and mentor Fred Terman urged the two to start a business.

Bill and Dave went to work in the garage behind the house that Dave and Lucile Packard rented at 367 Addison Avenue in Palo Alto, California.

On January 1, 1939 they created the Hewlett Packard Company with a $538 working capital.


The HP 200A first HP Product
as shown in the Y2K catalog
"Celebrating 60 years of contribution to technology"
Courtesy of Hewlett Packard Company

The First HP Product

The prototype built by Bill Hewlett for his Stanford University thesis project in 1938 become the HP company's first commercial product. The HP 200A, a breakthrough because of improvements in size, performance and price compared to the competition of that time which used high frequency heterodyne techniques to achieve equivalent results.

They hit the jackpot with the HP 200A audio oscillator (so named, Dave said, "because we thought the name would make us look like we'd been around for awhile").

Walt Disney ordered eight of them for the production of the movie "Fantasia".

First Publicity made by HP in "ELECTRONICS"
November 1939, page 95
Issue available in the Memory Project Collection

The First HP Advertisement


By the end of 1939, HP's first full year of business, sales totaled $5,369 and the books showed $1,563 in profits.

The commercial success was suficient for the small company to finance its first advertisement in the "ELECTRONICS" Magazine before the end of its first year of activity.

Many variations of the 200A basic circuitry built up the first HP product line. These signal sources product line grew to twenty different model numbers by the end of the 50s.

Page Mill Road Building in 1940
Courtesy of Hewlett Packard Company

Fast Growth


This first success made HP quickly outgrow the Addison avenue garage. So in 1940 Bill and Dave rented a small building, Page Mill Road, Palo Alto. In 1942 they began the construction of the first company owned building.

In 1942 Dave Packard designed an electronic voltmeter, the 400A, first of a new successful product line.

HP, like many other companies, grew rapidly in wartime. A boom in radio, radar, aviation and nautical instrumentation, generated a complete line of RF and microwave test products. Annual sales grew quickly to a million dollars, and by the end of the war, HP employed 200 people. In 1948 the HP catalog (catalog 19-A, the oldest original owned in our collection) featured 39 different products.

HP's first manufacturing line in 1946 - Photo from "MEASURE - Wrapping it Up" edition
Courtesy of the Hewlett Packard company

Company Employee Increase during the first ten Years

The Bar Chart below shows the number of employees working at HP from 1939 to 1949. Harvey Zieber was the first full-time employee hired by Bill and Dave in 1940. Three more were hired in 1941 and two more the following year, giving a total of 8 at the end of 1942. The war time fast growth is clearly shown with a rise to 45 people in 1943, 137 and 144 respectively in 1944 and 1945. Many of these employees were women who had joined the company as war-production workers. Most of them left the company after the war was over. Dave Packard comments on this critical period in his book "The HP Way":

We managed to retain our key people, however, and the slowdown gave us the opportunity to seek out and attract some good technical people to the company. We were especially interested in some of the engineers who had worked during the war with Fred Terman at Harvard's Radio Research Laboratory and at other war-related research labs. As it turned out, we were able to hire Ralph Lee, Bruce Wholey, Art Fong, Ray Demere, and Howard Zeidler. And some time later, George Kan and Horace Overacker. These engineers were instrumental in developing some much-needed new products during the critical postwar period... and in the longer run, filling essential positions within the company.

HP Company Data from "The HP Phenomenon"


The HP 400A at work
Cover of ELECTRONICS Magazine March 1948

More Visibility


Another measure of the growing importance of the Hewlett-Packard production in the United States electronics market is cleary illustrated by the frequency of HP citations in the various publications of the era.

Many new product introductions were listed in the columns of ELECTRONICS magazine by the end of the 40s. The appearance of Hewlett-Packard instruments in the photographs of electronic test benchs were more and more frequent.

HP's advertising in ELECTRONICS started out as a quarter page ad in November 1939 and became a monthly full page by the end of the 40s and frequently double pages in the early 50s.







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