William R. Hewlett (1913-2001) and David W. Packard (1912-1996) need little introduction in 2015, but few know the early history of their highly successful company, Hewlett-Packard, or HP. Packard and Hewlett met as electrical engineering students at Stanford University. After graduating in 1934, professor Frederick Terman encouraged them to get some experience. Both returned for graduate study a few years later, and began discussing a partnership before completing their master’s degrees. They launched Hewlett-Packard as a partnership in 1939 , and began building precision instrument devices in their first “plant,” Packard’s now-famous garage in Palo Alto.
One of their early devices, an audio oscillator — the Model 200A (seen above, on display at the HP garage site in Palo Alto) — was presented by Hewlett at the 1938 Institute of Radio Engineers meeting in Portland, Oregon. The oscillator was a product of Hewlett’s electrical engineering thesis and offered better stability, greater frequency range, and less distortion than existing oscillators on the market; in addition, its simple design allowed it to be assembled from inexpensive parts. An engineer for Walt Disney Studios was impressed with the instrument and bought nine oscillators for the stereophonic sound presentation of Fantasia. This “big” order was enough to launch the company.
Hewlett-Packard’s test and measuring instruments, designed for radio and electronics equipment, became the “gold standard” for production. The company grew with government contracts during World War II, producing radio, sonar, radar, nautical and aviation devices. It continued to grow and diversify with post-war commercial and government customers. In 1954, it became one of the first tenants of Stanford’s new Industrial Park, and later became a major producer of calculators, computers, and laser and ink-jet printers.