The prizes they collected, including an original 1939 HP Model 200A audio oscillator — HP’s first product — and an HP branding iron from a ranch that was owned by HP’s co-founders, Dave Packard and Bill Hewlett, were carefully wrapped by hand.
Boxes and boxes filled with paper records, including technical drawings for a bowling alley foul line indicator, another early product, were piled onto pallets that were then loaded onto tractor-trailers for a nonstop trip to Atlanta, where another team waited to usher everything into Heritage Werks’ climate-controlled vault, designed to be as secure as the National Archives. The offices that Hewlett and Packard used from the 1960s on at the company’s headquarters in Palo Alto have been preserved in their ‘60s splendor as a living legacy for the public to visit.
A fire that raged through Santa Rosa in October 2017 shows why this level of care was so important. More than 100 boxes containing a different archive of Hewlett and Packard’s writings, letters, and other items were destroyed when the modular buildings storing them burned. They were on the campus of Keysight Technology, the world’s largest electronics measurement company, explains Karen Lewis, who was HP’s first archivist. Those documents stayed with Keysight when it was spun off from Agilent, once part of HP.
After the fire, Keysight released a statement acknowledging that part of the archives were lost, but other historic items and archival materials were undamaged, and that some of the burned archives had been digitized.
Protecting history after the HP separation
When HP separated into two businesses in 2015, the companies wanted to ensure that their collective history was protected. In October 2015, they created a joint venture called Hewlett Packard Company Archives LLC (HPCA) to oversee the shared collection. In 2016, the joint venture hired Heritage Werks and its professional staff to collect assets, manage the physical and digital collections, and help make them more accessible to wider audiences.
Nearly 2,000 linear feet of archival materials were moved to Heritage Werks’ vaults. HP’s digital archives already contain 10,000 assets, with Heritage Werks expanding it as it digitizes more paper records.
The seriousness of protecting the history of HP is about more than tracing the evolution of the company that Hewlett and Packard founded nearly 80 years ago in their iconic Addison Avenue garage. It is also the history of the founding and growth of Silicon Valley itself.
“HP has a rich and wonderful heritage from the company that was founded all those years ago by Bill and Dave that they wanted to maintain and be able to access,” says Ashley Townsend, an account director at Heritage Werks who now manages a joint repository of the collective history of HP.
A searchable treasure trove for scholars
At Heritage Werks’ vault, the HPCA collection is managed by a team of highly trained archivists and protected by a disaster-preparedness-and-response plan. Many of the assets are already digitized, or “born digital,” so the Heritage Werks team created four levels of redundant backups to protect them.