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8 decades in 8 pictures: Looking back at HP’s remarkable history

As HP marks 80 years since its founding in the proverbial garage, a look at favorite photos from the company’s vast archives.

By Sarah Murry — November 6, 2019

The history of HP is about more than tracing the evolution of the company that Dave Hewlett and Bill Packard founded, 80 years ago, in their iconic garage in Palo Alto, California. Though not much more than a backyard shed, the Addison Avenue site is a Silicon Valley landmark that remains a symbol of the entrepreneurial dream that not only inspired this website, but is fundamental to the company’s ethos and culture.

HP’s history is rich, and so are its archives. From groundbreaking products that launched entirely new industries, like the inkjet printer, to personal correspondence between founders Bill and Dave and early records of some of the first corporate sustainability initiatives, HP’s long legacy of innovation is something to be celebrated.

In addition to thousands of photos and videos, HP’s archives, which last year were consolidated in Atlanta, house technical and architectural documents, product brochures and company publications, such as Measure Magazine, “the voice of HP employees and associations,” and the Hewlett Packard Journal, which covered industry trends and HP innovations from 1949 to 1998, including a “Special Sputnik Supplement” in 1957. 

The editors at the Garage wanted to highlight the iconic images below to add to the many company-wide celebrations marking the milestone of HP’s eightieth year in 2019. We hope you enjoy this short jaunt through HP’s history.

1940s

In this photo Bill (left) is visiting Dave (right) while on leave from the Army in 1944. The 1940s was a decade marked by early innovations and rapid growth against the backdrop of a world at war. Bill, a member of the US Army Reserve, was called into service in February of 1942. He would serve most of his tour as a Signal Corps officer in Washington, DC, while Dave stayed with the company to keep up with war production demands, sleeping on a cot in his office to manage operations day and night. The decade saw HP cement its relationship with its big first customer (the Walt Disney Company) and grow out of the garage and into a corporate office in Palo Alto. The company was formally incorporated in August of 1947.

1950s

Pictured here is a machinist with the unusual name of Leon Pennington, showing her pride in the operational excellence at the Stanford Plant in Palo Alto, where products like the 524A, a radio frequency counter that was 50 times faster than the best one on the market at the time, were manufactured. The postwar boom in the US extended to HP, spurring massive growth. Sales skyrocketed from $2 million per year to $61 million, the product line grew from 70 devices to nearly 500 and HP’s workforce ballooned from under 200 to about 3,000 employees. In 1957, Hewlett-Packard launched an IPO with its stock debuting at $16 per share. In 1958, the company expanded into Europe.

1960s

Expansion continued as Hewlett-Packard expanded production at 1501 Page Mill Road in the Stanford Industrial Park (later Stanford Research Park) and moved its corporate headquarters there in 1960. HP built two, two-story buildings initially, then expanded to six buildings by the end of the decade. All of the office buildings were arrayed around two large courtyards filled with horseshoe pits, volleyball courts, fountains, trees, and benches. HP grew significantly with several acquisitions and new subsidiaries around the world. It landed on the Fortune 500 in 1962 and started HP Labs in 1966. The decade saw the precursor to the “personal computer” emerge with the 9100A, the world’s first commercially available programmable desktop calculator.

1970s

The company shipped its first HP 3000 minicomputer, shown in the advertisement above, launching what would become one of the most important products in company history. In 1978, it became the first computer ever installed in the White House. By the time the series was retired in 2003, Hewlett-Packard had sold about 200,000 units to the tune of about $40 billion. The company deepened its long relationship with the film industry (which started with an oscillator built for Disney's Fantasia) during this decade. Star Wars premiered in the US, which used Hewlett-Packard tech to create special effects. In 1978, Bill retired as CEO and became chairman of the executive committee, while Dave remained chairman of the board, but with this transition, both founders stepped away from day-to-day management.

1980s

Hewlett-Packard introduced the DeskJet printer, shown in the advertisement above, which was among the earliest inkjet printers aimed at the consumer market. It leapfrogged ahead of the dominant technology at the time, the dot matrix printer. In 1983 following an easing of trade restrictions between the US and China, Hewlett-Packard’s board met in Beijing, a reported first for an American company since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. In 1989, California declared the garage at 367 Addison Avenue where Hewlett-Packard was founded a historic landmark and “the birthplace of Silicon Valley.” The site would be entered in the US National Register of Historic Places in 2007.

1990s

Hewlett-Packard launched Pavilion desktop PCs, a family of computers designed and priced for home use pictured here, which helped make PCs more commonplace in American homes just as dial-up internet was becoming accessible. By 1999, the company had fully embraced both the home and enterprise computer markets and spun off its test and measurement business—Hewlett-Packard’s original core business, which became Agilent Technologies. After Dave died in 1996, the Department of Defense created the David Packard Excellence in Acquisition Award in his honor. It would be the department’s highest acquisition team award, in recognition of Dave’s contributions while he was deputy secretary of defense under Richard Nixon.

2000s

The 2000s was marked by challenges and dramatic market changes, from the collapse of the dot-com bubble to a series of scandals and ethical breaches that rocked the C-suite. In 2001, Hewlett-Packard agreed to buy Compaq for approximately $25 billion, a deal that would make HP the largest PC manufacturer in the world. In 2008, the company further diversified when it agreed to acquire Electronic Data Systems (EDS), a Plano, Texas-based IT and data processing services firm pictured above. Most of the EDS acquisition would be spun off from Hewlett Packard Enterprise in 2016.

2010s

The company split in 2015, which saw HP become a new, publicly-traded business innovating in PCs and printers; and Hewlett Packard Enterprise become a separate entity offering enterprise business hardware, software, and services. HP redoubled its sustainability efforts with millions of dollars in investment toward the circular economy. HP envisions teaming up with organized cooperatives and independent waste collectors to increase supplies of recycled plastic in strategic sites around the world, including Brazil, Haiti, India, South Africa, and beyond to bring the company closer to its goal of recycling 1.2 million tons of hardware and supplies by 2025.