words and pictures by Brian Solis
Picture courtesy of HP History
The garage today
I received an unexpected invitation to attend a private tour of HP’s famous garage in Palo Alto at 367 Addison Ave. Without even thinking about it, I jumped at the chance to see, up close, an important historical landmark – the birthplace of Silicon Valley (and the original garage startup).
Last week at Gnomedex, Robert Scoble had called for HP to open its garage for BarcampBlock attendees to see the magic behind the oft closed garage doors.
HP listened. However, they simply couldn’t accommodate the 950 attendees, so instead, invited a private group of geeks to tour the grounds.
In 1939, Stanford University classmates Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard founded HP. The company’s first product, built in a Palo Alto garage, was an audio oscillator—an electronic test instrument used by sound engineers. One of HP‘s first customers was Walt Disney Studios, which purchased eight oscillators to develop and test an innovative sound system for the movie Fantasia.
It’s interesting to point out here that David Packard lived in the house with his wife while Bill lived in the small shed outside (prior to getting married).
By mid-1939, the Hewlett-Packard 200A audio oscillator was the comany’s flagship product. And as HP’s historical overview points out, Bill and Dave had two silent partners that cannot be overlooked — their wives.
Lucile Packard and Flora Hewlett, made important contributions to the success of the company as well. With Lucile’s job at Stanford and Flora’s job as an editor of the Annual Review of Biochemistry, the two women were the full-time wage earners and also the primary investors.
The Packard’s kitchen stove became the paint baking shop. Their living room served as the conference room and the dining room doubled as the first office. The dining room table supported all of the company paperwork, financial ledgers and a typewriter, where Lucile, who was also doubling as HP’s first secretary and bookkeeper, worked daily. The archivist mentioned that at night, the table would be moved and a hideaway bed would fold down for David and Lucile.
That same year, when Bill and Flora married, HP’s business office expanded from Lucile’s kitchen table to Bill’s former bunkhouse (the shed). It was just large enough for a used desk and a file case. Lucile and Flora worked together and shared office work to be done when they weren’t working at their day jobs.
After about 18 months, HP outgrew 367 Addison and the rest is history.
I have to say that this was a very special opportunity. I’ve come up to the gate several times in the past, but it was always the same view – the driveway, a garage, and closed doors.
The HP Archivist who walked us through the past mentioned that the original garage was very similar to what stands today. However, after HP finally acquired the property in 2000, the company embarked on an extensive preservation project to ensure that the garage, the guest room (the shed), and the main house would endure the test of time for future visitors.
The project turned the clock back on the original house, shed and garage to conditions much as they were in 1939, when the Bill and Dave established the now legendary Hewlett-Packard partnership.
Bill and Dave returned to the garage in 1989 for its official dedication as California Historic landmark No. 976. A mission-style plaque proclaiming the spot as “Birthplace of Silicon Valley” was unveiled that day, and according to the archivist, as many as 100 people stop by to read the sign and peer over the short gate at the garage each and every day.
If anything, this tour reminded us that inspiration is but only a driveway away.
Historical information supplied by HP.
More on BarcampBlock here.
Pictures from the HP tour here.