- Historic Sites
Present At The Creation
WILLIAM HEWLETT AND THE BIRTH OF SILICON VALLEY
May 2001 | Volume 52, Issue 3
The devotion to openness and creativity above all else paid off. In 1968 the company introduced the first desktop scientific calculator, which some historians consider the first personal computer, after Hewlett insisted on a machine that would fit on his typing stand. Then he asked for and got a version that would fit in his shirt pocket—the first handheld scientific calculator. The company was on a roll. It introduced the LaserJet printer in 1984, and its sales doubled between then and 1990 and again by 1995.
HE TOOK A PHONE CALL FROM A 12-YEAR OLD—AND GAVE STEVE JOBS A SUMMER JOB.
Hewlett never stopped walking around. In 1967 he even bothered to take a phone call from a 12-year-old boy who wanted some parts to build a frequency counter. “Bill gave me the components, and he gave me a summer job at HP’s factory,” Steve Jobs recalled after Hewlett’s death. “What I learned that summer at Bill and Dave’s company was the blueprint we used for Apple.” Steve Wozniak, the other founder of Apple, worked at HP as an engineer, and it was after the company refused to build a prototype of his computer that Wozniak and Jobs teamed up on their own. Still, today HP sells more computers than Apple does.
Silicon Valley grew up around Stanford and HP. A turning point came in 1956, when William Shockley, co-inventor of the transistor, returned to Palo Alto, his childhood home, to start the first semiconductor company there. Two years later his best engineers, fed up with his abrasive management style, broke off to form Fairchild Semiconductor, and by the early 1970s former Fairchild employees had founded 41 other semiconductor companies. As for Hewlett, Michael Malone, a Silicon Valley historian and the editor of Forbes ASAP magazine, writes, “He’s still with us. In Silicon Valley, more than ever, if you want to see William Hewlett’s legacy, you need only look out the window.”
The company the two college friends founded for $538 had sales last year of $60 billion (including the receipts of its 2000 spinoff, Agilent Technologies). The two spent much of their final years- Packard died in 1996—engaged in philanthropy, having become billionaires many times over, but the last thing William Hewlett was interested in was any monument to himself. In 1989 the garage where they started it all was designated a California state landmark and given a bronze plaque reading “Birthplace of Silicon Valley.” Last year HP bought it and the house with it for $1.7 million. Hewlett’s reaction? A regretful “Now they can’t tear it down.”
The Hewlett Foundation is the nation’s eighteenth largest, and Hewlett and Packard together donated more than $300 million to Stanford University, but Hewlett refused to have any building there named after him. He and Packard did, however, eagerly memorialize the man who had dreamed up Silicon Valley and pointed them in that direction. In 1994 they contributed $77.4 million to give the university a whole new science and engineering campus, and then they spent another $25 million to endow a Frederick E. Terman Fellowship. It gives more than a dozen young scientists a year up to $300,000 over three years. The funds are, of course, unrestricted.