Random thoughts about HP

Speaking of down a hole…

Not to mention another comment later:

Very off-topic, but I can’t resist… a lot of companies that started out doing one thing for a living ended up doing a different thing (including one or two I’ve worked for). I read a long time ago that, before Hewlett and Packard (HP) got into the computer stuff, their first business model was manufacturing men’s urinals.

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Sorry, I don’t know where you saw that. They were founded in a Palo Alto, CA garage in 1938 and originally manufactured electronic test and measurement equipment. They’ve been through many mergers, acquisitions, and spin-offs since then.

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[HP] originally manufactured electronic test and measurement equipment

Once upon a time in the early '80s, we had an HP multichannel analyzer that was giving trouble. A lab mate who did most of the electronics called up HP to see if he could get some schematics or other help. They said ‘What’s a multichannel analyzer? We certainly never made anything like that!’ so the lab mate asked if he could please talk to their oldest engineer, and they actually dug up their oldest engineer who said, ‘gosh, I’d forgotten we made those. I’ll see if I can come up with something.’ A week or so later the schematics came in the mail and the box got fixed.

Not all of the old days were good, but I sure miss the ones that were.


Bill Hewlett was so impressed with a phone call he received from a 13 year old High School student named Steve Jobs asking about electronic parts that he sent him the equipment for free and offered him an internship at HP:

I met Bill Hewlett at my old job once. He was touring design firms in New York with the HP team in the late 90s. He was very old but got to his feet when i introduced myself. I shook his hand and explained a different team was going to pitch but I wanted to thank him and his generation for the leaps they had made to make all the folks in that office careers possible. I said “you were the original guys in the garage.” and he beamed right back at me. Later that season there was a full page ad from HP in the NY Times, a garage door with type overlaid “The rules of the garage”. A different agency but I like to think something was set in motion…


I don’t remember where I saw it either. Perhaps it was really a joke, or somebody who had a beef with them. It sounded real at the time… sorry if I’m spreading a falsehood, not my intention. But I did think it was funny. And I can think of companies (like a couple of different ones I used to work for) that completely changed what they did for a living. Which I think was my real point… nothing in life (or business, or technology) is static.

Back in the mid '80s, my company got an expensive HP in-circuit emulator/debugger system. I think that was in some respects their entre into personal computers, but it was not priced like a PC! HP always had the reputation back then of being expensive but high quality. Seems to me once they went into the PC business, their quality in general started going down. The printers, similarly, started as some of the best quality for a premium price. But then HP joined the industry trend of selling cheaper printers and making their money on toner sales…