Seredipity is a wonderful thing. Terrible direction sense of mine, I was lost for the upteenth time in Palo Alto one day in spring 2002, and I happened to drive by what looked like a historic site sign. As I drove by I made out the shiny brass title, reading “BIRTHPLACE OF SILICON VALLEY”. Having no inkling of why this little double-decker house was so christened, I moved along only later to read about the fabled garage where HP began.
Fast forward five years later. Today, I was fortunate enough to head back in with a group of new media elite, and walk through a bit of history. Anna Mancini, archivist at HP, provided the backdrop to the story of the garage where Dave Packard and Bill Hewlett seeded one the world’s most recognizable brands. It’s a fun read, I encourage you to check it out.
Being at the HP garage was more than just a chance to take in the rich history of the silicon valley – it was a chance to reconnect with an integral part of American history, and a chance to put “bootstrapping” into perspective. The computing revolution which HP is an integral part of is as uniquely American as apple pie. As it turns out, I had toured the colonial home of George Washington in upstate New York just two months ago while living on the east coast. I couldn’t help but think about how far we’ve come in such a short time. Really short. When you think about it, America really doesn’t have much history. Don’t get me wrong, our history is rich. It’s just, well short. We effectively went from riding draft horses to assembling transistors in a span of 200 years. It’s hard to put into words how startling it is to see such a stark transition from one historical site to another in the span of about 3-4 lifetimes.
But I digress. There was more than just history here – there is inspiration. Adjacent to the garage lining the side of the Dave Packard home is a small shed amidst the beautifully manicured back yard. I hardly noticed it, until Anna mentioned that Bill Hewlett actually rented out this small shed as living space.
That’s not just one part of the shed Bill lived in. That’s pretty much all of it.. about half the size of my living room where I now write this. IT wasn’t just Bill and Dave involved either – this was a family affair. Lucile “Lu” Packard and Flora Hewlett played an important role as primary wage earners and investors.
The team was resourceful – by 1939, the HP 200A audio oscillator became the company’s flagship product and best seller (HP wouldn’t get into the computer business until the mid 1960s). Interestingly enough, they couldn’t afford to hire much help or outsource things like product finishing, so the Packard kitchen stove became HP’s firstpaint baking/finishing shop. Below on the shelves are two 200A audio oscillators.
Eventually Bill, Dave, and their fairer partners outgrew the workspace and expanded to the shed. By the early 1940s, they had outgrown the property altogether and moved out. The rest we all know; one neat thing I learned however is that the shed was still being rented out as living space as late as the 1980s! HP acquired the property in the year 2000, and began the renovation efforts which allowed us today to take in the scene exactly as it was in 1939.
Talk about bootstrapping it! This is what silicon valley is all about – smart people coming from humble beginnings, working together to build the next technology empire. Standing where the pioneers once stood was a poigant reminder that the bay area is steeped with the culture of building a technology empire from scratch, and that it’s our turn to build the next great silicon valley story.
If you’d like to see the full set of pictures I took, have a look here. Brian Solis also did a fantastic job of writing up a narrative with pictures. Last but not least, Scobleizer has linked up a video of the tour. I highly recommend the tour video.
I’d like to thank Dave Berman and Anna Mancini of HP Media Relations for taking their Sunday morning to host a tour and field questions from curious bloggers, as well as Chris Aarons of Buzz Corps for helping to set it up. I’d also like to thank Robert Scoble for extending me an invite.