3 wartime moments to remember in HP’s history

A trip through the Hewlett-Packard archives turns up the company’s many World War II connections this Veteran’s Day.

By Garage Staff — November 1, 2022

This year marks the 80th anniversary of several pivotal battles in World War II: Midway, First and Second El Alamein, and Stalingrad. And as we look ahead to Veteran’s Day and Remembrance Day commemorations in the US and around the world this month, we recognize that HP’s founding and WWII are intertwined. While it’s impossible to know all the ways HP’s technology positively impacted Allied efforts, there’s no doubt the war influenced the company’s trajectory.

Bill Hewlett smiles alongside HP employees in a black and white photograph.

Cliff Atkins/Hewlett-Packard Company Archives

While on military leave, Captain Bill Hewlett takes pictures with employees on a surprise visit to Palo Alto in 1944.

Wartime tech

Captain Bill Hewlett, co-founder of Hewlett-Packard, spent most of World War II in the Army Aviation Ordnance department, an area where his engineering skill could be put to use. He then led the electronics section of the Development Division, a new part of the War Department Special Staff.  While on military leave in early 1944, Hewlett surprised workers in Palo Alto with a rousing speech about the success of HP products being used in the war (audio oscillators, vacuum-tube voltmeters, and the 205 Audio Signal Generator) and posed for pictures with employees.

One of the company’s largest government contracts was for a project code-named “Leopard.” HP created an entire system, from antennas to service controls to the oscillators, that provided electronic countermeasures for Allied ships. The system interrupted enemy location signals and made it appear as if our ships were somewhere else, thereby delaying, if not thwarting, the discovery of their exact location. 

Hewlett’s military service and the government contracts HP won back then fostered not only sales growth but the development of its culture. Hewlett-Packard received the Army-Navy “E” Award for excellence in wartime production four times for its work during the war. The “E” flag would fly underneath the U.S. flag at HP’s Redwood Building on Page Mill Road.

By war’s end, Hewlett-Packard boasted a more diverse workforce of 200 employees and $2 million in sales, while Dave Packard kept his own salary below that of his friend and partner's army pay for the duration of the war, in honor of Hewlett’s service. — Andrea Bell-Matthews

A black and white photograph of Roy Ozaki carving into the first clay model of the HP9100A desktop calculator.

Hewlett-Packard Company Archives

Roy Ozaki carves into the first clay model of the HP9100A desktop calculator in 1967.

A calculator, or a computer? 

Industrial designer and San Francisco native Roy Ozaki was integral to the design of the HP9100A desktop calculator, shown here in a 1967 photograph of the device’s first clay model. Ozaki was interned with his family at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming during World War II, but after the war he enlisted in the US Army as a Japanese interpreter for the Civil Affairs Team and then served in the Military Intelligence Service unit interrogating Japanese POWs returning from Soviet prison camps. After graduating from the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena with an industrial design degree, he worked for IBM, Whirlpool, and Goodyear before joining HP. The HP9100A was described as a “powerful computing genie” that was the first personal computer and the catalyst for the personal computing revolution. 

Bill Hewlett himself took an active interest in its development, using much of his free time to monitor it after a skiing accident landed him in a hospital. But even though the HP9100A was essentially a desktop computer (weighing in at 40 pounds and costing $4,900), it was never marketed as one. Hewlett explained: “If we had called it a computer, it would have been rejected by our customers’ computer gurus because it didn’t look like an IBM [computer]. We, therefore, decided to call it a calculator, and all such nonsense disappeared.” – Andrea Bell-Matthews

Fit for a queen

During her historic 70-year reign, Queen Elizabeth II witnessed many technological advances, from the evolution of the television to the home computer to smartphones. But long before she could tour the heart of Silicon Valley to see their origins firsthand, she, too, had her own ties to service during WWII.

She enlisted in the Auxiliary Territorial Service in 1945 and trained to become a military truck driver and mechanic. The first female member of the royal family to serve in the armed forces, she was promoted to honorary junior commander, the equivalent of an army captain, after completing five months of training. The war ended before she could be assigned to active duty.

Dave Packard shows Queen Elizabeth II a piece of technology.

Hewlett-Packard Company Archives

HP co-founder Dave Packard welcomes Queen Elizabeth II to the company’s manufacturing facility during her 1983 royal tour of the West Coast.

Nearly forty years later, she met with HP co-founder Dave Packard during a 1983 royal tour of California and the West Coast. 

As part of a three-day visit to the Bay Area — which included a tour of San Francisco Bay aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia and a serenade by Tony Bennett of “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” — the then 57-year-old monarch received an insider’s peek at Hewlett Packard’s Cupertino manufacturing facility. In addition to meeting with employees and seeing engineers at work, the Queen and her entourage, among them Prince Philip, witnessed a demonstration on how microchips and microphones were delicately integrated into computers by hand. 

Later that evening, during a formal dinner with President Ronald Reagan, the Queen remarked on the technological achievements she had seen that day, commenting that the “miracle… lies not in the wizardry of electronics, but in the genius and shared dedicated determination of men and women. That is what speaks loudest in California.” — Angela Matusik


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