Silicon Valley pioneer William Hewlett dies

Silicon Valley pioneer William Hewlett dies

The man who practically invented the Silicon Valley success story, Hewlett-Packard co-founder William Hewlett, died Friday at his home. He was 87.

According to a Hewlett-Packard statement, Hewlett died in his sleep of natural causes. David Packard, the company's co-founder and Hewlett's colleague for 60 years, died in 1996 at 83.

Hewlett and David Packard met as undergraduates at Stanford University and in 1939 formed their company from their garage in Palo Alto, California.

Their first product was an audio oscillator for radio, and over the next 50 years, Hewlett would help guide the company from being an instrumentation outfit to a computing giant.

"It's the passing of an era," said Paul Ceruzzi, curator for aerospace electronics and computing at the National Air & Space Museum in Washington and the author of A History of Modern Computing.

Ceruzzi praised Hewlett for imposing a solid value structure on his company and in helping to create "the mythology of the Silicon Valley".

"They believed that good engineering was ethical and that it implied treating the customer with respect and honesty," he said. "They trusted their engineers and it worked."

Ceruzzi noted that Hewlett and Packard were students of Stanford professor Frederick Terman, "the father of the Silicon Valley", who encouraged his students to embrace technology and get rich in the process.

Under Hewlett's presidency from 1964 to 1977, the company made a splash with the HP35 calculator.

"It cornered the market and sent the slide rule into the garbage," Ceruzzi said. "It was a tremendous breakthrough.

According to Ceruzzi, Hewlett had engineers measure his shirt pocket to make sure the calculator could fit inside it.

It was also under Hewlett that the company bought a mini-computing company called Dymec.

"AT&T tried the same thing with NCR and it didn't work, but here's a case where Hewlett-Packard completely assimilated their business around a new technology," Ceruzzi said. "They understood the value of an engineer at the workbench with a good idea and they were willing to change their whole business around that idea."

He added that former competitors like Techtronics and Perkin-Elmer never were able to make as successful a switch from instrumentation to computing.

Carly Fiorina, current HP president and CEO, said, "We, as stewards of his legacy, will cherish and nurture Bill's bright spirit of invention, remembering and celebrating the rich heritage that he and Dave entrusted us with."

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