Silicon Valley historians saddened over lack of Hewlett Packard archive in fireplace

  • A firefighter sprays a hose into a Keysight Technologies building in Santa Rosa. More than 100 boxes containing letters and other documents from Hewlett-Packard founders William Hewlett and David Packard were incinerated when the Tubbs fire tore through one building on Keysight’s campus. Photo: Jeff Chiu, Associated Press



Picture: Jeff Chiu, Related Press

A firefighter sprays a hose right into a Keysight Applied sciences constructing in Santa Rosa. Greater than 100 packing containers containing letters and different paperwork from Hewlett-Packard founders William Hewlett and David Packard have been incinerated when the Tubbs fireplace tore via one constructing on Keysight’s campus. much less
A firefighter sprays a hose right into a Keysight Applied sciences constructing in Santa Rosa. Greater than 100 packing containers containing letters and different paperwork from Hewlett-Packard founders William Hewlett and David Packard have been … extra


Picture: Jeff Chiu, Related Press

Silicon Valley historians saddened over lack of Hewlett Packard archive in fireplace


The North Bay fires have destroyed an irreplaceable a part of the early historical past of the Silicon Valley.

Greater than 100 packing containers containing letters and different paperwork from Hewlett-Packard founders William Hewlett and David Packard have been incinerated when the Tubbs Hearth tore via one constructing on the campus of Keysight Applied sciences headquarters in Santa Rosa.

Company historians say the loss goes far past the estimated $2 million worth of the gathering. That’s as a result of it contained 1000’s of pages of historical past documenting the firsthand ideas and methods of the 2 tech pioneers who shaped the electronics firm in Palo Alto.

“It’s heartbreaking,” mentioned Karen Lewis, a former HP archivist who pored via every of these packing containers within the 1980s, cataloging every doc to badist protect that wealthy report for future researchers and historians.

“I’m disenchanted and I’m offended,” Lewis mentioned Monday. “I’m extra offended than unhappy as a result of it may have simply been prevented.”

The packing containers have been saved in considered one of two modular buildings at Keysight’s Fountaingrove headquarters, which burned within the Tubbs fireplace.

Keysight was the unique testing and measurement enterprise based by Hewlett and David Packard in 1939. In 1999, Hewlett-Packard spun it off into Agilent Applied sciences, which then spun off Keysight in 2013.

The misplaced archive doesn’t signify all of HP’s legacy. A spokeswoman for HP Inc. mentioned different paperwork are saved elsewhere, and there’s nonetheless the unique Palo Alto storage, now a museum, the place the corporate was born.

“Experiences that HP founder archives burned are deceptive,” HP spokeswoman Dana Lengkeek mentioned in an e-mail. HP archives elsewhere embrace speeches and private correspondence from HP’s founders, she mentioned, and public collections maintain different paperwork (Stanford has the William Hewlett papers).

Keysight’s guests middle nonetheless has early merchandise, like an early oscillator, Lewis mentioned.

Nevertheless, paperwork tied to the corporate’s early historical past of electronics testing merchandise through the years shifted from HP to Agilent after which Keysight.

Lewis mentioned the archive included papers that documented:

•Hewlett and Packard planning for the institution a West Coast electronics commerce group, which later turned the American Electronics Affiliation, to lift their visibility in Washington, D.C.

•Notes for creating Stanford Industrial Park, which in 1951 turned the primary collaboration between tech firms and a college.

•Hewlett asking engineers if they may create a calculator that might slot in his shirt pocket, which in 1972 turned the HP-35, the corporate’s first direct-to-consumer product.

•The evolution of HP’s first three way partnership with the Folks’s Republic of China.

•Concepts for an open workplace flooring plan to encourage creativity and change amongst staff, a mannequin that turned commonplace all through the valley.

The packing containers have been initially saved in an HP vault protected in opposition to ultraviolet mild and with fire-extinguishing tools. Digitizing the archives would have been an costly and laborious operation, since a few of the paperwork have been on skinny, fragile carbon paper, Lewis mentioned.

Of the businesses concerned within the archive through the years, “none of them noticed match to give you the cash to digitize them,” Lewis mentioned. “They’d different issues to spend cash on.”

She mentioned she had lobbied for the archive to be donated to Stanford College Libraries, as Apple Pc did with its historic paperwork in 1997.

As a substitute, the packing containers discovered their option to Keysight and have been saved on metallic shelving in “archival-quality folders inside damage-resistant archival packing containers in a safe constructing with a sprinkler system,” mentioned Keysight spokesman Jeff Weber in an e-mail.

The corporate “met and exceeded the strictest requirements for archival safety,” in response to U.N. and Library of Congress pointers, Weber mentioned. He mentioned the burned buildings are nonetheless red-tagged, so it hasn’t been attainable but to get near see whether or not any paperwork survived.

“It took probably the most damaging fireplace in state historical past to thwart the suitable and accountable steps we took to guard our firm archives,” he mentioned. “The warmth from the Tubbs Hearth was so intense that many fire-resistant safes have been melted and destroyed on this unprecedented firestorm.”

He additionally mentioned different historic merchandise, product catalogs, manuals, badysis collections and different correspondence by Packard survive as a result of they have been housed at different Keysight areas.

However Lewis mentioned Keysight may have accomplished extra to guard the gathering.

“It’s such a loss for enterprise, and the technological historical past of the Silicon Valley, for the Bay Space,” she mentioned. “This was a wonderful badortment.”

Bruce H. Bruemmer, former archivist with the Charles Babbage Institute for the historical past of computing on the College of Minnesota, mentioned in an e-mail that whereas the gathering wasn’t as “strong” as different early tech collections, “Hewlett and Packard have been the Edison and Bell of their time. We’ve some archives from the likes of Xerox, Management Knowledge, Burroughs and lots of others, however historians of science, expertise and entrepreneurship can not afford a loss as large as this.”


Benny Evangelista is a San Francisco Chronicle employees author. E mail: [email protected] Twitter: @ChronicleBenny




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