Considered one of the founding fathers of "Silicon Valley" and the American electronics industry, William Hewlett with his friend and partner David Packard began his career in electronic development in a garage in the 1930s. After more than 60 years as a pioneer in his industry and in a second career as a philanthropist, William Hewlett died January 12th, 2001 at the age of 86.
Ranked as one of America's wealthiest individuals by Forbes Magazine, William Redington Hewlett was born May 20th, 1913 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the son of a successful physician.
Hewlett became a Californian and was put on the path to Stanford University in 1916, when his father accepted a teaching position at the college. Hewlett's early academic career was initially unimpressive, hampered by undiagnosed dyslexia, which gave him difficulty with written material and writing assignments, but led him to develop exceptional memorization and logical skills. Hewlett excelled in mathematics and sciences, which, with his father's tenure at Stanford, helped him gain entry to the university in 1930.
During his freshman year at Stanford Hewlett met David Packard, the son of a Colorado attorney who shared his interests in the sciences, and engineering as well as hiking and back-packing. Hewlett and his friend studied engineering under Frederick Terman until Hewlett graduated with his bachelors degree in 1934. Hewlett continued his studies at MIT, where he earned his first masters degree in 1936 before returning to Stanford for a masters degree in engineering. Hewlett's return to Stanford reunited him with Professor Terman and with Packard, who had married while launching a career with General Electric.
In 1938, Hewlett and Packard went in on their first joint venture- living quarters. Packard and his wife moved into a modest house in the Palo Alto suburbs, with Packard occupying bachelors quarters in the rear. That year Hewlett married Stanford biochemist Flora Lamson and with the moral and financial support of Professor Terman turned their Palo Alto garage into the site of their fledgling electronics company. Hewlett, the acknowledged inventor of the pair, won a coin toss to become the first-named partner in Hewlett-Packard, which was officially launched by the 25-year-old engineers on January 1st, 1939 with less than $550 in investment capital.
The first "HP" product to be marketed was Hewlett's design- an audio oscillator marketed for $72 apiece, their first order for 8 of the "HP200B" sold to a client no less prestigious than Walt Disney, who used the devices in creating the sound track for his cinematic masterpiece, "Fantasia". That first order, assembled in a single bay garage, paid back Professor Terman and marked William Hewlett's first step in becoming a business and electronics legend.
Hewlett, the amiable "hands on" man in the Hewlett-Packard team often admitted their early years were spent developing any practical gizmo they could sell, items as unglamorous as automated urinal flushers and electronic lane eyes for bowling alleys to the first practical pocket calculators in the early 1970s. Hewlett interrupted his career in the early 1940s for service in the American Armed Forces during World War II. Hewlett served as a member of the New Development Division of the War Department, and later with the unit which monitored Japanese industrial development until 1947. By 1948 Hewlett-Packard Co., whose products had been heavily in demand during World War II was making more than $1.5 million annually.
From the 1940s forward, William Hewlett was the partner who was commonly found having lunch in the company commissary, or working beside even the greenest designers in the HP project labs. While Packard handled spokesman and civic duties, Hewlett was famed for his kindness and his unshakable faith in his staff: One legendary incident recounted a Hewlett memo that admonished management for locking storage rooms: "Hewlett-Packard" his memo stated, "trusts its employees." During his active leadership, the storage and equipment areas were not locked again. Though Hewlett saw his company grow to employ some 135,000 people and turn impressive annual profits, he took greater pride in having developed a "family" organization with open door management policies.
Hewlett served as his company's president until 1977, the year his wife Flora died. In 1978, Hewlett stepped down as CEO in accordance with a plan to keep higher offices rotating, but stayed on as vice-chairman of the corporation, devoting much time to his outside philanthropic activities. Hewlett had founded the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and was a co-founder of the Public Policy Institute of California, a research institute and think-tank. Hewlett became a major funder of his alma mater, co-founding Stanford's Frederick Terman Fellowship with Packard in memory of their friend, professor, and first financial backer. Hewlett worked as a trustee for Stanford University from 1963-74 and additionally served on the Board of Governors of the Stanford Medical Center. In all, it is estimated that William Hewlett and the Hewlett-Packard Co. donated in excess of $300 million to the university and its affiliated organizations and programs.
Hewlett's additional distinctions included directorships of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers; the Institution of that is now the American Electronics Association; Hewlett directed the Kaiser Foundation Hospital and Health Plan, and was head of the National Drug Abuse Council under President Richard Nixon. Hewlett served as an honorary trustee of the California Academy of Sciences, as a member of the National Academy of Engineering, and on the National Academy of Sciences. Hewlett was appointed a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and served as an Emeritus Trustee of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, D.C. and as an Emeritus Director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, which he had directed for more than a decade.
In 1985, William Hewlett received the nation's highest scientific honor, the National Medal of Science, bestowed by former President Ronald Reagan. Over the decades in which Hewlett worked to advance medical, earth and electronic sciences, he was presented no fewer than 12 honorary doctorate degrees from universities that included Yale, Berkeley, Johns Hopkins and Italy's University of Bologna. The modest garage where he began his business and essentially turned Santa Clara Valley into Silicon Valley was placed on the California registry of Historical Places.
Though Hewlett suffered a stroke in 1993, he had remained active in his charitable works and in his own pursuits as an amateur botanist and photographer through January 12th, 2001, when he died peacefully in his sleep at his California home of natural causes. Preceded in death by his first wife, Flora, and his partner, David Packard, William Hewlett was survived by his wife Rosemary Bradford Hewlett, 5 children and 5 stepchildren.