The Garage – Birthplace of the Silicon Valley
Roopinder Tara posted on August 29, 2017 | 1360 views
Figure 1 – From humble beginnings. (Image courtesy of HP’s archives.)
Figure 1 – From humble beginnings. (Image courtesy of HP’s archives.)

On a sun-dappled lane in Palo Alto, California, behind a modest 2 story wood-shingled home, is one of the most famous garages in the world. It is where Dave Packard and Bill Hewlett created the first audio oscillator, which would lead to the creation of the electronics giant HP. The oscillator design was based on Packard’s master thesis at Stanford University.

The location – including the garage, the house and the shed – have been declared a historic site, the very birthplace of Silicon Valley.

To Valley natives and tech workers everywhere, the bench on which the oscillator was built may have more religious significance than the cradle of Christ, the garage more hallowed than the manger.

HP is currently one of the world’s biggest computer and printer companies now intent on entering the manufacturing industry, but that was not the plan in 1938. Success, however, forced their hand. An order of 6 oscillators from Disney pushed the garage over capacity, and in 1940 the company had to move to larger facilities.

Packard had eschewed the big corporations, wanting to do things his own way. He gave up a career at GE to set up in the garage with his partner Hewlett and a working capital of $538. The order of their names was decided by a coin toss.

Figure 2 – In “The Garage.” A 12 by 18 ft. wooden structure. Pictured here is an audio oscillator being assembled in 1938. Rent for the garage, shed and house was $45 a month. The manufacturing operation had little more than hand tools on workbenches and a drill press. (Image courtesy of Roopinder Tara.)
Figure 2 – In “The Garage.” A 12 by 18 ft. wooden structure. Pictured here is an audio oscillator being assembled in 1938. Rent for the garage, shed and house was $45 a month. The manufacturing operation had little more than hand tools on workbenches and a drill press. (Image courtesy of Roopinder Tara.)

Figure 3 – David Packard lived and worked in this 8 ft. by 18 ft. shed. Note the slide rule. Back then, during the Great Depression, the floors were dirt. There was a bed that looked like one from a prison. We are told Hewlett liked the outdoors.(Image courtesy of Roopinder Tara.)
Figure 3 – David Packard lived and worked in this 8 ft. by 18 ft. shed. Note the slide rule. Back then, during the Great Depression, the floors were dirt. There was a bed that looked like one from a prison. We are told Hewlett liked the outdoors.(Image courtesy of Roopinder Tara.)

Figure 4 – HP’s founders would sign contracts on the kitchen table. The telephones still had dials.(Image courtesy of Roopinder Tara.)
Figure 4 – HP’s founders would sign contracts on the kitchen table. The telephones still had dials.(Image courtesy of Roopinder Tara.)

Figure 5–Hewlettoccupied the lower floor with his new wife Lucille. At this point in time, we’re still a generation away from HP creating the prized RPN calculators, which helped get many engineers through school (the author included). The first floor of the house is for public viewing. The security guards live upstairs.(Image courtesy of Roopinder Tara.)
Figure 5–Hewlettoccupied the lower floor with his new wife Lucille. At this point in time, we’re still a generation away from HP creating the prized RPN calculators, which helped get many engineers through school (the author included). The first floor of the house is for public viewing. The security guards live upstairs.(Image courtesy of Roopinder Tara.)

We toured the company headquarters, a sprawling campus not far in Palo Alto, where thousands of HP employees now work (although many seemed to have taken the day off when we visited).

Renowned HP engineer Chandrakant Patel gives us a “lunch and learn” and proudly tells of his daughter getting an engineering job at today’s hot engineering company, Tesla.

Figure 6– The house that built HP. Behind it is the famous garage. The plaque reads: “Birthplace of the Silicon Valley.” It is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places by the US Dept. of the Interior.(Image courtesy of Roopinder Tara.)
Figure 6– The house that built HP. Behind it is the famous garage. The plaque reads: “Birthplace of the Silicon Valley.” It is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places by the US Dept. of the Interior.(Image courtesy of Roopinder Tara.)

Figure 7 – HP’s first success, the Model 200A audio oscillator. Many of HP’s older creations were donated by employees to the Addison Avenue home that is now the HP museum. “We had to buy some on eBay,” confessesour guide. (Image courtesy of Roopinder Tara.)

Figure 7 – HP’s first success, the Model 200A audio oscillator. Many of HP’s older creations were donated by employees to the Addison Avenue home that is now the HP museum. “We had to buy some on eBay,” confessesour guide. (Image courtesy of Roopinder Tara.)

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