One of the fascinating benefits of meeting new patients in the clinic each day are the stories I hear from people who have led an interesting life full of contributions to the world. While most of these patients have successfully contributed to the world, their families and in various occupations at all levels, they all offer interesting stories as to life in a different time. Almost all of them have hearing impairment, yet most of the clients we meet each day were not deaf or hard of hearing most of their life, but hearing individuals who contributed with their many worldly endeavors. Having been referred to us by their physician or coming in on their own initiative, they sit in the waiting room contemplating their lives and pondering what comes next. Usually they are hoping the audiologist, through our technological capabilities, can help them communicate better and continue being productive.
Occasionally there is a great story coming out of the audiology waiting room that is part of a bigger picture. With their hearing loss, Dave and Bill appear to be similar to other patients in any audiology waiting room anywhere in the world. Theirs, however, is one of those remarkable stories of men who became hearing impaired later in life, who continue to be productive contributors to the company they founded, well into their 80s.
Dave and Bill’s story of two men who become fascinated by the field of Radio Engineering has been told by many and begins in the United States in the early part of the 20th century. Born in 1912 in Pueblo, Colorado, David Packard (1912-1996) was the son of a local attorney. William R. Hewlett (1913-2001), was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the son of a University of Michiganmedical professor. After promising high school performances and some interesting personal situations, both men were accepted at Stanford University and met while taking undergraduate classes from one of the great engineering minds of their time, Dr. Fredrick Terman (1900-1982). In the middle 1930s Dave and Bill took a two week camping and fishing trip to Colorado and became fast friends. At the time, there were rumblings that there might not be any jobs for them after graduation and in 1937, they began discussions of forming their own company which, in 1939 led to the formation of Hewlett-Packard in Palo Alto, California. According to David Packard (1984), since there were no jobs available, maybe they should try to, “make a run for it” by creating their own jobs. The determination of whose name went first in the new company name was decided by the flip of a coin, creating a 50% chance that the company would be called PH rather than HP.
Dave actually did find a job at General Electric in Schenectady, New York, but did not like the atmosphere. He decided to quit and move back to Palo Alto while Bill looked for a place to begin their company. Chosen specifically because of a garage they could use as their workshop, the property offered a three-room, ground floor apartment for Dave and his new wife Lucile and an 8×18-foot shed that served as home for Bill as well. The pair shared the $45 per month rent for the 12 X 18 foot headquarters of the new Hewlett Packard Company. The garage (now designated by the State of California as the “Birthplace of Silicon Valley”) stands behind a two-story Shingle Style home originally built at 367 & 387 Addison Road for Dr. John C. Spencer about 1905. The exact construction date of “the garage” is unknown, but while there is no evidence of its presence on insurance maps dated 1908, by 1924 it is clearly denoted on updated documents as a private garage. The garage served as research lab, development workshop, and manufacturing facility for early products, including their seminal Model 200A audio oscillator.
The new Hewlett-Packard (HP) company produced its first product, the resistance-capacitance audio oscillator, which was used to test sound equipment; it was begun in 1938 and named the HP Model 200A. One of HP’s first customers was Walt Disney who bought eight of the germinal audio oscillator products to check the sound equipment on his 1940 movie Fantasia. From the beginning, the two engineers looked toward the manufacture of high quality equipment that would scientifically assess of complex and highly technical values in unique ways. As sales increased, the garage was outgrown, and in 1940 HP moved into larger quarters nearby on Page Mill Road to accommodate their growing business. During World War II, the infant company produced radio, sonar, radar, nautical, and aviation devices for the US government and the war effort. Many of these products were innovative and, true to their company reputation, always of very high quality.
Bill Hewlett served in the Army during World War II and David Packard ran the company during his absence. Hewlett was on the staff of the Army’s Chief Signal Officer and headed the electronics section of the New Development Division of the War Department Special Staff during the War. In the 1950s and 1960s, the company began working with other technologies that carried them through times when other companies may have struggled. Part of their successful philosophy was what they called the “HP Way”. This was to encourage creativity and reject the traditional hierarchy and formality that was a popular business model at the time. Both Bill and Dave felt that colleagues should be open and interactive to obtain as much input as possible on new ideas as well as engineering projects.
Examples of the interactive process was their movement in light emitting diodes (LEDs) and their openness to electronic calculators at a time when these products were all mechanical. In their company, staff received generous benefits, were entrusted with considerable responsibility and rarely fired. They set general objectives and assisted those that carried them out and did not flaunt their wealth or power in the industry. Of course, this open and creative environment led HP from scientific instruments to pocket calculators and then on to computers. The HP emphasis was always been on quality, and not necessarily low price. According to Sugar 92015), an interesting aside to their story is that Steve Jobs, at the time a 12 year old 8th grader, obtained Bill Hewlett’s phone number from the Palo Alto phone book and called him up – looking for some parts to build frequency counter. Always on the look out for new talent, Hewlett not only took the call, he encouraged the boy, let him have the parts and gave him a summer job assembling frequency counters. Bill reciprocated Dave’s management of the company during WWII and during the years 1969-1971, allowing Dave to serve his country in the Nixon Administration as US Deputy Secretary of Defense under Melvin Laird.
Bill served in various capacities at HP until 1987, while Dave continued until 1993. By the time of Dave’s death in 1996, HP was one of the most successful American companies, producing all types of scientific, electronic and computer products. While the company suffered some ups and downs for some years as result of some unwise acquisitions and significant competition, it survives today as one of the giants of the scientific and electronic instruments industry. (Click on Dave’s 1995 picture for a great overview of their career and the development of their company).
While Dave and Bill have long since passed, like many older people, they were significantly hearing impaired but still contributing to their company later in their lives. They served on many boards and were generous philanthropists throughout their lives. It is highly likely that they were using technologies, electronic principles and products that were designed on calculators and computers invented with their influence. For obvious reasons, there is not much specific information on their hearing losses but Dave was using a body hearing aid during a 1984 interview and was known to have a hearing loss for quite some time. By 1995, a year before his death, in this video interview, he sported a BTE in his right ear which is obvious to the trained eye. Bill is shown in the same 1995 video using what looks to be ITE devices. (Dr. Rodney Perkins was their ENT physician and fishing buddy, thus, I would bet Bill’s aids were ReSound Ed-3’s). These men of our time built a company, inventing many of the commonplace things we use everyday, such as calculators, and computers.
What a treat it is each day to meet new patients, many with less famous, but similar lifetime stories of contribution to the world. Hats off to the world’s audiology clinicians, seeing patients everyday, helping them to remain contributing individuals late in their lives to their businesses, families, and other endeavors. As a group, the world’s audiologists meet new patients, provide hearing evaluations, hearing instrumentation, follow up rehabilitative treatment to patients, some famous, some not because, in the words of David Packard, they “Believe That They Can Change The World”.