Hewlett-Packard Archive Destroyed
Written by Sue Gee   
Tuesday, 31 October 2017

A valuable archive of the history of Silicon Valley was among the victims of the Tubbs fire, the wildfire that has caused widespread destruction in Northern California, killing at least 23 people and destroying 6,800 homes.


William Hewlett and David Packard founded their pioneering electronics company, recognised as the original Silicon Valley technology company, in a Palo Alto garage with $538 in cash in 1938. The archive that has been lost, more than 100 boxes containing the  writings of the two men, their correspondence and speeches and other items, was valued at nearly $2 million in 2005 and formed part of a company archive worth $3.3 million.

Keysight Technologies, the world's largest electronics measurement company and traces its roots to HP, acquired the archive in 2014, when it split from Agilent Technologies, another former HP asset and had it housed in an outbuilding hat was razed to the ground at its headquarters in Santa Rosa's Fountaingrove neighbourhood.

In the news report of the loss, Karen Lewis, the former HP staff archivist who first assembled the collections, called it irresponsible to put them in a building without proper protection, recounting that both Hewlett-Packard and Agilent had previously housed the archives within special vaults inside permanent facilities, complete with foam fire retardant and other safeguards. Lewis also argued that the archive should have gone to Stanford University, where the founders were alumni, saying:

“These records belonged in the public trust. They should not have stayed with a private corporation.”

Anger about the situation has also been expressed by Charles H. House, former HP corporate engineering director and now a trustee for the Computer History Museum. He was part of the team that initially hired Lewis in the mid-80s to preserve HP’s history and his complaint is that HP hadn’t made the existence of this cache of documents widely known and had been restrictive in access to all of its archives. While working on The HP Phenomenon: Innovation and Business Transformation, House and his co-author Raymond Price tried multiple times to see the full archives in the late ‘90s and mid-2000s, but were only given limited access to collections held in the company’s Palo Alto and Santa Clara facilities. The particular documents lost in the recent fires were never made available, and House and Price relied in large part on private collectors for their research.

Responding to earlier news reports a press release from HP Inc. the company formed in 2015 from Hewlett-Packard's computer and printer businesses states:

“At the time of the separation of Hewlett Packard Enterprise and HP Inc., archives were established to ensure the 75+ year history was preserved. These archives are housed in Atlanta, Georgia. During the recent Santa Rosa fire, archives owned by Keysight Technologies (a company spun off from Agilent Technologies; once part of HP) suffered damage. Reports that HP founder archives burned are misleading. HP’s sites were not impacted and archives remain intact in both physical and digital formats.  HP’s archives contain hundreds of items related to HP’s founders including many examples of speeches, personal correspondence, writings and other materials. In addition, many other materials from the founders are part of public collections, such as the William Hewlett papers (1907-2010) held by Stanford University. The HP Garage where the company was founded is a historical landmark noted as the birthplace of Silicon Valley and serves as a private museum.”

While there has undoubtedly been some loss of material of historical value from the personal collections of Hewlett and Packard it is encouraging to think that much of the archive is available in digital form, increasing its potential for accessibility. Back in 2010 we ran an item HP to Liberate Bletchley Archive reporting the news that Hewlett Packard was  donating a Scanning and Document Management solution to enable Bletchley Park, the UK's wartime code-breaking headquarters to bring its archive of documents into the digital age.It would be ironic if hadn't also seen the value of digitizing its own archive. Although the history of Silicon Vally is more recent, future generations will want to know about it.

More Information

Hewlett-Packard historical archives destroyed in Santa Rosa fires

Loss of Hewlett-Packard Archive (IEEE Spectrum)

Related Articles

HP to Liberate Bletchley Archive


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Last Updated ( Tuesday, 31 October 2017 )