Photo of William R. Hewlett

William R. Hewlett

  • National Medal of Science
  • Engineering

For his pioneering accomplishments in the creation and manufacturing of electronics and semi-conductor devices and electronic test instruments.

Growing up, William R. Hewlett enjoyed blowing stuff up. When he went to college at Stanford University, he met another student who also liked to blow things up — David Packard. So in 1939, the two men founded Hewlett-Packard in a Palo Alto garage with a $538 investment. Their company would grow into a major computer manufacturer and give rise to Silicon Valley as a technology and innovation hub.

One of HP’s first breakthroughs came when Disney bought some of Hewlett’s audio oscillators to use in the production of the film Fantasia. The device was also used by hospitals, engineers and the military and helped put the company on the map.

After the United States entered World War II, Hewlett left the company to serve in the Army. When he returned to HP as its vice president in 1945, he found a much bigger company than the one he had left; the company had 200 employees and was growing at a rate of 100 percent a year.

Hewlett became president of HP in 1964, and the company built its first computer and world’s first desktop scientific calculator in the years following. After adding the title of CEO in 1969, Hewlett asked his engineers to built a version of their calculator that could fit in his shirt pocket. In 1972, the company released the HP 35, the world’s first handheld scientific calculator. Hewlett later served as HP’s chairman before becoming its director emeritus in 1987.

By Jacob Kerr