Hewlett-Packard audio oscillator

In 1938, after returning from stints at General Electric and MIT, respectively, David Packard and William Hewlett, with the encouragement of their former Stanford University professor, Fred Terman, went looking for a place to set up their nascent company in what is now known as Silicon Valley. "The boys," as their landlady called them, set out with a business model that is now famous for including everything but what products they would sell.

Eventually, however, they settled on an established product, an audio oscillator, but improved it in such a way that they were able to significantly undersell other vendors, in part because they made the devices themselves in the Packard's Palo Alto, Calif. garage.

Hewlett and Packard's new company, Hewlett-Packard, quickly became profitable, and they were only in the garage for about 18 months. Today, however, the house in front, where Packard lived with his wife, the shed behind, where Hewlett lived as a bachelor, and the garage itself are the property of HP and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places as "the birthplace of Silicon Valley."

Although this is an authentic HP 200B audio oscillator, everything in the garage has been placed there as a re-creation by HP's archivist. This was the second model of the audio oscillator. An earlier version, the 200A, was much more rare.

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The HP Garage

A look inside the HP Garage, which sits behind an unassuming house in Palo Alto, Calif. While considered a museum, the garage is not open to the public, despite thousands of annual visits by people who have read about it in various guidebooks.

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Birthplace of Silicon Valley

Anyone who knows the history of Silicon Valley knows that the region was already home to several important technology companies before Hewlett and Packard went into business together.

But the HP Garage is now known as the "birthplace of Silicon Valley," in large part because of the many tech companies that spun off of HP.

Hewlett-Packard purchased the house in front, and the garage, in 2000. It is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

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Workbench and shelves

Hewlett-Packard's archivist, Anna Mancini, spent a great deal of time scouting for the kinds of things that Hewlett and Packard would have had in the garage when they were operating their nascent company there. However, while the garage itself--which was completely renovated in 2005--is still original, everything in it was placed there as a representation of what it would have looked like inside when the two innovators were there.

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HP Audio oscillator

A faceplate for an original HP audio oscillator of the kind that Hewlett and Packard built and sold from the garage. While the company moved out of the garage after just 18 months, it manufactured the devices from 1938 until the 1960s.

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Photo of Hewlett and Packard

Here are Hewlett and Packard in one of the only known photographs taken inside the HP Garage. According to Mancini, the photo itself was staged. They never would have worn a suit jacket while working in the garage, Mancini said, having decided that a more informal, western style of business was preferable to the more rigid, east-coast style they had learned at GE and MIT.

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Stack of audio oscillators

A stack of HP audio oscillators--the company's first products--sits in a corner of the HP Garage. Mancini said she buys the devices on eBay for between $75 and $300 for the company archives. The products originally sold for $54.40 and then later, when Hewlett and Packard realized they were losing money at that price, they cost $71.50.

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Air conditioner schematic

Among the other projects Hewlett and Packard worked on around the time they founded HP was building air conditioners for other companies or institutions. This is a schematic from one of those units.

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Model 200B schematic

This is a copy of the schematic from an HP 200B audio oscillator.

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Oscillator guide

This is a copy, from HP's archives, of a catalog for the company's original audio oscillators.

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Drill press

Packard brought a number of tools back with him to Palo Alto from his job at General Electric. This is a representation of the drill press that Hewlett and Packard had in the garage during the 18 months the company was there.

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Speaker

This is a representation of the speaker that Hewlett and Packard would have had for working on their audio oscillators. A speaker was necessary for proper operation of the devices.

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Ham radio

Though this isn't the original ham radio found in the HP Garage, it's representative of one that is thought to have been there and used by Packard.

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General Radio Audio oscillator

HP had many fans for its innovative work with audio oscillators. Among the companies HP worked with was General Radio, and this is one of that company's audio oscillators.

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Ammeter

An ammeter, which is used to measure the electric current, in terms of amperes, in a circuit. It is thought that Hewlett and Packard would have had one of these devices in the garage when HP was based there in 1938 and 1939.

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Two-step amplifier

This two-step amplifier is another relic from the 1930s and 1940s, the era when Hewlett and Packard founded their company in what is now known as the HP Garage.

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Ham radio pole

Though this pole on top of the HP Garage looks like it was only used to hang a clothesline, it actually had wiring in it that was likely connected to Packard's ham radio.

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Photo by: Daniel Terdiman/CNET / Caption by:

House with closed garage

The house with the closed garage in the background.

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