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Hewlett-Packard history lost to Santa Rosa fires

Founders' correspondence and documents weren't yet digitised

Updated: HP responds One of Silicon Valley's most important historic archives, that of the Hewlett-Packard company, was destroyed in this month's Santa Rosa wildfires in California.

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat blames the loss of the archives on a decision to remove them from vaults that used to house them.

The paper archives, which hadn't yet been digitised, included more than 100 boxes of correspondence and speeches between William Hewlett and David Packard. They were in the care of Keysight Technologies, which was spun out of HP spinoff Agilent.

Hewlett-Packard was founded in 1939, a year after its founders started working on audio test equipment in the now-famous Palo Alto garage. Their early customers were Hollywood (Walt Disney was among their first, buying their HP200A oscillators to qualify movie sound systems for the release of Fantasia).

The importance of the company's test equipment can't be overstated, since Hewlett-Packard kit enabled the development of the hardware created by Silicon Valley.

The fires, which killed at least 23 Santa Rosa residents and destroyed 6,800 homes, left most of Keysight's campus with minor damage, but the modular buildings that housed the archives were completely destroyed.

More than 300 Keysight staff are working in other locations, and former HP facilities in Rohnert Park’s Somo Village could be used to house 900 personnel by next week, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat says.

The newspaper says the documents were once housed in a fire-protected room, which was "humidity controlled", had no windows and contained "foam retardant", but Keysight spokesperson Jeff Weber responded that the "most destructive firestorm in state history" made it impossible to protect some of the Hewlett-Packard collection. ®

Update: An HP spokesperson has contacted The Register to say the lost documents weren't from the founders. Here is the statement in full:

"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."

We have asked both HP and Keysight to clarify what material was lost. ®

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