Woz on the importance of HP in the creation of Apple

For many years, Woz has maintained a series of email lists to pass along news stories, technology he finds interesting, favorite jokes, things like that. A few days ago, Woz shared a link to a brilliant article about Hewlett Packard and the HP-35 calculator.

Here’s a link to the HP story. An amazing read. Hard to overstate just how important HP is in the evolution of Silicon Valley and our tech industry.

If nothing else, jump to the end for the bit about Steve Jobs buying the HP property for Apple’s new HQ. More on that later in this post.

The HP article is a gem. But what I found even more interesting was Woz’s comments on the article. With permission, I’ve quoted Woz’s comments in their entirety below.

My favorite bit:

I sold my own HP-65 for a few hundred dollars to start Apple.


I finished my 3rd year of college in 1972 and took a year off to earn the money to pay for my 4th year myself. My friend Allen Baum interned at HP Labs and Allen told hP about my digital design abilities. I was interviewed and hired as a digital technician/engineer by the calculator lab manager Tom Whitney. I would work for Tom 3 times in my life, including an HP computer division across the street after I declined to move to Corvallis (Alice’s choice was to stay), and also at Apple after we hired Tom as our first lab manager at Apple.

Realize that this HP-35 calculator became the equivalent of the hottest tech products of our times, like the latest iPhone. It was the branding leader for consumer electronic products in this time frame. It was an honor to say that you worked there.

I started a job at HP’s calculator division, APD (Advanced Products Division), in Cupertino. We basically had 2 buildings and even assembled the calculators there. I started by adding some logic and instruction ability to the processor set (2 chips, with the other 3 chips being ROM’s to hold the software that made the calculator work). I wrote programs in Fortran to track every logical node in the chips, printing 0’s and 1’s, to test that my designs would work. HP was impressed with my first job assignment. I was a young engineer (22 years old) with no college degree. HP made me a full-on design engineer at that point. My work turned up in the calculators following the HP-35. That would be the HP-45, HP-65, HP-67 and maybe others. I sold my own HP-65 for a few hundred dollars to start Apple.

Oh, before I started at HP, I actually had bought the precious HP-35 calculator for $395. It cost the equivalent of $5,000 to $10,000 today. How could I afford that, while still in college? The answer is that Jobs and I had made some money selling blue boxes. I sort of owe my success to people who kept me from getting arrested for the blue box activities. It was a close call, but I agree with Steve Jobs that without the blue box we never would have had Apple.

I met and knew and respected and even had good times with the key people mentioned in this article. This included the time in my life where I ran dial-a-joke in my Cupertino apartment.

The comments at the end about location of where Steve Jobs worked are quite wrong. The APD division did move to Corvallis, OR, but not back to Cupertino. Palo Alto is a different location. The property that Apple bought in Cupertino for the ’spaceship’ campus was a different, larger, computer division of HP. But the purchase did include a bit of land just across Pruneridge Avenue, which is where our APD buildings were located. The record about this is not really known, but it’s in one of those 2 buildings where I did most of my computer design and prototyping that became the Apple I and Apple II. I also did a lot of other interesting design work for fun and for outside products there. For the sake of nostalgia, after Apple announced the start of the ‘spaceship’ project, I drove Janet, by memory, to where our APD buildings were and actually recognized them.

The article mentions a wage freeze during the economic downturn of the early 1970’s, around 1973 to be precise. Most companies were laying off 10% of their workers. That meant that the newest, youngest employees were on the street without a job. HP did something different. They cut our work and salaries by 10%. We got one day off every 2 weeks, a Friday. I used those 3-day weekends to drive up to Oregon and visit Jobs and a girlfriend at Reed College in Portland. I always admired HP for this approach. It’s a bit of socialism but it’s like we’re all family in the company and we take care of each other.