HP's Way Files Go Up in Flames
October 30, 2017
The Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported yesterday that the vast collection of Bill Hewlett's and David Packard's collected archives, correspondence, writings and speeches — materials that surely included HP's 3000 history at the CEO level — were destroyed in a fire this month. An HP executive who was responsible for the papers during the era the 3000 ruled HP's business computing said "A huge piece of American business history is gone."
The fire broke out in the week of October 9 at the headquarters of Keysight Technologies in Santa Rosa. Keysight got the papers when it spun off from Agilent, the instrumentation business HP spun off in 1999. HP's CEO Lew Platt, the last CEO of the company who worked from the ground up, retired that year.
The blaze was among those that raged over Northern California for much of this month. What's being called the Tubbs Fire destroyed hundreds of homes in the city's Fountaingrove neighborhood. The Hewlett-Packard papers chronicled what the newspaper called "Silicon Valley's first technology company."
More than 100 boxes of the two men’s writings, correspondence, speeches and other items were contained in one of two modular buildings that burned to the ground at the Fountaingrove headquarters of Keysight Technologies.
The Hewlett and Packard collections had been appraised in 2005 at nearly $2 million and were part of a wider company archive valued at $3.3 million. However, those acquainted with the archives and the pioneering company’s impact on the technology world said the losses can’t be represented by a dollar figure.
Brad Whitworth, who had been an HP international affairs manager with oversight of the archives three decades ago, said Hewlett-Packard had been at the forefront of an industry “that has radically changed our world.”
HP's archivist who assembled the historic collection said it was stored irresponsibly at Keysight. While inside HP, the papers were in a vault with full fire retardant protections, according to Karen Lewis. The fires, which Keysight's CEO said were the "most destructive firestorm in state history," left most of the Keysight campus untouched. HP 3000s themselves have survived fires to operate again, often relying on backups to return to service.
No such backup would have been possible for the lost archives. The company was so devoted to its legacy that it preserved Dave and Bill's offices just as they used them while co-leaders of the company. The offices in the HP building in Palo Alto — unthreatened by California files — include overseas coins and currency left by HP executives traveling for Hewlett-Packard. The money sits on the desks.
Once store-to-disk backups are regularly being processed, it’s highly desirable to move them offsite — for the same reasons that it’s desirable to rotate tape media to offsite storage. You want to protect against site-wide catastrophic failures. It could be something as simple as fire, flood, or a disgruntled employee, or as unusual as earthquake or act of war.