||This is the original prototype resistance-capacity oscillator built by Bill Hewlett while he was a graduate engineering student at Stanford.
An audio oscillator is an instrument that generates one pure tone
or frequency at a time. Through the years, HP oscillators were used
to design, produce and maintain telephones, stereos, radios and
other audio equipment.
Bill Hewlett designed the prototype for what eventually would be
called the Model 200A audio oscillator as a thesis subject while
working toward his electrical engineering degree at Stanford University
in 1938. The Model 200A would become HP's first product.
Bill felt there was a real need for a new type of oscillator that
would combine the stability of the coil-condenser type and the flexibility
of operation of the beat-frequency type, and still be light and
portable as well as simple in construction and adjustment. His was
a new type of oscillator in which the frequency-determining element
is a resistance-capacity network.
What made Bill's oscillator design unique?
In simple terms, Bill's unique contribution to the oscillator
design was to achieve excellent performance at a low cost by adding
a small light bulb to act as a "negative feedback" element
in the oscillator circuit.
The small light bulb is set to be partially on. If the oscillator's
signal strength becomes stronger or weaker, the light bulb turns
on more or less to cancel the unwanted variations. This allows the
oscillator to maintain a nearly constant output over its designed
How did Bill's prototype end up in the HP Archives?
The prototype was discovered in 1985 by a Stanford student who was
working part-time at HP. His Stanford dormitory had an archives
room in the basement. While cleaning out the basement room, someone
discovered original electronic equipment from the 1930s and 40s,
including Bill's resistance-capacity oscillator. The student decided
the oscillator belonged at HP and wrote a letter to Bill asking
how he could donate it. Eventually the oscillator made its way to
the HP Archives. Bill wrote a letter to the student, saying:
I would like to say "thank you" for your thoughtfulness
in bringing this to my attention, and I am glad that you have joined
HP as a manufacturing engineer.
How do we know this is Bill's prototype?
An article in the September 1955 Watt's Current (the original
HP company magazine) describes how Cy Elwell, an early HP employee,
located and borrowed what is identified as Bill's prototype from
Oscar Villard, Jr., professor of Electrical Engineering at Stanford
University. At the time it was used in a historical exhibit at the
WESCON show. A photo of the oscillator made it possible for HP's
archivist to identify the oscillator currently residing in the HP
Archives as Bill's prototype. After borrowing the machine, HP had
returned it to Stanford, where it was found years later in the dormitory