Even in the
psychedelic '60s, HP was out in front of the pack. The company
helped invent the language that would become part of today's
technology lexicon. Take the term "personal computer," for
According to Yale Law School librarian Fred Shapiro, the
phrase was first documented in a 1968 Science magazine
ad for the Hewlett-Packard 9100A personal computer. That's
eight years before the term made its first appearance in the
venerable Oxford English Dictionary.
A desktop scientific calculator, the 9100A weighed in at a
hefty 40 poundsnot most people's idea of a portable PC.
But at the time, the "Powerful Computing Genie," was in the
vanguard, as the ad's purple prose illustrates.
"Ready, willing and able," trumpets the copy. As powerful
as the 9100A may have been, the device's capabilities
definitely didn't target the average consumer.
"Ready to relieve
you of waiting to get on the big computer," the ad declares.
"Willing to perform log and trig functions, even hyperbolics
and coordinate transformations at the touch of a key. Able to
take on roots of a fifth-degree polynomial, Bessel functions,
elliptic integrals and regression analysis."
The 9100A did all thatand morefor only $4,900
You Say Calculator, I Say
Although the HP 9100A was really a desktop computer,
the company decided to sell it as a calculator, explains
the HP corporate archivist. "At the time, the
perception was that a computer had to be big to be
accepted by the market," she says.
Calculators were also more likely to be bought than
computers, she adds. Purchasing agents were authorized
to buy calculators, whereas computers required top
management participation, regardless of the cost.
One of the company's co-founders had another reason
for marketing the 9100A as HP did.
"If we had called it a computer, it would have been
rejected by our customer's computer gurus because it
didn't look like an IBM," Bill Hewlett once remarked.
"We, therefore, decided to call it a calculator and all
such nonsense disappeared."