David Packard was born in Pueblo, Colorado, and received his undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from Stanford University in 1934. Packard proved himself to be as versatile on the athletic field as in the classroom, setting university track records as a freshman and receiving varsity letters in basketball and football.
From 1936 to 1938 he worked as an electrical engineer for General Electric Company in Schenectady, New York. In 1938 he returned to Stanford on a fellowship to complete his master’s degree. While there, he befriended fellow engineering student William Hewlett, and with a mere $538 in capital they decided to set up business in Packard’s garage. The name Hewlett-Packard (HP) was decided on in time-honored fashion—by the toss of a coin—and was incorporated by 1947. Their first product was an audio oscillator, and among HP’s first customers was Walt Disney. Packard proved an outstanding manager; under his guidance the business moved from analytic instruments into the wider field of computing. Hewlett-Packard was already a giant in consumer electronics by the 1980s.
Packard served as deputy secretary of defense under President Richard Nixon from 1969 to 1971 and dealt with many of the issues facing the U.S. military as the Vietnam War drew to a close. He also served on a number of presidential commissions during the 1970s and 1980s, and from 1990 to 1992 was a member of President George Bush’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology.
Packard was honored as a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and as a member of the National Academy of Engineering and Instrument Society of America. He was also a cofounder of the American Electronics Association.
In 1993 Packard retired as chairman of the board of Hewlett-Packard to become chairman emeritus, a position he retained until his death in March 1996.
Packard (left) and Hewlett developing their first product in a Palo Alto, California garage in 1939. Courtesy of Hewlett-Packard.