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Hewlett-Packard Historical Archive Destroyed In California Fires ( 124

An anonymous reader quotes the Press Democrat: When deadly flames incinerated hundreds of homes in Santa Rosa's Fountaingrove neighborhood earlier this month, they also destroyed irreplaceable papers and correspondence held nearby and once belonging to the founders of Silicon Valley's first technology company, Hewlett-Packard. The Tubbs fire consumed the collected archives of William Hewlett and David Packard, the tech pioneers who in 1938 formed an electronics company in a Palo Alto garage with $538 in cash. 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. Keysight, the world's largest electronics measurement company, traces its roots to HP and acquired the archives in 2014 when its business was split from Agilent Technologies -- itself an HP spinoff.

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... Karen Lewis, the former HP staff archivist who first assembled the collections, called it irresponsible to put them in a building without proper protection. Both Hewlett-Packard and Agilent earlier had housed the archives within special vaults inside permanent facilities, complete with foam fire retardant and other safeguards, she said. "This could easily have been prevented, and it's a huge loss," Lewis said.

Lewis has described the collection as "the history of Silicon Valley ... This is the history of the electronics industry." Keysight Technologies spokesman Jeff Weber said the company "is saddened by the loss of documents that remind us of our visionary founders, rich history and lineage to the original Silicon Valley startup."

23 Californians were killed in the fires, which also destroyed 6,800 homes, and Weber says Keysight had taken "appropriate and responsible" steps to protect the archive, but "the most destructive firestorm in state history prevented efforts to protect portions of the collection."
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Hewlett-Packard Historical Archive Destroyed In California Fires

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  • Real value: $0. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by whoever57 ( 658626 ) on Sunday October 29, 2017 @06:43PM (#55454801) Journal

    While these were locked up so that only a very small number of people could see them, their value was effectively zero.

    Archives only have value when they can be studied. Lock them away and they are useless.

    • by GrumpySteen ( 1250194 ) on Sunday October 29, 2017 @07:28PM (#55454959)

      Ah, but you're forgetting that they have whatever value they can convince the insurance company that they had. Admitting that the archives were useful only for seriously obsessed historians would lead to a payout of much less than $3.3 million.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by del_diablo ( 1747634 )

        If they where of serious value, they would have to be stored properly.
        Not somewhere that would burn down to a wild wildfire.
        Or, at the least thats the case if this even resembles what happens to insurance of personal property.

        • by K. S. Kyosuke ( 729550 ) on Sunday October 29, 2017 @07:47PM (#55455043)

          If they where of serious value, they would have to be stored properly.

          ...or already digitized.

          • by drew_kime ( 303965 ) on Sunday October 29, 2017 @08:15PM (#55455167) Journal

            If they where of serious value, they would have to be stored properly.

            ...or already digitized.

            Yes, that. Could no one at HP put their hands on a decent flatbed scanner?

            • by Anonymous Coward

              HP employees are probably not allowed to buy Epson or Cannon scanners.

              • ....or if you are really serious about scanning some docs perhaps a Brother or Fijitsu

                • My HP was flip a coin and maybe it'll print without having to reinstall the drivers. My Brother printer has gone 100 pages and counting, printing every couple days, and I only had to install drivers. My friend has the last generation one and has gone through 3 or 4 toner cartridges which would be somewhere around 6-10,000 pages, and has never had an issue.

                  • I've had really good luck with Brother. I just bought a new with a duplexer to replace the old one that is still going, but I did notice the new one does not print as well as the old one.

            • Forget DECENT... (Score:2, Interesting)

              by Anonymous Coward

              HP had an entire Printer test division. I assume at least some of that involved flatbed scanner checks as well (once they started doing the combo printers which should have been the early '00s.)

              Meaning they could have been doing this before all the spinoffs as a fucking *SCANNER TEST PROJECT* in between calibration scan pages.

              But instead we lost what might or might not have been an important part of Silicon Valley history because people couldn't be arsed to scan it in while it was still corporeal!

              While we'r

              • by Shotgun ( 30919 )

                Unless Bitsavers finish their work, there is a change in digital formats in 5 years, and this archive isn't rediscovered until 10 years later when there is no machinery available to read the hard disk or usb thumb drive it is encoded on.

                Unfortunately, digital storage is the most ephemeral means of storing information man has ever created. If they wanted the manuals to be available for a reasonably long time, they'd copy it to papyrus.

            • by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Monday October 30, 2017 @03:29AM (#55456205) Homepage Journal

              Could no one at HP put their hands on a decent flatbed scanner?

              The problem was they they couldn't afford the ink.

    • and now it's history has, too.

    • Backup is overrated.
    • There wouldn't even had been a loss if they had all at least been scanned, the first step to sharing...

    • Nah, they are appraised high to raise the net worth of the company such they could borrow against it. Equity!
    • While these were locked up so that only a very small number of people could see them, their value was effectively zero.

      Archives only have value when they can be studied. Lock them away and they are useless.

      Not to mention that if they hadn't been locked away, there likely would have been some digital copies of the material. It's truly a shame that the actual artifacts were lost, but the real crime is that the information they contained was also lost - especially when it could have been stored on a device that fits comfortably in one hand.

  • Hmm... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by EmeraldBot ( 3513925 ) on Sunday October 29, 2017 @06:48PM (#55454815)
    So important and valuable that nobody ever thought to scan them into Google Drive? And they weren't accessible either? These probably did contain interesting historical data, and it really sucks that they're gone, but what did we (the public) lose? We never had anything to begin with :/
    • by mikael ( 484 )

      They might have had information things on things which hadn't been patented. Ideas for future projects that were never implemented. Yes, they should have scanned in all those documents, and put the backup hard disk drives in a fire safe. But it wasn't justified on cost probably. Not the first time that an research institution has lost original work: [] []

      • Really advanced tech from the 1940s? It wouldn't matter anyway. Prior art rules were revised a few years ago that now it's "first to file" not first to invent.
  • by innocent_white_lamb ( 151825 ) on Sunday October 29, 2017 @06:50PM (#55454821)

    Boxes of unsorted papers piled into a bin at a storage facility don't have much value at all (other than as fire starter, which function they apparently did indeed fulfill.)

    If they were real archives they would be kept somewhere that they could be indexed and studied. Papers would be scanned and put online for scholars to view.

    Boxes in a garage (or garage equivalent)? Meh.

    They suddenly become valuable to someone in hindsight. Sure it is. Just like the kids comic book collection that Mom threw out after telling him to clean up his room fifty times over the course of the previous week. If it's valuable, look after it. Otherwise, it ain't.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Value is variable. That comic book collection might not have had value to the person who threw them out, or maybe not to the kid at the time. 50 years later, they could be valuable to many people.

  • That's all that grabbed my attention, and I saw as a loss.

  • So what? We have the HP Calculator Museum [] online now! Screw those physical artifacts!

    *obsessively fondles HP-11c* My Precious
  • The vast majority of information in the world isn't accessible by internet access or database on a computer. Most real information requires physical access for investigation, and that is the case here. The information was cataloged but idiots who don't pay for things fantasize about immediate access. Do you all have some medical condition or something that makes you retarded? There is no excuse for people at all involved in information technology to not understand both. Idiots who hate history don't make it
  • Priceless Irony. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by geekmux ( 1040042 ) on Sunday October 29, 2017 @07:22PM (#55454933)

    So, it's 2017.

    Previously valued at $2 million, but were apparently priceless artifacts related to a company known for making some of the best printers in the world.

    Did anybody bother to fucking scan them?

    If not, I assume it was a flood of irony that helped put out flames of raging stupidity.

    • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

      they had value because they were not scanned and distributed freely. if someone wanted to make a book of the two fellows for example, this could have had much more value as it was...

      however, since they weren't put in a fireproof housing, I kinda doubt the insurer is willing to pay 2 mil for them - that and the company really didn't give a rats ass about them apparently.

    • by inking ( 2869053 )
      I do historical research and you wouldn’t believe how many archival materials are not scanned at all or stored on microfilm in a single location. It’s absolutely absurd.
  • by Gojira Shipi-Taro ( 465802 ) on Sunday October 29, 2017 @07:22PM (#55454935) Homepage

    She wasn't satisfied ruining everything great about the company's past, she wanted to wipe all record of it too.

    • The Agilent spinoff was slightly before Ms. Fiorina was CEO of HP. And in any case that was years ago (1999). Agilent, and now Keysight, has had plenty of time to come up with a secure storage location if they wanted to.

      • According to the summary, let alone TFA, Agilent *did* have adequate storage, it's the second spinoff, Keysight, that screwed up here
    • That was actually the first thing I thought. But I checked, and she wouldn't have been the one responsible. This is one thing she didn't do.

  • Tech company papers, lost because the company that sells millions of scanners did not scan its own historical documents ...

    With incompetence this bad, does it really need a Carly to finish it off? Any run of the mill CEO could have run it to ground, you don't need the extra stupid.

  • No digital copy (Score:4, Insightful)

    by manu0601 ( 2221348 ) on Sunday October 29, 2017 @08:54PM (#55455309)
    It is worth 2 million USD and nobody thought about making a digital copy? Or perhaps the 2 million figure is just for insurance company?
  • by kenwd0elq ( 985465 ) <> on Sunday October 29, 2017 @08:59PM (#55455323)

    Also destroyed was the home and museum of "Peanuts" cartoonist Charles Schultz.

  • Or fuck up.

  • by Frosty Piss ( 770223 ) * on Monday October 30, 2017 @12:09AM (#55455889)

    Suppose there actually WHERE copies or backups or whatever and Keysight Technologies simply want everyone to think the stuff is gone? And why would they do that?

    Well, it depends on what kind of agreement they have with Agilent Technologies or HP about who gets paid what and owns what if Keysight finds anything interesting in those files.

    And now who's to say now where Keysight got their ideas that fall into the areas of interest in Mr. Hewlett and Mr. Packard's personal notes and assorted ephemera, when there's no way to check the stuff that burned up with no backups?

    Yes, of course no one made backups of material that was valuble enough to be negotiated for because of some perceived value of the content when Keysigh split off from Agilent... Of course not.

  • by Nexion ( 1064 )

    Honestly I cannot adequately convey how much I completely loathe HP as a company, but this is truly a tragedy to lose a huge part of human history to fire. As someone who had the first half of their life erased by fire I can sympathize greatly, but while my history mattered to no one, I have to wonder, why this was not better protected. I somewhat feel certain records should be retained indefinitely, and while the "personal papers" of these two individuals might drive me to vomit; the loss to the future can

  • I get that subsidiaries can be split off and end up with some of the assets of the parent company. But it seems odd the personal archives of the 2 founders would be among those assets. The parent company is the one with the history.

  • I'd ask Elliot, but he probably doesn't recall.
  • I don't understand... clearly if they were of any importance they would have been digitized by now... and probably stored in a fireproof vault.
  • Very allegoric (Score:4, Insightful)

    by OneHundredAndTen ( 1523865 ) on Monday October 30, 2017 @09:18AM (#55456885)
    Pretty much in line with HP's protracted death.

    Sad to hear. $1000 in h/w and one dedicated soul could have digitized it all. A reasonable insurance price for a $2M asset.

  • They could have gotten in touch with a company that makes scanners or something where they could have digitized all this... too bad.
  • HP has been cursed by the Electron Gods ever since they spun off their heart and called it Aglient.
  • Carly Fiorina wanted for questioning.
  • Without backups all data is stored in /tmp

Machines that have broken down will work perfectly when the repairman arrives.