1956 – Hewlett Speeches

Box 1, Folder 11 – General Speeches


March 6, 1956 – “What’s wrong with the IRE and What You Can Do About It”


3/6/56, Copy of typewritten text of Hewlett’s speech


Addressing his audience of senior engineering students Hewlett says he was “somewhat coerced into selecting a title, and in desperation I chose a title under which I could say most anything. Actually, I’ll be fair, I’ll discuss the subject ‘What’s wrong with the IRE’ – it’s very simple, many of you are not members. What can you do about it – join!”


Having said that much, Hewlett says what he really wants to talk about is “you- your prospects and…incidentally, the extent to which the IRE may help you in the next few years, the years that are probably some of the most formative in your life.” He talks about the growing job opportunities in research and development, although reminding them they will start at the “bottom rung of the engineering ladder.”


And he adds that “you are entering probably the most productive ten years of your life. And I intend to prove this.” He gives some specific examples:


Marconi – age 21 when he first established the principle of radio transmission.

Newton – 23 when he proposed his three basic laws.

Maxwell – 15 when he read his first paper before the Royal Society in Edinburgh, and was only 26 when he presented his paper on lines of force which was really the basis of his theory of electricity and magnetism.

Madam Curie – only 31

Edison – only 30 when he developed the incandescent light and the carbon microphone.


And to be fair, he cites Laplace who he says was about 79 when he finished his treatise on celestial mechanics.


Hewlett refers to a book titled ‘Age and Achievement,’ by Lehman, who said that ‘for each field of endeavor there is an age at which you arrive at the maximum rate of highly superior production.’ Hewlett gives examples from this book: “In the field of chemistry this maximum rate is in the age group of 26 to 30. In our own field of electronics, and incidentally of physics and mathematics, the age group is 30 to 34. So you see,” he says, “that you are entering one of your most productive age brackets”


This all leads to Hewlett’s punch line: “Now I don’t want this to sound like a graduation address, or even like a sermon, but I think it is important for what I propose to say now and this is – how the IRE, or any other technical society, can be of assistance to you in developing you to your greatest potentiality.”


Hewlett says he has a “soft spot” in his heart for the IRE. And he goes on to tell how, in about the year 1938, he attended his first IRE convention where he was scheduled to speak, although he had never spoken in public before. He says “I put something I had made into my car, something I was supposed to talk about, and drove up [to Portland]. When I got up before the microphone I was so nervous that I could hardly speak. But I got up there and I talked about this project which, interestingly enough, was a new type of oscillator. It was an RC oscillator, and since that time we have built something over 60,000 of these oscillators. So here’s an example of the facility that the IRE furnished a young man just starting out. What better chance could you offer. Here was a chance for him to really sell his wares, his ideas. This, however, is just one example of how a professional society can help the engineer who is just starting out.”


Hewlett goes on to tell of other ways in which the IRE society can be of assistance, an important one being technical publications. Here at college you have, for the most part, been following “a prescribed course,” he says. “From now on you must strike forward, and it is really here that the professional society and its publications are of major importance. It would be a catastrophe if your education and learning were to stop upon graduation. If you are to be successful you must continue to learn, and it is through the publications of a technical society that you have one of the best opportunities to do this.”


Hewlett adds other ways IRE membership may help with career advancement: Professional Group specialized “Proceedings” which offer specialized tutoring, and seminars at field meetings and conventions.


“There is one additional phase of a professional society that I would like to mention,” he says, “and that is taking an active part in the committees and panels of the society. Now I’m perfectly willing to admit that this doesn’t sound like a very fascinating occupation and, true enough, there are many of these committees that would not interest you, many of them don’t interest me, but I think that if you investigate, for each one of you there is some particular phase of a professional society where you can make a contribution.”


Hewlett returns to his original question – “What’s Wrong with the IRE?”  And he provides some answers: “Well, the principle thing that’s wrong with the IRE is the fact that it’s had to increase seven fold in the past fifteen years. Before the war it was an organization of about 6,000 people, now it’s well over 40,000. In addition to this, it’s undergone a major subdivision program for professional groups that would have wrecked, I think, a less vigorous society. There’s nothing wrong with the IRE that a little understanding, that a little imagination and a lot of hard work isn’t going to help. And these are just the things that a youthful membership can give the organization. They are the same vitality and energy that you will bring to a professional organization that you join….The professional society can certainly be no stronger than the outlook of the majority of the members who form it. What’s wrong with the IRE – we need your membership, and we don’t just need the $10.00, because that $10 will just barely pay for the cost of publications. What we do need is your interest and your activity and your support, both in its publications, in its meetings and in its professional panels and committees. What does all this gain you – by building a strong, young and vigorous institute you guarantee yourself that there will be an adequate professional society to guide you in your professional development during the next five or ten years, the most critical and the most productive years of your life.”


3/6/56, Outline of speech handwritten by Hewlett on 3×5” cards and on notebook paper

3/6/56, several typewritten pages of drafted sections of the speech

3/6/56, Typewritten sheet with what appears to be a short introduction of Hewlett by John O’Halloran, Chairman of the IRE Student relations Committee

12/8/55, Letter to Hewlett from John F. O’Halloran, confirming their previous conversation about the IRE meeting and a possible topic for Hewlett’s talk to the students

1/17/56, Copy of a letter from Mickie Ayres, Hewlett’s secretary, to John O’Halloran enclosing a biographical sketch and photograph

1/27/56, Copy of a letter from Mickie Ayres to Joseph Sodaro saying Mr. Hewlett does not yet have his talk sufficiently prepared to send an abstract

3/2/56, Note from John O’Halloran enclosing minutes from January 27 meeting of the IRE student relations committee

3/7/56, Letter to Hewlett from Alois W. Graf saying he missed Hewlett’s speech on what is wrong with the IRE and asking for a copy so he would know more about this subject

4//3/56, Copy of a letter from Hewlett to Alois Graf saying the title, What’s Wrong With the IRE,” was actually a “gag” and the talk was actually intended to be inspirational for the students

4/10/56, Letter to Hewlett from John O’Halloran expressing appreciation for his talk and enclosing a copy typed from a tape

4/17/56, Copy of a letter from Hewlett to John O’Halloran thanking him for the copy and asking if he could send more so they could answer requests

4/30/56, Letter to Mickie Ayres from John O’Halloran sending more copies of the talk

3/12/56, Letter from A. N. Curtiss asking for a copy of his talk

4/3/56, Copy of a letter from Hewlett to A. N. Curtiss saying no typed copies were made of this talk and offering to have the transcript typed

4/10/56, Letter from A. N. Curtiss saying he would appreciate a copy if it becomes available

5/3/56, Copy of a letter to A. N. Curtiss from Mickie Ayres sending  a typed copy of the talk

5/10/56, Letter to Hewlett from A. N. Curtiss thanking him for the copy of his talk



Box 1, Folder 12 – General Speeches


August, 1956 – Talk on HP’s Engineering Program, Palo Alto, CA


8/56, Copy of pages from the August, 1956 issue of Watt’s Current magazine


The magazine appears to have printed a transcript of Hewlett’s talk to HP engineering personnel.


Hewlett says he wants to talk about “…the importance of an effective research and development program to our company and about the plans we have made and the steps we are taking to augment our engineering activities.


“Importance of the HP engineering program”


He says “from the very beginning,” they wanted to develop a reputation for quality, in their engineering and in the quality of their products. Having once built such a reputation they “had a bear by the tail,” as he put it. “We had the reputation, and we didn’t want to lose it.”


Hewlett says HP’s engineering force remained fairly stable for several years, when they were making a limited variety of instruments. They were able to satisfy their modest needs for new engineering people through their contacts with professors and others they knew throughout the country.


“Today, however,” he says, “the need for expanding our engineering force has increased.” With sales running 20 to 30 million dollars a year, Hewlett says, “Our customers have come to expect forward engineering ideas in hp equipment. If we don’t produce equipment embodying these forward ideas, someone else will and, quite frankly, we intend to discourage competition – not through price wars and restrictive trade practices but by doing such a damn fine job of engineering there will be little opportunity for anyone else.”


“Expansion of the hp Engineering Program.”


Hewlett says there are three factors forcing an expansion of the laboratory group:


“First, there are ideas from our customers and our sales representatives as to the various things we can and should manufacture.” He sites the Dynac Variable Time-Base Counter as an example of a general purpose test product they probably never would have thought of building had it not been for receiving a “number of requests from the field.”


“Secondly, our own laboratory staff, as they have become more versed in the field of electronic measurements, …have generated ideas for the extension and improvement of our product lines.”


And Hewlett says the third factor has been the impact of new techniques and methods. “It is absolutely imperative that we work on new techniques and methods to keep our position in the field.” He gives the transistor as an example.


“Recruiting of Engineering Personnel”


Hewlett describes their first effort to launch a college recruiting program which took place this year. They thought candidates would sign up ”in droves,” and were much surprised that only a couple of students showed up. But following this “eye-opening” he says they came home and put together good material about HP and its engineering activities. They visited universities across the country and the results were dramatic: “…we made about 40 offers,” he says, “ and got about 20 people…. We intend to continue this engineering recruiting program and I think the experience we have gained will allow us to do an even better job next year.”


Another step Hewlett says they have taken to “back up their engineering program is to expand our summer help program. We employ a large number of college students during the summer and, in general, we have been giving preference to the students who will probably go into engineering.”


The employment of high-school students during the summer is another program Hewlett describes. He says it is not simply a way to help them earn money over the summer, but they try to put the “boys” to work on actual projects doing something useful to HP. He sees this program as a general effort to encourage more young people to become interested in a science career – not limited to electronic engineering.


Hewlett closes by saying that the important point of these programs to increase their engineering staff is that “…we recognize the significance of engineering in our product line and that we are going to put on the best engineering program you have ever seen. If you think we have done well so far, just wait until two or three years from now when we get all of our new lab people producing and all of the supervisors rolling. You’ll see some real progress then!”