David Packard (1912-1996) was the co-founder and a longtime executive officer of Hewlett-Packard Company, a leading manufacturer of electronic measuring devices, calculators, and computers. He also served as deputy secretary of defense under President Richard Nixon and was a major benefactor to many philanthropic organizations.
David Packard was born September 7, 1912, in Pueblo, Colorado, the son of a lawyer and a high school teacher. He avidly read library books on science and electricity, and built his first radio while still in elementary school. After graduating from his local public high school, Packard enrolled as an electrical engineering student at Stanford University in California. There he met William Hewlett, a fellow student who shared his interest in electronics and the out-of-doors. In college he was a varsity athlete and president of his fraternity. He received a B.A. with honors in 1934.
Packard went to Schenectady, New York, to work in the vacuum tube engineering department of General Electric Company. He returned to Stanford in 1938 to study the theory of the vacuum tube. That year he also married Lucile Salter of San Francisco, whom he had met at Stanford; the Packards had four children.
In 1939 Packard finished his electrical engineering degree under Stanford professor, Frederick Terman. By then he had renewed his friendship with Hewlett, who had developed considerable expertise on negative feedback circuits. Hewlett and Packard set up a laboratory in the Packard family garage and soon were taking orders for apparatus ranging from air conditioning control units to electronic harmonica tuners to exercise machines. In 1939 Hewlett-Packard turned its emphasis from custom orders to mass produced instruments. Particularly important were its audio oscillators, devices that generate a controlled signal at a predetermined frequency. These were generally used to check the performance of amplifiers and broadcast transmitters, but some provided sound effects for Walt Disney's movie Fantasia.
During World War II Hewlett-Packard expanded rapidly to meet the needs of various defense projects. Packard ran the company alone, as Hewlett was in the U.S. Army. Business declined sharply at the end of the war, and Hewlett-Packard was forced to lay off employees for the only time in Packard's career. Demand rebounded by 1950; in 1957 the company's stock began to trade on the open market. Hewlett-Packard's product line grew to include not only thousands of electronic measuring devices for a wide range of frequencies but, beginning in 1972, hand-held scientific calculators. The company had done custom work in computer manufacture as early as the 1940s, but did not begin to market its own computers until the late 1960s. Experienced in supplying engineers and scientists, Hewlett-Packard had some difficulty with wider business and consumer markets. Nonetheless, it developed a wide range of programmable calculators, minicomputers, and microcomputers.
Hewlett-Packard was one of the first and largest electronics companies in the region of California now called Silicon Valley. It gradually expanded its sales force from a handful of representatives into a national and then an international network. Manufacturing facilities also extended out of California, not only to Colorado and Oregon but to Europe, South America, and Asia. At the same time, staff trained at Hewlett-Packard came to have important posts at other electronics firms. For example, Stephen Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Computer, first worked at Hewlett-Packard.
With Packard as manager and Hewlett as technical expert, Hewlett-Packard followed conservative but unconventional business practices. Profits were reinvested in the company so that debt was low. Following General Electric's example, the company preferred to hire employees directly out of school. Staff received generous benefits, were entrusted with considerable responsibility, and rarely were fired. Hewlett and Packard set general objectives, assisted those who carried them out, and chose not to flaunt their wealth and power. Engineering, sales, and management were done by men, while women did much of the actual assembly work. Emphasis was on high quality, not low price. To retain the atmosphere of a small business when the staff came to number thousands, Hewlett and Packard divided the company according to product types, with each division having its own marketing, production, and research groups. Support functions such as sales and advertising often were handled by outside contractors.
In addition to his business activities, Packard took an active interest in civic affairs. From 1948 until 1956 he chaired the Palo Alto School Board; he also gave money to the Republican Party. In 1964 he founded the David and Lucile Packard Foundation in Los Altos, California, to support universities, national institutions, community groups, youth agencies, hospitals, and other organizations that are dependent on private funding and volunteer leadership; he also served as president and chairman of the foundation. When President Richard Nixon was elected, he sought a skilled administrator to serve as deputy secretary for defense. Packard agreed to take the position, decreasing his salary from nearly a million dollars a year to about $30,000. Congressional critics pointed out that Packard owned about one-third of the stock in Hewlett-Packard and that the company did about $100 million in defense-related business each year. To avoid conflicts of interest, Packard put his stock in a trust fund, with all dividends and capital increases going to charity.
In 1971 Packard returned to his post at Hewlett-Packard. Even after he retired from direct administration in 1977, he continued as chairman of the board. He also served on the boards of directors of corporations such as Caterpillar Tractor Co. (1972-83), Chevron Corp. (1972-85), The Boeing Co. (1978-86), Genentech Inc. (1981-92), and Beckman Laser Institute& Medical Clinic (1992-96). He was a trustee of the Herbert Hoover Foundation and of the American Enterprise Institute, conservative research groups. He was a member of The Trilateral Commission from 1973 to 1981 and chaired the U.S.-Japan Advisory Commission from 1983 to 1985. In 1985 he was appointed by President Reagan to chair the Blue Ribbon Commission on Defense Management. He also was a member of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology from 1990 to 1992 and founding vice chairman of the California Roundtable.
In addition to his own foundation, Packard held top positions in many philanthropic organizations. He was chairman of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Foundation; chairman and president of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research; vice chairman of the California Nature Conservancy in 1983; and director of the Wolf Trap Foundation in Vienna, Virginia, a society dedicated to the performing arts, from 1983 to 1989.
Packard held several patents in the area of electronics measurement and published papers in that field. He received honorary degrees from Pepperdine University, University of Notre Dame, Colorado College, the University of California, Catholic University, and elsewhere. The numerous awards he received in his lifetime for both his contributions to technology and for his philanthropic work include The Gandhi Humanitarian Award in 1988, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1988, and induction into the Information Industry Hall of Fame, (presented jointly to Packard and Hewlett) in 1996.
In January 1989 he created the David and Lucile Packard Center for the Future of Children as a part of his foundation. The center was established to target the health and social problems of minority children under seven years old. Packard felt the center was perhaps the most important aspect of his foundation. In September 1993, Packard retired as chairman of the board at Hewlett-Packard and was named chairman emeritus, a position he held until his death at the age of 83.
Packard died on March 26, 1996 at Stanford Medical Center, after being hospitalized for ten days with pneumonia. His entire $6.6 billion fortune was given to the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, making it one of the nation's largest philanthropic organizations.
Further Reading on David Packard
There is no full-length biography of David Packard. For information about his life see magazine articles such as N.W., "The Maverick of Electronics," Dun's Review (August 1967); "Lessons of Leadership: David Packard of Hewlett-Packard," Nation's Business (January 1974); and "David Packard—1981 DPMA Distinguished Information Sciences Award Winner," Data Management (October 1981). Michael S. Malone discusses Packard, Hewlett, and the Hewlett-Packard Company at some length in his book The Big Score: The Billion Dollar Story of Silicon Valley (1985).
Additional Biography Sources
San Jose Mercury News (March 27, 1996).
Hewlett-Packard Homepage, "David Packard 1912-1996," http://www.hp.com/abouthp/packard.htm