Tuesday, October 8, 2013

HP and Beckman Instruments

Hewlett-Packard's leaders--Dave and Bill--argued eloquently that they DID NOT WANT TO GO INTO COMPUTING, for years.   And for several years, they even ignored digital instruments totally.  Hence the rise of the Digital voltmeter industry in San Diego from 1952-1958.  HP's early entrees ('58) fell flat; it took five more years to build the HP3440A and retake the lead in DVMs.

And no technician could write as fast as a DVM could measure.  Ergo, how about a digital data logger?

Some wanted to build a computer (they weren't too different from a data logger).  Dave doggedly insisted that the HP2116 was AN INSTRUMENT CONTROLLER; Hewlett said "I don't want to mess with computers; don't try to take a fortified hill."

Arnold Beckman, by contrast, wanted very much to computerize his spectrometry instruments, building a giant analogic kluge to do so, and then asking Bill Shockley to 'shrink it' for him with the new devices called transistors.  Then he read Joh Diebold's book about Automation, and imagined building digital instrument controllers to corner the industrial automation market.  Beckman WANTED to be in COMPUTERS.

How big were the companies?  And what about General Radio and Tektronix?

In 1941, GR was $2.6M in revenue; Beckman $250K, and HP $100K (Tek = $0)

In 1947, GR was $4.7M, Beckman was $2.7M, HP $850K, and Tek sold $30K as it started

In 1952, the critical years for Beckman's idea, GR was $8.4M, Beckman a whopping $20M, while HP had just passed GR with sales of $11M, and Tek was a surging $5.5M.

Beckman funded Shockley Labs (first in Pasadena, then in Palo Alto when his mother sickened) in '55.

HP didn't look at computing for another decade.

In 1965, HP was $165M, Beckman $100M, Tek $81M, and GR a distant last at $19.3M

By 1975, HP had a few scientific computers, along with desktop and handheld calculators.  By 1979, HP had a working HP 3000 for business computer users even.

In 1979, HP had revenues of $3.1B (yes, BILLION), Tek $911M, Beckman $300M, and GR $158M

So, one 'big guy' (GR) sat out the revolution, one who wanted computing badly failed at it, but still outgrew GR by nearly 400% between 1947 and 1979.   HP and Tektronix taken together were only one-eighth the size of GR and Beckman in 1947; they were nine times larger in 1979.  So the ones who didn't start out to be in computing, but wound up "in it" with CPUs and peripherals shifted vis-a-vis the 'leading instrumentation companies by an astounding 7200% in those three decades.

Almost without trying?  Odd, the winners didn't want to play, and the losers wanted badly to play and win.

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