History of the 9100A desktop calculator, 1968

PRODUCT HISTORY

Even in the psychedelic '60s, HP was out in front of the pack. The company helped invent the language that would become part of today's technology lexicon. Take the term "personal computer," for example.


According to Yale Law School librarian Fred Shapiro, the phrase was first documented in a 1968 Science magazine ad for the Hewlett-Packard 9100A personal computer. That's eight years before the term made its first appearance in the venerable Oxford English Dictionary


A desktop scientific calculator, the 9100A weighed in at a hefty 40 pounds - not most people's idea of a portable PC. But at the time, the "Powerful Computing Genie," was in the vanguard, as the ad's purple prose illustrates.


"Ready, willing and able," trumpets the copy. As powerful as the 9100A may have been, the device's capabilities definitely didn't target the average consumer.


"Ready to relieve you of waiting to get on the big computer," the ad declares. "Willing to perform log and trig functions, even hyperbolics and coordinate transformations at the touch of a key. Able to take on roots of a fifth-degree polynomial, Bessel functions, elliptic integrals and regression analysis."


You Say Calculator, I Say Computer


Although the HP 9100A was really a desktop computer, the company decided to sell it as a calculator, explains the HP corporate archivist. "At the time, the perception was that a computer had to be big to be accepted by the market," she says.


Calculators were also more likely to be bought than computers, she adds. Purchasing agents were authorized to buy calculators, whereas computers required top management participation, regardless of the cost.


One of the company's co-founders had another reason for marketing the 9100A as HP did.


"If we had called it a computer, it would have been rejected by our customer's computer gurus because it didn't look like an IBM," Bill Hewlett once remarked. "We, therefore, decided to call it a calculator and all such nonsense disappeared."

The 2116A Digital Computer

The 9100A did all that - and more - for only $4,900 (USD).