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HP-35 and the Soviets

Posted by Happy Holden on 1 July 2003, 5:54 p.m.

Soon after the HP-35 hit the international market, the world knew something had changed in computing. In 1973, mfg got a special request from Bill Hewlett to make some special HP-35 stainless labels,but photochemically etched with 3 Soviet scientists names in Cyrillic. I took the opportunity to add my father-in-laws name to the sheet so I could personalize his HP-35. As an engineering professor, he treasured his HP-35, even with the arc-tan flaw. It seems Hewlett was invited by the Soviets to an Electronics Conference in Moscow in 1974 and he wanted to take some gifts to famous Russian scientist that had worked with the IEEE. These HP-35s would all be specially prepared just for them. The Russians wanted HP-35s, but the only way they could buy them was from the HP Helsinki, Finland sales office. The next seven years saw HP Finland sell more calculators than most of Europe PUT-TOGETHER. They also sold HP computers to Finish ship builders that put them in Russian icebreakers. Hewlett was a big hit and he invited some of the electronic institutes to visit him in Palo Alto and see how we made the calculators. The Russians made it over finally in 1975 and I hosted them for a tour of the printed circuit board and keyboard manufacturing. We had our expansion and automation finished by then, and were geared up to make about 1500 calculators a day. I don't know what the Russians had seen elsewhere, but they were impressed by the automation, computer process controls and sophistication of the products we were making by then (the 35, 80, 45, 70, 55,46,81,65 and new 10, 21, 22 & 25)as well as HP instrumentation and computers (for their icebreakers). They then ask our State Department if the HP Manufacturing people would come and be their guests at an electronics manufacturing exposition next year in Moscow. This was the height of détente, and Packard was in the Dept. of Defence, so HP sent us off in the summer of 1976 to Moscow. Fortunately, HP put us under the watchful eye of one of our New England Sales Managers that spoke Russian. His parents escaped the Czar's Pogroms in 1917 and he grew up in NYC. He always wanted to see Russia, so we joined him in Boston for a few days for 'orientations'. One of the things he had us do was fill our suitcases with TicTacs, GoodNews razors, chewing gum, Ban deordorant,etc. Later we would understand his 'wisdom'. Off we flew on Pan Am to Moscow. We checked into the Hotel Russia, then the largest hotel in the world, just off Red Square. Some of the highlights of this Exposition were: We couldn't keep our hotel keys, but had to turn them in when we left. There would be an old woman on the floor and when you walked up to her, you would point to your room number and she would hand you your key. In the entire time there, I never once pointed to my room number because a succession of old women would always have it in their hands for me. We discovered you could not get from the 'Western Wing'to the other three Wings of the hotel-we were 'forbidden from those wings'. But by going thru the basement we got into the other wings and found it full of Russians on holiday-partys, drinking, dancing, bands-just a lively scene. We picked a translator from Intourist (the Soviet Tour Board) but were cautioned, they all worked for the KGB, since Intourist was a branch of the KGB and were trained with photographic memories. They could replay an entire days conversations and drawings. No one told us to hide our HP literature on Saturday. That's when they let the general public in to the Exposition Hall there in Sokoniki Park. In a few hour everything was GONE. So that was when we discovered there were no xerox machine in Moscow. I'm not quite correct, there was one- in the US Embassy. We spent the rest of Saturday copying materials we needed for the next week. Each morning we would have to line up to get a car and driver assigned to us. You had to line us for every thing. Our fearless leader was handing out the TicTacs, razors to everyone, including the woman who set up the cars, to the mater'de of the restaurant where we ate every night. Soon we were no longer standing in lines, but they would motion us to come up to the front and would hand us our papers or seat us right away at a table. When it was all over, the Science Attache' to the US Embassy debriefed us. He was none other than Dr. Egon Loebner from HP Labs. We knew each other from the HP-35 days. He was a Russian refugee of WWII and wanted to give something back to the US now that he was a naturalized citizen. He had been there for two years. We talked about his experiences rather than the Exposition. He had visited a Russian High Energy Physics Complex and came across an obvious copy of the HP9100 calculator in the museum there. It worked -so he proceeded to program it. The curator asked how he knew how to program this machine since noone else there did. He told them that he helped invent this machine. They said this was the only one to operate out of the 1000's they built. He was NOT SURPRISED !


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