The Museum of HP Calculators

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Collecting Memories

Posted by Dr. Sean F. Johnston on 2 Apr 2000, 10:16 p.m.

I was surprised and pleased to discover the HP Museum, because it recaptures my HP fanaticism of earlier years. I first read of HP calculators in the early 1970s while in high school, via ads in Scientific American. I read and re-read the HP desktop calculator, and especially the HP-65 and HP-35 ads.

In my last year of high school (1973/4) a few affluent students had other scientific calculators which were just coming out, but these were relatively large, seemed poorly made and had no mystique whatever. When I won a graduation award, I put it towards a $395 (Canadian) HP-35. My mother had to order it from the HP office in Vancouver (and wait several weeks for delivery), because the calculators were not sold in Canadian stores at that time. I began collecting HP advertisements and brochures that week, starting with the 4-page HP-35 brochure (yes, those brochures are still in a box in my closet). My math teacher, Mr Denton, had just bought an HP-45, and piqued my interest by telling me that it had a 'hidden stopwatch'. So there was an HP underground!

I played with, and used, the HP-35 daily for at least a year as a physics undergraduate. One of the professors of Physics in my first year had an HP-65, and he wore it prominently on his belt, demonstrating it (rather smugly) to all and sundry. I bought the HP-65 users manual, just to lust over it.

I wrote to HP for more background information, and was rewarded with back copies of the HP Journal, which are still the best sources of info on design and development issues regarding the calculators. I bought the HP-35 MathPac, a book of programs.

By my 2nd year of university in early 1975 I really yearned for a newer HP, and bought an HP-55 from a fellow student who was selling them. My own programmable calculator! The drawback, of course, was the lack of storage. I bought various HP programs books for it. To me, the moon lander program that was so current in HP program books of the time was a noble copy of the games programs I had seen running on minicomputers at the nuclear accelerator facility I worked at that summer.

When the HP-21 came out, I bought ITS manual, but wasn't impressed by the 'improvements'. Same for the '3rd generation' series, which passed me by with scarcely a glance.

But in 1980, at my first job, I suddenly had money and heard about the HP-41C. I quickly bought one, and then the card reader a few months later, and then the printer by that Autumn. Apart from a faulty keyboard, which was replaced in 1983 or so (and which gave me the newer, more sloping, keys), it has worked flawlessly since. I contributed to the users' program library, learned about synthetic programming, and how to make a battery supply using a large storage battery and adapted mains lead (my HP-41C had the side door and gold contacts for the never-produced battery recharger). Later still, I bought the Memory Module and X Functions modules.

I still have it beside me in my desk, and use it regularly for most of my calculator-based calculations. My 'yearning' today, though (considerably muted) is for laptop computers, which all fail to encapsulate that old HP aura.

I began to realize that my HP love was becoming old fashioned when an undergraduate physics student saw me using my HP41C and said "Gee, what's that? Why are you using that big old thing?". This love of calculator technology has been imprinted on a single generation, and is never going to be repeated.


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