The fire that swept through Sonoma County, California, consumed a truly significant piece of the test industry, electrical engineering, and American history.
The California Wine Country fires that have destroyed many homes and taken lives have left their mark on the test industry and electrical engineering, having destroyed many of Bill Hewlett's and Dave Packard's documents. The Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported the loss on October 30. Keysight Technologies, the heir to Bill and Dave's test-and-measurement legacy and keeper of the HP archives, confirmed the loss in an e-mail to EE Times.
Fire destroyed several buildings on the Keysight campus in Santa Rosa, California, including one that contained the HP archives. Source: Press Democrat
The following is a statement from Keysight Technologies regarding the loss. It addresses some controversy reported in the Press Democrat article regarding the steps taken to protect the documents.
Were Archives Damaged? Yes, a portion of historical archives for Keysight Technologies, including items from the company's time as part of Agilent Technologies and Hewlett-Packard, were among property lost when a building at Keysight's Santa Rosa headquarters was destroyed in the Tubbs Fire on October 9. Among the items lost are some documents from founders Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard.
Many parts of the Keysight archives were not affected by the fire. Many historic products were undamaged because they were situated in other parts of the Santa Rosa facility that sustained only minor damage. Other company archival materials, such as historic products, product catalogs and manuals, some correspondence by Dave Packard and other company research collections, were also unaffected because they are housed at other Keysight locations. Additionally, some archives had been previously saved digitally and, thus, were unaffected by the fire.
Did Keysight Have Proper Protection for Their Archives? Keysight met and exceeded the strictest standards for archival protection, including guidelines set by the United Nations and the Library of Congress. The archives were stored on metal shelving in archival quality folders inside damage-resistant archival boxes in a secure building. The secure building at the company's Santa Rosa headquarters had a sprinkler system — standard practice for archival collections, and the same way the archives were stored when they were located previously at Hewlett-Packard and Agilent facilities. Per the Smithsonian Institute, an automatic sprinkler system is the single most important fire-safety system a cultural property can have.
It took the most damaging fire in state history to thwart the appropriate and responsible steps we took to protect our company archives. The heat from the Tubbs Fire was so intense that many fire-resistant safes were melted and destroyed in this unprecedented firestorm.
Besides being stored at Hewlett-Packard and Agilent, the archives also were placed at an off-site location — which is where they were held before being transferred to Keysight. During the Agilent years, employees in charge of the archives wanted them removed from the off-site location because of concerns regarding how they were being stored. However, space was not available at Agilent, so the archives remained off-site. When the archives came to Keysight, we believed the most responsible decision was to improve the storage conditions by bringing them to our Santa Rosa headquarters.
Keysight is saddened by the loss of documents that remind us of our visionary founders, rich history, and lineage to the original Silicon Valley startup.
At this time, EE Times has no information on exactly what was destroyed, what remains, and what was digitally archived. There's plenty of online documentation of HP history, both on the HP and Keysight websites, plus others. Still, it's a lesson to all of us in archiving our history. Do you have engineering documents where only one copy exists? Do you have copies or family photographs or have you scanned them? Even if you have scanned documents, will there come a time when there's no machine left to read those scanned files and the only record will be the original paper documents?