Barney Oliver (left), who served as HP's director of research and development for three decades, checks out a new scope at HP Labs in 1966 alongside Peter Lacy (center) and George Mathers (right).

March 3 marked the 50th anniversary of HP Labs – an arm of the Palo Alto, Calif.-based tech giant dedicated to groundbreaking development research which has resulted in a surprising number of products indispensable to the modern world.

Join us as we follow this storied organization down memory lane.


HP Slideshow 2 - LED

1966 – Light Emitting Diode (LED)

HP Labs’ first success may also be its most widely used – the organization developed the first commercially available light-emitting diode (LED), a low-cost, low-energy form of lighting that today is used in everything from storefront signs and streetlamps to traffic signals and flashlights.


HP slideshow 3 - Programmable Desktop calculator

1968 – HP 9100A: the first programmable desktop calculator

Though its legacy is now little more than an exercise for student programmers, back in the day the HP 9100A was, for all intents and purposes, essentially the first PC: it stored programs on a magnetic card and could solve science and engineering problems 10 times faster than comparable machines at the time. In addition to paving the way for HP’s workstation business, ads for the HP 9100A called it a “personal computer” – the first documented use of the term.


HP slideshow 4 - Pocket scientific calculator

1972 – HP-35: the first pocket scientific calculator

Four years later, Bill Hewlett challenged HP’s engineers to create a scientific calculator that fits in a shirt pocket. The result: the HP-35, precursor to not only our standard calculator apps but the mobile devices they run on.


HP slideshow 6 - First office laser printer

1980 – Office laser printer

HP Labs received help from Canon when designing the first laser printer, licensing copying technology from the future printing and digital imaging behemoth and adding an optical package, among other engineering innovations. From the beginning, HP’s office laser printers were so quiet they could be used in a library.

A home version, the LaserJet (above) was introduced in 1984 – and cost $3,500 USD.


HP slideshow 5 - First commercial ink printer

1984 – HP ThinkJet: the first inkjet printer

HP Labs had developed the thermal inkjet technology that powered the ThinkJet in the 1970s, but the consumer version wasn’t released until the same year as its laser-based counterpart.

HP slideshow 7 - RISC architecture

1986 – RISC architecture

It’s hardly part of the lexicon today, but in the mid-1980s reduced instruction set computing (RISC) was a breakthrough in the computing industry, executing instructions faster and completing more work than previous generations of chips – and HP was the first major computing company to make it a central component of their hardware.

HP slideshow 8 - ePrint

2010 – ePrint

HP also developed the tech industry’s first mobile printing software, a cloud-based app that allowed users to print from any device with an Internet connection by sending an email to any compatible HP printer.

HP slideshow 9 - SERS

2012 – SERS Sensor

While still in its infancy (enough that while it’s mentioned on HP Labs’ 50th anniversary website, it’s nowhere to be seen on the company’s official timeline) surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) could one day turn out to be as game-changing as LEDs, a nanotechnology-based sensor capable of detecting a range of organic materials, from drugs to disease.


Previous articleApple vs. the FBI: What other tech execs are saying
Next articleWould you like a robot coworker? Cisco employees already have one [slideshow]
Eric Emin Wood
Former editor of ITBusiness.ca turned consultant with public relations firm Porter Novelli. When not writing for the tech industry enjoys photography, movies, travelling, the Oxford comma, and will talk your ear off about animation if you give him an opening.