American Ingenuity: HP Calculators!

Longtime readers know that I believe in the promise and possibility of the American free market. We are a clever, innovative people. You may not know, however, that like many others, I am a great admirer of Hewlett Packard (now called HP) calculators. I am not alone — many who first used an HP calculator in the 1970s were struck by the power and elegance of their design.

So many, in fact, that there’s even a website called the Museum of HP Calculators! (It’s not affiliated with HP.) How’s that for geek cred?

My first HP was the HP 33C, a great calculator with continuous memory. HP’s products, then and now, use a form of entry and computation called RPN, and it’s efficient and powerful.

Today was a fun day for me — when I got home, there was a package waiting for me with the latest, HP 35s scientific calculator, that offers contemporary power with a retro look reminiscent of the HPs of the 1970s (only without the red LED screens). Here’s what the 35s looks like:

Sharp, isn’t it?

If you used these Hewlett Packard calculators years ago, or have a more recent model, you know what it means to be an HP fan — we’re part of a club that appreciates great design and performance, and these products have both.

Bonus Details Update, 7:23 PM — The calculator comes with a hard case, two Panasonic watch batteries, a thorough manual with plentiful information on programming, plus a DVD with some history about HP calculators. This is a company that respects its customers and its products.

The DVD has a story called the ‘hippo story.’ (I watched the whole DVD, naturally.) Apparently, according to HP legend, a zookeeper used an HP calculator to estimate how much food a hippo would need. The calculator fell from the zookeeper’s pocket, and the hippo ate it. The DVD explains that hippos take between 41 and 43 days to digest their food, so the zookeeper waited to see what would happen more than a month later. On the 42nd day, the hippo produced the calculator. After cleaning it up, the zoo staff found that the calculator still worked! Hippo proof!

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