DEC, HP founders revered in films

At the heart of loyal customer communities usually lies memory. History runs hot in the recollections and lore around the founders of both Digital Equipment Corporation and Hewlett Packard. Both bedrocks of technology have a legacy of foundation that’s chronicled in film. The stories portray titans of industry as business gamblers and benevolent rulers of tech empires.

The documentary for Digital customers, especially the faithful who continue to use OpenVMS, is Digital Man, Digital World. The documentary from 2011, created with a grant from Gordon College, tells the story of Ken Olsen, who founded Digital Equipment Corporation in 1957. Hosted at the PBS website, the movie of about an hour tells the story of the ethics and dreams that built a business and scientific computing powerhouse.

“Olsen revolutionized the electronics industry by making computers smaller and more accessible to both businesses and individuals,” the webpage says. “In 1986, Fortune magazine selected Olsen as America’s Most Successful Entrepreneur and featured him on its cover.”

In another quadrant of the Web, a similar chronicle touts the founders of HP. Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard are the subjects of HP Origins, a 25-minute film created for an HP promotion. The HP documentary is more of a plainspoken corporate paean to the business values of its two founders. More than once, the subjects in the HP documentary stress that Hewlett and Packard started HP on the keystone of profits.

Nothing HP would ever do could be possible without profits. Both of these films dedicate themselves to companies where white shirts and skinny ties made up a welcoming environment. People wanted to come to work each day, one employee says. They were convinced they were working on something important: inventions to last a lifetime.

The stories in these films also stress that traditional training with degrees was not a barrier to invention. In one allied short, Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple, talks about his work at HP in its groundbreaking calculator division.”I was just good at designing things, so they made me an engineer,” he says.

On the DEC front, the filmmakers note that the company’s first public offering at more than $8 million was the largest up to that time. “He who proposes, does,” was the mantra that built DEC.