Page last updated at 11:40 GMT, Friday, 11 April 2008 12:40 UK

The garage where it all began

Inside the garage at Addison Avenue, BBC
The stark interior has been restored to how it looked 70 years ago

By Maggie Shiels
BBC News, San Francisco

Silicon Valley is pitted with sites of pilgrimage for geeks but, for many, the lovingly restored garage at 367 Addison Avenue in Palo Alto is a draw like no other.

In some senses this unassuming suburban street in Northern California can be considered the birthplace of the world's first hi-tech region. It is where the founders of Hewlett Packard got started.

The restoration effort means that the 12ft by 8ft wooden structure is pretty much as it was during Bill and Dave's time - that's Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard for the uninitiated.

A single lightbulb hangs from the ceiling, a copy of the original drill press they used for 20 years bulks along one side and a lingering musty oil smell evokes a lost era when hardware was bought by the yard.

Every year more than 40,000 people pay homage at this humble location but the nearest they get is the iron gate at the end of the drive.

The BBC won a rare guided tour around the fabled garage and home and where Bill and Dave started the company that bears their name to this day and must have exceeded their ambitions for how big it would grow.

The early years

It all started in 1938 when the pair, along with Dave's wife Lucile rented Addison Avenue for $45 a month.

For that they got a ground floor apartment for Dave and Lucile, a garden shed where bachelor Bill bunked and most crucially a garage where the two men could get their own business up and running.

One of the first HP oscillators, BBC

With just $538 they set about making their mark. Their first product was an oscillator to test sound equipment. Even then, says HP archivist Anna Mancini, the two men were aware that perception was all.

"The first model was called the 200a and they wanted people to think they were bigger than they were. They didn't want to call it 'Model One'," She says. "Their marketing was pretty primitive also. Even on a copy of HP's first advert it gives the address as 367 Addison and says call Department A for information."

There was no Department A, B or even C; just Bill, Dave and Lucile.

What helped fuel their early success was that they undercut the competition. Says Ms Mancini: "They were able to sell this at $71.50 and still make a profit while other manufacturers were charging $500."

An original oscillator on loan from a museum occupies pride of place on the living room mantlepiece in the house at 367 Addison Avenue .

History lesson

The whole property cost HP $1.7 million to acquire in 2000. The painstaking restoration has taken five years and the house is now a recreation of how Dave and Lucile lived. There's a heavy dining table where Lucile did the books, a "Murphy" pull down bed where the two slept, and in the kitchen an exact copy of the stove she cooked on.

"This is the same kind of oven they used to bake the paint on the panels for the oscillators," says Ms Mancini. "The story is that Lucile said the roast beef never tasted the same again."

Out back is the main draw for everyone regardless of what side of the iron gate you stand.

376 Addison Avenue, BBC
An iron gate keeps sightseers away from the hallowed garage

Going inside feels like stepping back in time. There are bits of machinery, wood handled tools and coffee and tobacco tins filled with nuts and bolts lying around. There's a copy of the company's first tangible asset - the drill press. It's not the original but a copy bought on eBay for $79.

"We were very lucky the garage was perfectly preserved. No one ever put in an electric door or tore it down," says Ms Mancini. "This is pretty much what it looked like when Bill and Dave were here."

Bachelor Bill

Close by the garage is Bill's former home. A converted garden shed with a bunk bed, a table strewn with drawings and tools, a sink and a checked shirt hanging on a nail.

While the lack of luxury would not be for everyone, Ms Mancini says it was perfect for Bill.

"People who knew Hewlett said this would have been fine for him. He was an outdoors man. He grew up camping and didn't care much about his surroundings."

In a sense Bill and Dave did more than just kick off the Valley's mania for electronics, they gave birth to the ethic that infuses the entire region.

And if there is a lesson for the rest of the Valley at Addison Avenue, if there is something that draws those thousands every year, then it lies in that fact. That the work is the most important thing, that all it takes is dedication, dreams and perhaps a garage.

And pretty much everybody has those.

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