HP was founded on January 1, 1939 as a manufacturer of test and measurement instruments, by Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, with an investment of 538 United States dollars. They had both graduated from Stanford University in 1934. The company originated in a garage in nearby Palo Alto while they were post-grad students at Stanford during the Great Depression. After he won a coin toss to name the company, Bill named it Hewlett-Packard.
Their first product was a precision audio oscillator, the Model 200A. Their innovation was the use of a small night-light bulb as a temperature dependent resistor in a critical portion of the circuit. This allowed them to sell the Model 200A for $54.40 when competitors were selling less stable oscillators for over $200. The Model 200 series of generators continued until at least 1972 as the 200AB, still tube-based but improved in design through the years. At 33 years, it was perhaps the longest-selling basic electronic design of all time.
The company name, Hewlett-Packard, was derived from the founders’ last names. Had Bill not won a coin toss, the company today might be known as Packard-Hewlett. One of the company’s earliest customers was The Walt Disney Company, who bought eight Model 200B oscillators (at $71.50 each) for use in certifying the Fantasound surround sound systems installed in theaters for the movie Fantasia.