Tales from the Next Bench: The HP-65

In our on-going series looking at classic computing devices birthed at HP, we see not only at what they did, but also give a better sense of what was happening at the time each product came to market. (For a full explanation of why we’re calling this “Tales from the Next Bench,” read here).

024threeqtr_tcm_245_923879.jpgThis installment: HP-65 programmable pocket calculator (1974).

The HP-65 was HP's fourth handheld electronic calculator and its third scientific calculator.

Nicknamed "Superstar," the HP-65 was the first magnetic card-programmable handheld calculator, which is why some call it the "world's first handheld computer." The HP-65 could read from and write to magnetic cards, allowing the user to buy program cards from HP or save programs on cards. Users could write programs up to 100 lines long.

Although the HP-65 was similar to the HP-35, HP's first handheld scientific calculator, new features included a card reader, the slot to hold a card below the display and the second slider switch to select program or run modes. The HP-65 cost $795 when it was introduced.

A year later, an ad posted in Scientific American read: “HP-65 in Space with Apollo-Soyuz.” According to it, the American astronauts used HP-65s to calculate course corrections during the mission. It even served as a backup for the Apollo’s on-board computer. Talk about serious product placement!

What else was happening in 1974?
Runaway inflation started jacking up prices for food, fuel and manufacturing costs. Richard Nixon resigned as a result of the Watergate scandal. Work begins on the Alaskan oil pipeline and US national speed limit is set to 55 miles per hour. The slightly less-advertised milestone of 1974: Arthur Fry invents the Post-It Note – to the joy of office workers worldwide. Meanwhile, Giorgio Fischer, a gynecologist from Rome, Italy, invents liposuction.

Additional information:

•    HP Journal article calling the HP-65 a “Personal Computer” long before the phrase caught on.

•    What the program cards (Pacs) looked like.

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