HP 65 Calculator

Story of a HP-65 Programmable Calculator (1974)

We all remember my Dad, Walter Wong, using these items – he treasured them. Dad grew up in Alameda, California, the son of an immigrant Chinese laundryman. Although my grandfather had limited English skills, he and my grandmother got all their sons through college. Dad liked math in high school and used the slide rule during his years at nearby UC Berkeley, where he obtained a bachelor’s degree in engineering/physics in 1952. He was recruited from Berkeley to work as a design engineer at RCA in Camden, New Jersey. The pay was $75 a week – enough to live in a boarding house, eat at the nearby diner, and buy his first car.

Dad told me once he’d hoped to move into the musical side of the RCA business because he loved music, especially classical music and big bands. But this was the Cold War era and he was assigned to radar system development and soon became a specialist in that area. Dad held a high-level security clearance for the majority of his professional career, so we don’t know very much about the work he did. However, he once told my brother that one major project he was on was a precursor to modern day GPS systems and used in reconnaissance planes.

On a vacation to Canada with friends, my Dad met my Mom and they married in 1954. A few years later, a job opportunity allowed them to return to California near Dad’s family. The RCA Victor clock radio was from early in their marriage; it may even have been a wedding present!

I remember my Dad using the slide rule when I was a child; he occasionally did some work at home in the evenings and covered pages and pages of quadrille paper with intricate equations and calculations. When the HP-65 came out in 1974, Dad was one of the first to buy one. It was a huge investment at the time but he raved about how it made his work so much easier. I never knew how to use the slide rule and we were never allowed to play with the HP-65. He kept it carefully in its case with all the pieces arranged alongside it. As it happens, my siblings and I grew up in Palo Alto, not far from the famous Packard garage, now called the birthplace of Silicon Valley. Dad was so impressed with his HP-65, they bought calculators for us too (I still use my HP-11C!)

My Mom died in 2002 and my Dad in 2020 at age 90 of complications of Alzheimer’s disease exacerbated by pandemic isolation. Until he started to decline, he remained interested in technology, including how the power of GPS had become so widely used. He even learned how to text us from his iPhone in his 80s, although he never wanted to replace the rotary phones inside his house! He would be glad to know that his favorite work “tools” had found an appreciative home at RICM.

- Roberta Emerson