According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hewlett-Packard_9100A

The Hewlett-Packard 9100A (hp 9100A) is an early programmable calculator[3] (or computer), first appearing in 1968. HP called it a desktop calculator because, as Bill Hewlett said, "If we had called it a computer, it would have been rejected by our customers' computer gurus because it didn't look like an IBM. We therefore decided to call it a calculator, and all such nonsense disappeared."

How long did this marketing trick need to continue? I would expect only a few years; by 1975, the Altair 8800 was being openly sold as a personal computer, its development driven precisely by the bottom falling out of the calculator market, causing MITS to try a desperate pivot. But did the marketing trick end closer to the beginning of the seventies, or the mid-seventies?

Edit: Here's another source with a comment about the marketing issue: http://www.hpmuseum.org/hp9825.htm

The "calculator" label was also clever marketing because US Department Of Defense procurement regulations (and some company regulations) made it a lot easier to get approval to purchase a "calculator" than a "computer".

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    This was not just an external marketing trick, but also internal. HP did not want to be just another "also ran" small computer maker as there were already so many in the market. So, if you wanted to make a computer at hp you had to promote it as something else (e.g. an instrument controller) internally as well.
    – Erik Eidt
    Commented Apr 1, 2019 at 0:33
  • Sometime long before that when companies like IBM marketed them as business machines. This was just a trick HP used to differentiate themselves.
    – user722
    Commented Apr 1, 2019 at 1:15
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    @rwallace To do so, you should first proof that there was sch a policy. After all, HP already sold the HP1000 minicomputers since a few years (1966?), marketed as such (which equals with DEC) when the HP9100A was introduced (1968/69?). So that statement is at best marketing gossip, thus and answer will be opinion based. (P.S.: the HP1000 had Altair size - and the 9100 had a calculator like architecture :))
    – Raffzahn
    Commented Apr 1, 2019 at 9:56
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    @Raffzahn Now you make some interesting points, which combined with Chenmunka's answer, seem to be suggesting that Wikipedia is wrong, that the policy in question did not really exist, that at least for HP it was more a matter of internal company organization than marketing strategy. If that is the case, it would certainly be an interesting revision of the relevant history.
    – rwallace
    Commented Apr 1, 2019 at 11:38
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    @rwallace DEC's reasoning is simple - If you can't sell Computers in Hungary, call them something else. Your question is something different, and I'm pretty sure generalizing the HP case to the whole industry (which I think you do) is false.
    – tofro
    Commented Apr 1, 2019 at 11:46

3 Answers 3


Hewlett-Packard marketed some of their computers as calculators for some marketing related reason like you stated.

Similarly, DEC called their computers "Programmable Data Processors", to avoid the "Big Expensive Machine" connotation that the word "computer" had at that time.

Not in every country was it the same as in the West. In the Hungarian People's Republic, KFKI (a manufacturer of what we would call computers today) made their products called TPA (that stands for "Tárolt Programú Analizátor", which means stored program analyzer) because the law said that computers needed to be imported from Moscow. The need to call them that presumably stopped when the People's Republic no longer existed (October, 1989), but the TPA brand continued until a few years into the 90s.

That's the last I know.


Hewlett Packard in the 1980s-1990s had two divisions. The Calculator Division and the Computer Division.

These two divisions each made their own products without reference to each other.

The overlap started when the Calculator Division started to break out from just producing hand-held calculators and started producing products that were effectively Intel-based PCs running CP/M. These started to encroach upon the low-end products of the Computer Division such as the 9836, which used Motorola's 68000 range of processors and HP's own OSs.

So, this wasn't necessarily a marketing trick, it was a quirk of the way in which the company was structured. Once the company realised that this overlap was causing confusion - for example, they had two entirely independent customer support and sales departments, they restructured. At this point the distinction went away.

Another driver for unification was that customer companies, including the one I was working for at the time, had products from both divisions and wanted to have one point of contact with HP.


The "marketing trick" served different purposes for different companies.

In the early 1960s Roberto Olivetti developed the idea for a computer,

a personal object, something that had to live with a person, a person with his chair sitting at a table or desktop”

Thus began the development of the Olivetti Programma 101, which was launched at the 1964 World Fair in New York.

It is usually called a printing programmable calculator or desktop calculator because its arithmetic instructions correspond to calculator operations, while its instruction set (which allows for conditional jump) and structure qualifies it as a stored program computer.

When Olivetti sold its computer division to General Electric in the mid 1960s it deliberately classified the Programma 101 as a calculator, so it would stay with Olivetti and not be transferred to General Electric.

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    My first programming experience was a P101 in junior high school. (There might be a few magnetic cards and a roll of official Olivetti paper lurking about.) The high school had a Data General Nova timesharing system with three Teletype Model 33 ASR terminals. I dumped the O/S (ALICE), disassembled it, and hacked it. Then off to college and punch cards.
    – HABO
    Commented Jan 1, 2023 at 4:29

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