LaserJet pioneer, Ray Smelek, laid to rest

Last week my wife Susan and I were in Boise on business, and met up with friends over dinner. The husband had conducted a funeral service that day for Ray Smelek, the man who “brought H-P to Boise”. The wife knew him because she cut his hair for a number of years.

Not being Boise residents, we had not heard that Mr. Smelek had recently passed away. He was the one who scouted the U.S. for the first non-California sites for an H-P factory. The story goes that in Boise he was able to play golf one day and go snow skiing the next; if you lived here, you’d laugh because that is so typical. 

When former Governor of Idaho Cecil Andrus met with Messrs Hewlett and Packard, he was asked what incentives Boise would give to H-P if they moved to the area. Gov Andrus said, none. He was asked why, and explained that it wouldn’t be the state giving incentives, it would be on the backs of the local businesses; and five years down the road it would be H-P helping to pay for the next big business to move to the area. That explanation seemed to over well.

We also heard an interesting story about the development of the LaserJet printer. Mr. Smelek was trying to convince his bosses that the LaserJet should work with all computers. The founders wanted it to work with H-P computers only, which would obviously drive sales of those computers. Ray told them that would work, and he’d do it that way if they insisted, but if they wanted to make serious money, they'd make the printers work universally.

In our office we have printers from nearly all the major manufacturers, and certainly don’t prefer the LaserJet over any other. It’s a hard working printer, among many such. Nonetheless we salute the pioneers and risk takers, and appreciate the impact that Ray Smelek made on the Idaho tech industry and education.

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