Fred Wenninger


The Story of the Little Computer That Could!


Revised 5/9/06



Fred William Wenninger was born February 6, 1939 in Alva, Oklahoma. Over the course of his life, he lived all over the American west but always called Alva home. Wenninger graduated from Oklahoma State University in 1963 with a Ph.D. in engineering. He immediately began his technical career at the Loveland Instrument Division of the Hewlett-Packard Company in Loveland, Colorado. Wenninger was drawn to computing. His PhD thesis topic was analog computing and he formed a team at HP during the late 1960s that developed an analog computer named the Synchro-Rectro-Flash. The computer never made it to production and the abandoned prototype spent several years hidden in a ventilation-system closet at the HP plant in Loveland until Wenninger spirited it away one weekend to a barn on his wheat farm near Ft. Morgan, Colorado.

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Fred Wenninger during his
days at Hewlett-Packard.

Photo courtesy
Hewlett-Packard Company


The Synchro-Rectro-Flash after 30 years
in Fred Wenninger’s barn.

Photo courtesy of Marl Godfrey

Even though the Synchro-Rectro-Flash didn’t become a product, Wenninger’s interest in computers didn’t wane. By the early 1970s, he was working on early research for a new, unnamed algebraic programming language that would first appear in HP’s 9820A desktop calculator. HP would eventually name this language HPL. It would flower in the HP 9825A desktop calculator, an extremely successful computer introduced in 1976. Wenninger managed the overall development of that machine.

By 1977, Wenninger started managing an advanced semiconductor-development project for HP called Focus. The project was designed to leapfrog HP years ahead of commercial semiconductor vendors by producing a 32-bit microprocessor and large memory chips for HP’s desktop computers. In his role as the overall manager of the Focus project, Wenninger was given access to divisional resources across all of HP, unprecedented power for anyone at the company except for Bill Hewlett, Dave Packard, and perhaps the legendary head of HP Labs, Barney Oliver. The Focus project launched HP into the engineering workstation business.

After serving as General Manager for a few of HP’s computer divisions over an eight-year period, Wenninger left HP in 1986 to become president of Allied Signal Corp’s Bendix/King subsidiary. Typical of Wenninger, he became intensely interested in King Radio because he wanted improved communications gear for his private aircraft. His interest led him to become the subsidiary’s president. Wenninger left Bendix/King in 1989 to become the president and CEO of Iomega Corp, an early player in removable and external mass-storage products for IBM PCs. He left Iomega in 1995 to become the president, CEO, and a director of keyboard manufacturer Key Tronic Corp. Wenninger was noted for taking Bendix/King, Iomega, and Key Tronic to new levels of productivity and profitability.

While at Iomega and Key Tronic, Wenninger also served as a director of the Norand Corp of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Norand made a proprietary line of handheld computers. Wenninger also served as a director of the Hach Company (Loveland, Colorado), a maker of water-quality test equipment and reagent chemicals, and Raser Technologies (Provo, Utah), a technology licensing firm that focuses on motors and motor controllers.

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Fred Wenninger

Image courtesy of Betty Wenninger

In addition to his successful high-technology engineering and management career, Wenninger was a farmer and rancher. He grew wheat in Colorado and had a game-hunting preserve called the Wing and Rack in Oklahoma. He married Kay Magnuson in 1960, and together they had two sons. In 1985, he married Betty Dawson. He died December 22, 2005 at the age of 66.



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