A BRIEF HISTORY OF SILICON VALLEY

By Jim McCormick

A LAND OF PASTORAL PLENTY
Prunes and apricots, semiconductors and satellites: diverse fruits of the special kind of fertility found so distinctly in Santa Clara County, California, "The Valley of The Heart's Delight".
 
 

Historically, an agricultural Horn of Plenty, the area boasted bumper fruit crops. Prunes primarily, followed by apricots and cherries, were a $65 million annual crop into the 1950's. Each spring, the white and pink blossoms of the ubiquitous fruit trees promised another year of plenitude, making the Santa Clara Valley the 10th largest growing area in the United States.

More recently the area, which is about 25 miles long and 10 miles wide, and approximately 45 miles southeast of San Francisco, is known for fruit of another sort entirely--that from the intellects of a growing corps of technologically sophisticated entrepreneurs. Their products, all based in one way or another upon the semiconductor, with its silicon chip brain, gave rise to a new name for the area: "Silicon Valley".

Coined by electronics writer Don Hoeffler in 1972, the name and all that it means--intellectual brilliance, thick willed determination and boundless energy for discovery, have caught the imagination and envy of people in countries around the world.
A UNIVERSITY AND A MOMENT IN TIME
A significant moment occurred in 1909. Stanford University President, David Starr Jordan put up the first important venture capital of $500 for work on Lee deForrest's audion tube, which could amplify an electrical signal within its airless confines. Thereafter, the relationship of genius, capital and the Santa Clara Valley would be forever entwined.
 
 

Credited as the founder of modern electronics, Mr. deForrest's 1906 invention of the vacuum tube is the cornerstone of all the marvels that would later make this unique, sunwashed plain between the Santa Cruz Mountains and the East Bay foothills, so rightly famous.

Stanford graduates and associates, young entrepreneurs all, helped the electronic age take its first determined steps. With the invaluable support of the University, these men set the tone for the rogue, individualistic, visionary makeup which epitomizes the Silicon Valley mindset.
MORE THAN A TEACHER
The title of Father of Silicon Valley, belongs to the brilliant Stanford University professor of electrical engineering, Frederick Terman. Teaching radio engineering, he encouraged his students to work for local companies and to start businesses of their own, rather than being lured back east to the dead end attraction of safe, "establishment" companies there. Among two of the students to heed his admonition were William Hewlett and David Packard. Their audio-oscillator, designed with Terman's help, became the basis for a later deal with Walt Disney Studios in 1939, for the film "Fantasia". Today, their company is a multi-national, multi-billion dollar giant.

 THE INVENTION WHICH SAVED A NATION
Elemental pieces of modern electronic equipment have their roots in the mid and late 1930's in Palo Alto and Stanford. After graduating from Stanford, Russell Varian joined Philo Farnsworth and established the critical groundwork for the development of television. Varian's electron tube provided the medium for Farnsworth's method of electromagnetically focusing and deflecting electron beams.
 
 

With the war in Europe raging, the brothers Varian, Sigurd and Russell, worked rent free in a Stanford lab on their Klystron tube, from which radar, and later Varian Associates inventions involving microwave radiation, evolved. The seven pound radar equipment that they developed flew in Royal Air Force planes during the Battle of Britain. This allowed them to "see" into the horizon and intercept German bombers.

World War II saw the introduction of the U.S. government as a major supporter of emerging technology. California received almost $40 million in new plants and defense contracts.
EARLY COMPUTER "BURNOUT"
In 1946, at the University of Pennsylvania, the Sperry-Rand Company created an enormous calculating machine known as the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer). This first electronic computing device depended upon more than 18,000 vacuum tubes to perform the basic function of electromechanically switching ferrite memory cores. Each core when switched to either the on or off position, represented a yes or no answer, one bit of information, to a computational question.
 
 

Linking similarly posed yes or no questions, known today as "binary code", it was then possible to perform highly complex calculations. The problem was that even though this was a significant breakthrough, it was also tremendously impractical. The tubes, gave off an incredible amount of heat and were constantly subject to overload and burnout.
THE TRANSFER RESISTOR IS BORN
In December 1947, a significant event occurred when three AT&T Bell Telephone Laboratory engineers, John Bardeen, William Shockley and Walter Brattain, successfully demonstrated the principle of amplifying an electrical current using a solid semiconducting material. Their concept was based on the fact that it is possible to selectively control the flow of electricity through silicon, designating some areas as current conductors and adjacent areas as insulators. This principle gives meaning to , the term "semiconductor".
 
 

These three men sought to find a suitable alternative for the commercially unreliable vacuum tube. Tubes carried out the essential task of voice amplification, electromechanical circuit switching and other functions involving the regulated conduction of electrical current. Their resultant discoveries combined to form the basic concept behind the transistor, the compact electrical "transfer resistor" that was to power the coming High Tech Revolution.
THEY PAVED PARADISE
Throughout the 1950's, electronics companies such as General Electric and Sylvania, were joined by Westinghouse Electric and Ford Philco in establishing facilities in Palo Alto and neighboring cities like Mountain View. Even as far south as San Jose, where IBM established a huge research center, companies established roots and flourished.
 
 

With the establishment of Stanford Industrial Park in the mid 50's, the very character of Silicon Valley as a conglomeration of inter-related, interbred technology companies took hold.

Around the same time in a nearby section of Palo Alto, Robert Shockley opened Shockley Transistor Laboratories. Brilliant but volatile, Mr.Shockley's lab became the common womb for the founding corps of engineers whose later companies became the bedrock upon which present day Silicon Valley is built.

Silica and germanium are two of the most common minerals on earth. Both are excellent semiconducting materials. Shockley had a strong preference for germanium. An internal dispute eventually arose over this choice. Engineers Gordon Moore, C. Sheldon Roberts, Eugene Kleiner, Victor Grinich, Julius Blank, Jean Hoerni and Jay Last, chose silicon as the more appropriate semiconducting material, which in turn, led them to leave Shockley in 1957.

Joined by Robert Noyce, the Shockley alumni, with backing from Fairchild Camera and Instrument in Long Island, NY., created Fairchild Semiconductor in Mountain View, in 1958. Under Robert Noyce's direction, Fairchild has forever become important as the first company to successfully mass manufacture a micro-sized device capable of integrating large numbers of electrical "on-off" switching functions, stored in simple memory cells, all etched onto a silicon chip. Otherwise known as the Integrated Circuit.
UPON THIS ROCK
Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce left Fairchild after 10 years and with the help of the insightful Venture Capitalist, Arthur Rock, started a company they named Intel. The name is a contraction of "integrated electronics". Early on, the company focused on a quest to continually maximize the amount of circuits that could be put on a piece of silicon. Their integrated circuit semiconductor chips, with ever increasing memory density, soon became the defacto standard for the industry. By 1970, that industry had grown to around 15 companies, and the Computer Revolution was on.

 BLAST-OFF
By 1971, Intel's process of miniaturization culminated in the of creation of what was until then, the young industry's "Holy Grail"--a "computer on a chip". These "microprocessors" proved capable of performing the millions, then billions, of humble "on-off" switches that are at the very heart of a computer's operation. This marked the definitive turning point in processing power.
 
 

Since that accomplishment, random access memory chip density has, on average, doubled every two years. The cumulative effect of this reality distorting growth has created the seemingly endless array of high technology based inventions that have so shaped the late 20th Century.
HERE, THERE AND EVERYWHERE
Today, Silicon Valley spreads far beyond its original Palo Alto bounds. Indeed its influence is felt in places like Austin, Seattle and Route 128, outside of Boston, even as far as Silicon Glen--in Scotland. The countries in the area now known collectively as "the Pacific Rim", can connect their economic emergence to a heritage running right through Silicon Valley.
 
 

The multitude of companies and their world shaping products all have a common association to those early days when an amazing fate was cast. When a forward thinking university president gave an inventor $500 and unknowingly gave license to create the future of mankind in a vacuum tube.


REFERENCES
The following materials provided a rich resource on the history of Silicon Valley. They are well worth reading to learn in even greater depth, the amazing diversity of good luck, hard work and incredible determination that helped to create a watershed in the events of man.
 
 

Silicon Valley High Tech, by Gene Bylinsky. The Intercontinental Publishing Company.

High Tech America, by Ann Markusen, Peter Hall and Amy Glasmeier. Allen and Unwin.

Silicon Valley Fever, by Everett Rogers and Judith Larsen. Basic Books, Inc.

Excerpts from The Microprocessor: A Biography, by Michael Malone. Telos/Springer-Verlag. Appeared in a three part series in the San Jose Mercury News, Business Section, September 10, 11, 12, 1995.

Technology Silicon Valley, January, 1995. Vol.12, Number 38. A magazine produced by the San Jose and Silicon Valley Business Journal. Numerous articles helped provide a general background context for Silicon Valley Online's A Brief History of Silicon Valley.


If you have any interesting facts regarding the history of the Silicon Valley please send us a note.


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