Silicon Valley is a name that is synonymous with the technology industry, but when and how did this small area of California become the center of the tech world? The area’s transformation happened gradually, over a period of more than 100 years. Here’s how.
Silicon Valley is an almost $3 trillion neighborhood thanks to companies like Apple, Google, and Tesla. But it wasn’t always this way.
In the late 1800s, San Francisco’s port helped make it a hub of the early telegraph and radio industries. In 1909, San José became home to one of the country’s first radio stations. In 1933, the Navy purchased Moffett Field to dock and maintain the USS Macon. This made Moffett Field a major hub for the early days of the aerospace industry. Many scientists and researchers all found work in the area. In 1939, the Ames Research Center was founded in the area, and it became home to the world’s largest wind tunnel in 1949.
Also in 1939, William Hewlett and Dave Packard founded Hewlett-Packard in Palo Alto, which originally made oscilloscopes. Then, during World War II, HP made radar and artillery technology. At this point, computers were about the size of a room.
In the 1940s, William Shockley co-invented the transistor while at Bell Labs. The transistor is now known as the computer processor. In 1956, Shockley left Bell and founded his own company — Shockley Semiconductor Labs. It was the first company to make transistors out of silicon and not germanium. The company was founded in Mountain View, California — so Shockley could be closer to his sick mother. Shockley’s company employed many recent grads of Stanford.
In 1957, eight Shockley employees grew tired of his demeanor and left the company. Shockley called the group the “Traitorous Eight.” They partnered with Sherman Fairchild to create Fairchild Semiconductor. In the early 1960s, Fairchild helped make computer components for the Apollo program. Later in the decade, many of the “Traitorous Eight” left Fairchild and founded their own companies. Including Gordon Moore and Robert Nyce, who in 1968 founded their own company in Santa Clara called Intel. Soon after, other ex-Fairchild employees and “Traitorous Eight” members helped found AMD, NVIDIA, and venture fund Kleiner Perkins.
In 1969, the Stanford Research Institute became one of the four nodes of ARPANET. A government research project that would go on to become the internet. In 1970, Xerox opened its PARC lab in Palo Alto. PARC invented early computing tech, including ethernet computing and the graphical user interface. In 1971, journalist Don Hoefler titled a 3-part report on the semiconductor industry “SILICON VALLEY USA.” The name stuck.
In the 1970s, companies like Atari, Apple, and Oracle were all founded in the area In the 1980s, Silicon Valley became the widely-accepted center of the computer industry. eBay, Yahoo!, PayPal, and Google are just some of the companies founded in the area in the 1990s With Facebook, Twitter, Uber, and Tesla joining them the following decade. The growth of the tech industry in the area continues to this day.
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