Once upon a time there was an abandoned lot in Palo Alto, California. Once upon a time there was a university that opted for its students and encouraged them to develop their own technology companies. That’s where Silicon Valley came from, with pioneers like Hewlett-Packard.
California, United States. First state by population and third by size. Its history deserves an article of its own: it was first colonized by successive Spanish missions, then it became part of the newly independent Mexico and, finally, it ended up being one more territory of the United States after the war between both countries.
Many things can be said about California, such as the fact that it has iconic cities such as San Francisco or Los Angeles, and in the subject at hand, it has the highest concentration of technology companies in the country. If California were an independent country, its nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP) would be above the United States itself and large ones such as China, Japan or Germany.
As well. Between San Francisco and San Jose we find Silicon Valley, a vast territory that encompasses several cities, such as Palo Alto, Cupertino or Mountain View, names that will sound to host the headquarters of giants such as Samsung (San Jose), Google (Mountain View) , Apple (Cupertino), Adobe (San Jose), Facebook (Menlo Park), Tesla (Palo Alto) … The list is practically endless.
More or less we all know what Silicon Valley is. We know its fame and the large number of startups and dotcom companies that are born every day in the area with the aim of being the next Facebook or the next Google. It even has its own television series that more or less correctly tells us about what Silicon Valley is like today.
But how was Silicon Valley born? Who put the name? Who laid the first stone? Who were the pioneers who turned disused land into the headquarters of large technology companies expanding their domains throughout the San Francisco Bay and the Santa Clara Valley?
Ground zero: Stanford
Things like Silicon Valley do not come out of nowhere. Moreover, its name was not coined until the 70s, twenty years after the advent of an ambitious project to bring technological companies together in the same geographical area.
Leaving aside antecedents that would take us to the 19th century, ground zero, where we can say that everything started is Stanford University, located in Santa Clara county.
Among his greatest achievements, the ARPANET project stands out, one of the ancestors of the modern Internet. Google emerged as a research project by two Stanford students, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook. They even started up computers, their own operating system (Solaris), SPARC technology or the ZFS file system, all marketed through Sun Microsystems, a company created by two former Stanford students.
But let’s go back to the beginning of everything. After the Second World War, Stanford sees old students returning, just like other universities in the country. To cover costs and provide jobs for recent graduates, Stanford University plans to create its own industrial park, Stanford Industrial Park, taking advantage of surrounding land without any use.
The paternity of the project, which was inaugurated in 1951, is attributed to Frederick Terman, professor and rector of the School of Engineering at Stanford, and to William Shockley, discoverer of the transistor and father, in turn, of one of the first companies in Silicon Valley, the Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory.
Stanford Industrial Park will open companies such as Varian Associates, dedicated to create military radar components and develop the microwave tube or the well-known Hewlett-Packard, founded by Stanford alumni William Hewlett and David Packard and initially dedicated to the design and creation of audio oscillators. Lockheed was another of the first companies to open headquarters there, which would be responsible for part of the components of the International Space Station.
Soon they will be interested in established companies such as Bell Telephone Laboratories or Xerox, which will launch its famous Xerox PARC in 1970 in what will then be known as Stanford Research Park. From Xerox PARC will emerge innovations such as Ethernet technologies, PostScript and the concept of GUI or Graphical User Interface. In the 90 will arrive Kodak (Eastman Kodak by then) or General Electric, among others.
One of the companies based in Stanford Industrial Park, Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory, introduces silicon as a semiconductor element. Leaving aside technicalities, in 1957 Shockley abandoned his research on silicon transistors as a replacement for germanium, which was used at the time.
Due to personal differences, eight employees leave the company to create their own company, Fairchild Semiconductor, responsible for the first integrated circuits (1960 onwards). Among its first customers will have nothing more and nothing less than IBM. IN 1966, two of its main buyers of semiconductors will be Texas Instruments and Motorola.
As a curiosity, it is worth noting that the founders of Intel, Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore, who will be based in Mountain View and that will give life to the first microprocessor, came from Fairchild Semiconductor.
But that’s not all: more than 90 companies were born directly or indirectly from Fairchild between 1959 and 1971. Their names are not as well-known as Intel, but they played an important role in the semiconductor industry that made Silicon Valley great until the arrival of the software industry.
Silicon Valley, USA
How does an industrial park become with the name of a university in Silicon Valley? The concept of “Silicon Valley” was used occasionally, but it was not really popular until the appearance in 1971 of a series of articles written by Don Hoefler and titled Silicon Valley USA in the publication Electronic News.
The name was suggested by Ralph Vaerst, founder of Ion Equipment Corporation. For three weeks, Hoefler’s articles spoke about the semiconductor industry in the Santa Clara Valley under that title. Given the relevance of Electronic News in the electronics industry, the term “Silicon Valley” did not take long to materialize.
Silicon Valley 2.0 and up
The first Silicon Valley, even before being called as such, we could number it as version 1.0. And although its members were dedicated to different branches of high technology, semiconductors and derived applications ended up being the unifying element of this conglomerate of innovative companies.
With time will come Apple, Microsoft, Adobe and the like, more focused on microcomputación and software, increasingly popular thanks to home and professional computers.
And in the second half of the 90 will arrive the first dotcom, like Yahoo! or eBay, which will give rise to the current ecosystem where companies that provide services on the internet coexist with others that combine physical and digital technology. But that is another story.