August 2, 2021

Tech

How Silicon Valley Got Its Name, And The Origin Story

Silicon Valley is home to the biggest tech giants on the planet. Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google and more. Almost everyone working in tech aspires to work in these companies. Or at the very least, be close to them in one of the many upcoming startups in the valley.

Silicon Valley is not a city. Instead, it is a region comprising of many cities in California. These include Mountain View, Cupertino, Palo Alto, Santa Clara County. Additionally, any city that becomes a hub of Tech companies becomes the Silicon Valley of that country. For instance, Bangalore is the Silicon Valley of India.

But how did this region become home to the most recognised technology companies in the world? Well, let's take a look at the origin story of the valley.

Who Coined The Term "Silicon Valley"?

On 11 January, 1971, Don Hoefler, an American journalist published a series in a weekly trade paper called Electronic News. He titled the series "Silicon Valley USA". This was, quite possibly, the first recorded use of the term in print. And it stuck.

Don was writing a series of articles about the semiconductor industry that was going strong in the 70s. When he had a hard time coming up with a good title for the series, Ralph Vaerst, then President of Ion Equipment, suggested the name to Don. Ralph had heard some people refer to the valley with that name.

Before the hi-tech industrial growth, the Santa Clara Valley was known as the Valley of Heart's Delight. It was named so thanks to its hight concentration of orchards, flowering trees and plants. The industrial growth of the 1960s transformed the area to an urbanised landscape known as the Silicon Valley today.

The Military History of the Region

Even before the tech-boom, the area hosted defence contractors and military companies in the 1950s and even before that. The NASA Ames Research Center was established in Silicon Valley, in 1939. The Lockheed Missiles and Space Division, founded in 1953, moved to Palo Alto facility next to the NASA Centre, three years later.

According to Steve Jobs, these mysterious and high-tech military companies made the place exciting to live in.

In the wake of the defence industries in the area, there arose a booming economy based on technology. This growing economy had roots way back in 1939 when David Packard and Bill Hewlett founded Hewlett-Packard (HP).

Role of Stanford University in Silicon Valley's Transformation

The military and defence companies set in motion an economic boom in the valley. But, another event laid the foundation of what would become the Silicon Valley we know today.

Frederick Terman, an engineering professor at Stanford University, established a 700 acre Stanford Industrial Park in the 1950s. He encouraged the students to innovate, invent products and start their own companies.

This move transformed the area and made the first steps towards becoming Silicon Valley. It has been referred as the "engine for Silicon Valley" and "the epicentre of Silicon Valley."

The park has housed some notable names in the Tech industry. Some of them include Steve Jobs' venture NeXT Computer, Tesla Motors and Facebook.

Here Comes The Silicon

Military companies and the Stanford Industrial Park heavily contributed to Silicon Valley. But, the biggest contribution to the growth of the valley was, well, silicon.

William Shockley invented transistors in 1947. He won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his efforts alongside two other distinguished scientists in 1956. The same year, he moved to Mountain View and started a semiconductor company to commercialise his invention. He started building the transistors with Silicon instead of Germanium that was used at the time.

A group of people that worked with him said, "Shockley is the man who brought silicon to Silicon Valley."

Two of the researchers that worked with Shockley left his company, and went on to form Integrated Electronics Corporation, popularly known as Intel.

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So there we have it. Silicon catapulted humanity forward with an unprecedented technological advancement. It lent its name to the geographical region responsible for shaping the present and future.

This article mentions that the net worth of 10 richest Silicon Valley white dudes is a whopping $248 billion. In addition, four of the most iconic companies in the valley (Alphabet, Apple, Facebook, Cisco) hold $307 billion in cash reservers. These figures denote the economic power and significance of Silicon Valley.

References

  • Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography
  • Netvalley.com, "Silicon Valley USA" in Electronic News
  • Business Insider India, Here are 9 answers to some of internet's questions about Silicon Valley
  • Wikipedia, Stanford University, Stanford Industrial Park, Don Hoefler, William Shockley, Santa Clara Valley

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