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Development plan threatens 'Birthplace of Silicon Valley'
Original post made
on May 26, 2012
Silicon semiconductor technology was first introduced to Silicon Valley in a building that now houses a grocery store. The building at 391 San Antonio Road may soon be demolished if a developer succeeds in purchasing it.
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posted Friday, May 25, 2012, 12:00 AM
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Posted by Max Hauser
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 28, 2012 at 4:45 pm
Max Hauser is a registered user.
I was enlightened by the account by the two Shockley Semiconductor veterans (Beaudoin and Queisser) of finding in 1998 "disbelief from some [Mountain View] city officials who thought the birthplace of Silicon Valley was the 1939 garage of Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard." What this really illustrates is the spread of misconception and supposition about "Silicon Valley," even in its town of origin, despite the phrase's unambiguous coinage and publication as I'll detail below. And even though the silicon semiconductor industry, a key part of Santa Clara County's economic history, has employed many tens of thousands of local people, many of whom, like Beaudoin and Queisser, retain direct knowledge of its events.
Electronics trade journalist Don Hoefler coined and popularized the phrase "Silicon Valley" in a 1971 _Electronic News_ article series tracing the rapidly growing family tree of the local integrated-circuits (IC), or silicon-chip, industry, from Shockley Semiconductor to Fairchild Semiconductor and its offspring (already numerous in 1971 and including Intel, National, and Signetics). I recall the series, or at least part of it, being titled "The Saga of Silicon Valley." I saw it at the time, as a teen-aged embryonic engineer still in high school. By the 1980s when I worked in that industry myself, Hoefler was publishing a pricey scandal-sheet newsletter, _Microelectronics News,_ carrying industry data, gossip, and dirt. Everyone in the business read it, and hoped to see more in it about their competitors than their own firm. I still have issues saved.
The phrase "Silicon Valley" was used mainly within the electronics industries for years. I saw it enter national news media at the end of the 1970s; those media promptly got it wrong, inaugurating a trend. For details, see my May-1 comment to a previous Voice story, link below, and my related letter in the current (May-23) Metro Silicon Valley. (Both were written before the current Voice story above appeared.)
Hoefler's term "Silicon Valley" gradually entered mainstream use and misuse. As popular writers began treating the subject (and quoting each other), they tended naturally to place integrated circuits into the broader, much longer history of electronic technology around the SF peninsula and south bay. That history includes Hewlett and Packard's instrument firm (1939, based on Hewlett's student thesis, which I also have, advocating his oscillator design on the merit of lighter weight) and Hewlett and Packard's mentor Prof. Frederick Terman; the Varian brothers (whose 1930s work on microwave generators begat Varian Associates, 1948); Alexander M. Poniatoff's eponymous firm AMPEX (1944) with its pioneering work in professional magnetic tape recording; and magnetic disk storage's origins in the RAMAC 350 at the IBM San José laboratory (1956). Over the years I've heard first-hand accounts of some of that history. For instance the late professor John Woodyard recalled an experiment with the Varian brothers at Stanford in the 1930s. Reflected microwaves were compared to their source and used to measure the speed of pedestrians and bicyclists from a Stanford laboratory window. Woodyard said that someone immediately feared the invention coming into use by traffic cops.
Those developments predated the IC industry, and were separate from it. All could be called related to it, in broad-brush ways like geography and a regional culture of electronics technology development generally. Hoefler's coinage, though, meant silicon chips (the "silicon" in question), which is how the phrase has been understood longest, and by people closest to the industry Hoefler chronicled (he died in the 1980s). Only long after the phrase's use in the trade did later writers link other regional figures like Terman into the silicon-valley story. (When I worked at H-P 30 years ago, which incidentally was years before many people perceived H-P as a "computer" firm, Terman figured in new-employee orientations as part of the context of H-P itself, separate from and 20 years before the silicon chip industry.)
During the late-1990s dot-com era I saw people starting to mischaracterize Silicon Valley as "known for" (or in extreme cases even "the birthplace of") the computer industry. That's a gross misconception: US computer manufacturing history was geographically dispersed and largely outside California, although magnetic disk storage, a component technology of computers, has local history. Modern computers do use silicon chips, but so do most other electronic products, which aren't computers. In recent years, some people associate the phrase with software or with Internet commerce (which does share some geography, but is a distinct industry). Another recent notion is that Silicon-Valley business booms started with the dot-com era; that's ironic given that such a boom in the 1960s prompted Hoefler's articles and the very phrase "Silicon Valley."
A few years ago a book appeared purporting to be a "history of Silicon Valley," written at Stanford. I thumbed through it at the bookstore, went to its extensive index, but found no mention of Hoefler, who coined the book's own title phrase, within the living memory of many people. That was enough to keep me from reading further.