Valley's birthplace haunted by Nobel laureate's dark past | June 22, 2012 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

News - June 22, 2012

Valley's birthplace haunted by Nobel laureate's dark past

by Daniel DeBolt

Physicist William Shockley may have introduced silicon to the valley, but efforts to save his former lab building in Mountain View have been stifled by Shockley's controversial views on race and intelligence.

Developer Merlone Geier is offering to buy Shockley's former lab building at 391 San Antonio Road — currently housing the International Halal Market — to expand a major redevelopment next door. The owner's unwillingness to sell seems to be all that stands in the way of scraping a site acknowledged as the birthplace of Silicon Valley.

Proposals made by former employees of Shockley to preserve the cinderblock building as a silicon museum or designate it a city or state historic landmark were passed up by officials in the 1980s and 1990s. Jacques Beaudouin, a Mountain View resident who once worked for Shockley at 391 San Antonio Road, said at least one of the mayors he spoke with raised concerns over Shockley's beliefs, and he says others probably also shared the concern but never said so.

"People were scared and afraid," Beaudouin said. It took 13 years for a plaque to be installed on the sidewalk commemorating the site as Silicon Valley's birthplace. He doesn't doubt that his efforts would have been much easier if Shockley's story were a brighter one.

"That's my personal feeling and the personal feeling of a lot of people," Beaudouin said.

Getting nowhere

Beaudouin said he began working to save 391 San Antonio Road in 1987. When the city was celebrating its 75th anniversary, he saw that officials were making many claims about the city, but not birthplace of Silicon Valley. He says he began speaking to some city officials until he was "blue in the face," about Shockley and his lab at 391 San Antonio Road, but got nowhere.

Finally, during her term as mayor in 1998, the late Rosemary Stasek had a plaque installed in the sidewalk declaring Shockley's lab the birthplace of Silicon Valley, which Beaudouin co-wrote with another former Shockley employee, Hans Queisser.

"Rosemary was the one who really pushed it, made it happen," Beaudouin said.

But nothing was ever done to guarantee preservation of the birthplace of Silicon Valley and Beaudouin stopped his efforts. "I got tired of going over and over the same thing," Beaudouin said.

Beaudouin disputes Palo Alto's claim that the Hewlett Packard garage is the birthplace of Silicon Valley. Beaudouin recalls that Shockley knew Bill Hewlett and once told him, "Bill, you should work on silicon, silicon is where the future is." It took several years for Hewlett-Packard to catch on, Beaudouin said.

Beaudouin says the building now used by Halal International Market at 391 San Antonio Road is the same one used by Shockley's team from 1956-1961 before moving to Page Mill Road in Palo Alto. Only the front facade has been changed.

Controversial views

Shockley shared a Nobel prize in 1956 for the invention of the transistor but reportedly said his work in eugenics in the last three decades of his life was the most important thing he'd done. He wrote a book called "Shockley on Eugenics," about the discredited ideas of genetic and racial superiority espoused by Nazis and some American elite in the early 20th century, but well debunked by Shockley's day.

Shockley once proposed that those with an IQ of less than 100 be paid $1,000 for every point below 100 to not have children, claiming the large proportion of children born to those with a low IQ was causing a reverse evolution. He claimed that intelligence formed along racial lines, and races with higher IQs were more advanced. He denied he was a racist, a term he claimed was an "epithet" meant to hurt his self esteem in a TV interview in 1974.

"The major cause of the American negro's intellectual and social deficits is hereditary and racially genetic in origin, and thus not remediable to a major degree by practical improvements in the environment," he said in the 1974 interview, which can be seen on Youtube.

Perhaps his most controversial quote came in 1982 when he was asked if his views amounted to racism. He reportedly said "If you found a breed of dog that was unreliable and temperamental, why shouldn't you regard it in a less favorable light?"

People reportedly picketed whenever Shockley spoke publicly. In 1989 he died at Stanford, where he taught electrical engineering. No funeral was held.

Strong reactions

His views still elicit strong reactions.

"I'm not a Shockley fan, they don't get anymore racist than him," said City Council member Laura Macias.

Macias said she would be willing to commemorate the building's history, but not Shockley himself.

Beaudouin showed drawings of a historical display that was to be installed years ago at the San Antonio shopping center. Large steel wafers stick out of the ground, one of which says "Birthplace of Silicon Valley" and and has a display titled "The William Shockley story."

Beaudouin says the proposal never went anywhere and he was never told why.

In 2009 officials in Auburn, Calif. faced a similar dilemma when Shockley's widow left 28 acres for a park to be named after Shockley, sparking public outcry.

"I cannot fathom how officials in Auburn would have the gall to name an area park after a white supremacist and think that would be readily accepted by residents," Barry Broad, chairman of the Jewish Community Relations Council, told an Auburn newspaper.

Beaudouin says Shockley still deserves recognition.

Controversy over his views "doesn't change the fact he contributed enormously to the development of the transistor and the integrated circuit," Beaudouin said. "Everyone who walks around with a cell phone owes it to William Shockley. I think he was superb scientist, there's no question about it."

Beaudouin said the experience working for Shockley for seven years in the early 1960s "was a good life." Working conditions were not intolerable as described by the group Shockley called the "traitorous eight," who famously left his lab in 1956 to start Fairchild Semiconductor, Intel and other companies that commercialized the silicon transistor and integrated circuit.

Email Daniel DeBolt at


Like this comment
Posted by Aloke K. Bose
a resident of another community
on Jun 21, 2012 at 6:49 pm

It is a fact that William Bradford Shockley along with John Bardeen and Walter Houser Brattain, co-invented the transistor, for which all three were awarded the 1956 Nobel Prize in Physics. It is also a fact that William Shockley was instrumental in bringing "Silicon" to "Silicon Valley". And, it is also a fact that Shockley "was intensely interested in questions of race, intelligence, and eugenics. He thought this work was important to the genetic future of the human species, and came to describe it as the most important work of his career".
In view of the above, does Shockley as a person deserve being put on a pedestal?

Like this comment
Posted by Tea Party
a resident of another community
on Jun 21, 2012 at 7:26 pm

White supremacy is becoming mainstream again with the rise of the Tea Party. Don't expect a Shockley memorial while Obama is President, but if a Tea Party gets strong enough to put one of their people in office, then anything goes.

Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 21, 2012 at 9:25 pm

He was nonetheless a genius in his field. I wouldn't be so quick to brand him a white supremest based on his research into intelligence. To do so would inhibit future studies on intelligence every time the issue of race came up. The problem is that race and socioeconomic factors will always come up in studies on intelligence as will ethnicity. See Flynn's 2007 book "What is Intelligence". A lot of the shadows cast on Shockley was driven by the liberal media (such as in this piece). To do so would inhibit future studies on intelligence every time the issue of race came up.

Like this comment
Posted by Tea Party
a resident of another community
on Jun 21, 2012 at 11:55 pm

Interesting discussion on Dr. Shockley on a Tea Party web site: Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by sparty
a resident of Shoreline West
on Jun 22, 2012 at 2:02 am

Here's a guy complaining about Shockley when right down the street is Planned Parenthood... started by little miss eugenics.

Like this comment
Posted by Jes' Sayin'
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Jun 26, 2012 at 4:25 pm

It's pretty easy, folks. When you make a landmark you word it to honor the discovery, not necessarily the person. Talk about what was invented and its significance and don't go into all that detail about who did it.

This could mean tourism dollars for Mountain View.