How Arc Alley Became Silicon Valley

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George E. Pake Auditorium 2003-11-06

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How Arc Alley Became Silicon Valley

Most technology histories of this region mark "time zero" as the birth of Hewlett-Packard on 1 January 1939. Then Shockley arrives in 1955. Three years later, the IC gets invented, and the history of Silicon Valley unfolds in earnest. Stanford and Berkeley are somehow involved in Important Ways, orchards disappear, spinoffs beget spinoffs, and boom and bust cycles of ever-increasing amplitude appear as constant companions.

What's less well known are the many other important tech milestones that precede "time zero" of the standard story:

- First ship-to-shore wireless communications in the U.S. (from the Cliff House in San Francisco, in 1899);

- First regularly scheduled radio broadcasts (by Stanford dropout "Doc" Herrold), from San Jose;

- First ground-to-aircraft radio, demonstrated at the Tanforan racetrack in San Bruno;

- First VC-funded electronics startup (Federal Telegraph, founded by Stanford graduate Cyril Elwell, with funding from Stanford president David Starr Jordan and others; it counted among its employees future "Father of Silicon Valley" Fred Terman, and first Stanford EE PhD and future Berkeley EE dept. chair Leonard Fuller);

- Discovery of electronic amplification by Lee de Forest at Federal Telegraph in Palo Alto;

- First megawatt-level continuous wave transmitters (using arc technology, by Federal Telegraph);

- First demonstration of electronic television, by Philo Farnsworth at his San Francisco lab on Green Street.

The talk will begin with a quiz ("Who *really* invented radio?") to prime the pump, and end with a light-speed overview of developments after Farnsworth, up to the founding of Fairchild.

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