Silicon Valley History

Silicon Valley in the 1950s

Stanford Industrial Park

Stanford University established the nation’s first high-tech research park in Palo Alto. Varian Associates was the first tenant. Instrumental to the creation and growth of Silicon Valley, the park is now home to more than 140 companies in electronics, software, biotechnology and other high-tech fields.

IBM’s West Coast Laboratory

IBM established a research center in San Jose headed by Reynold “Rey” Johnson where the first hard disk storage device was designed. Later, in 1956, IBM opened its General Products Division and developed disk storage devices and magnetic strip technology.

Silicon Comes to Santa Clara Valley

Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory of Mountain View developed Northern California’s first prototype silicon devices while training young engineers and scientists for the future Silicon Valley.

Fairchild Semiconductor

Eight scientists, all under the age of 30, become known as the “traitorous eight” when they leave Shockley Labs to begin Fairchild Semiconductor.

Silicon Mesa Transistors Enter Commercial Production

In early 1958 Fairchild Semiconductor of Palo Alto procured its first order, for 100 transistors at $150 apiece from IBM’s Federal Systems Division.

Monolithic Integrated Circuit

Robert Noyce of Fairchild Semiconductor built on Jean Hoerni’s planar process to patent a monolithic integrated circuit structure that could be manufactured in high volume.

Silicon Valley in the 1960s

First Planar Integrated Circuit

Jay Last of Fairchild Semiconductor led development of the first commercial IC based on Hoerni’s planar process and Noyce’s monolithic approach. The first working monolithic devices produced used physical isolation to achieve electrical separation between components. Deep channels were etched from the rear of the silicon wafer and filled with non-conducting epoxy.

Silicon Exceeds Germanium Speed

Seymour Cray funded development of the first silicon device to meet the performance demands of the world’s fastest machine. Fairchild Semiconductor met the specifications by combining “gold-doping” – the addition of gold impurities – together with the new epitaxial deposition process.

Complimentary MOS Circuit Introduced

In a 1963 conference paper C. T. Sah and Frank Wanlass of the Fairchild R & D Laboratory showed that logic circuits combining p-channel and n-channel MOS transistors in a complementary symmetry circuit configuration drew close to zero power in standby mode. Wanlass patented the idea that today is called CMOS.

Applied Materials Founded by Michael A. McNeilly

Applied Materials begins in a small industrial unit in Mountain View and becomes one of the earliest companies to make wafer fabrication equipment for semiconductor manufacturing.

Intel Founded

Intel (originally incorporated as NM Electronics) is formed when Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore leave Fairchild Semiconductor to produce computer memory. Its first product, in 1969, was the 3101 Schottky TTL bipolar 64-bit static random-access memory (SRAM).

Jerry Sanders Founds Advanced Micro Devices

Advanced Micro Devices was founded on May 1, 1969, by a group of former executives from Fairchild Semiconductor, including Jerry Sanders III, Ed Turney, John Carey, Sven Simonsen, and Jack Gifford. The company began as a producer of logic chips, then entered the RAM chip business in 1975.

Silicon Valley in the 1970s

PARC Established

Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) was responsible for developing laser printing, the mouse and the graphical user interface. While the 3,000 mile buffer between it and Xerox headquarters in New York afforded scientists at the new lab great freedom to undertake their work, the distance also served as an impediment to persuade management of the promise of some of their greatest achievements.

Intel Announces “Computer on a Chip”

Intel announced the first “computer on a chip”, later named the 4004 microprocessor. The same year Silicon Valley got its name when journalist, Don Hoefler of Electronic News, coined the term after the main ingredient in semiconductors.

Atari Founded

In 1971, Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney founded an engineering firm, Syzygy Engineering, that designed and built the first arcade video game – Computer Space for Nutting Associates. A year later Bushnell founded Atari, Inc. in Sunnyvale and hired Al Alcorn as their first design engineer. To test Alcorn’s abilities, Bushnell had him produce an arcade version of the Magnavox Odyssey’s Tennis game, which would be named Pong.

Anchor-Electronics Founded by John Burgoon

John Burgoon, a Lockheed engineer, started Anchor-Electronics in Santa Clara to cater to the needs of the burgeoning tech industry. The ensuing years have seen regular expansion of the inventory and showroom space, keeping pace with the diverse needs of the area’s prototyping engineers, students and hobbyists. In the same year, Bob Metcalfe invented Ethernet, local area networking technology, at Xerox PARC.

IMSAI 8080 Launched

MS Associates of San Leandro shipped the first IMSAI 8080 kits on December 16, 1975. It became one of the earliest successes in personal computing, with almost 20,000 units produced. The IMSAI 8080’s chassis had a capacity for up to 22 boards, and supported up to 64K of 500-nonsecond memory. One of the IMS Associate’s subsidiaries was the ill-fated ComputerLand.

Apple Established by Jobs and Wozniak

Apple was established on April 1, 1976 by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne, to sell the Apple I personal computer kit. The original Apples were hand-built by Wozniak in Job’s garage and first shown to the public at the Homebrew Computer Club. The Apple I was sold as a motherboard (with CPU, RAM, and basic textual-video chips) — less than what is today considered a complete personal computer — and was priced at $666.66.

Oracle’s Origins

Software Development Laboratories (SDL) was incorporated in Redwood Shores by Larry Ellison, Bob Miner and Ed Oates. In 1979 its name was changed to Relational Software Inc. (RSI) and relocated to Menlo Park. Finally, in 1983, RSI took the name “Oracle” in order to align more closely with its primary product. The name Oracle came from the code name of a CIA project which the founders had all worked on while at the Ampex Corporation.

3Com Founded by Robert Metcalfe

3Com Corporation was founded by Robert Metcalfe, co-inventor of Ethernet, the most pervasive networking technology worldwide. By 1997 3Com had become a $5.6 billion company.

Silicon Valley in the 1980s

First Microcomputer Hard Drive

Seagate Technology of Scotts Valley created the first hard disk drive for microcomputers, the ST506. The disk held 5 megabytes of data, five times as much as a standard floppy disk, and fit in the space of a floppy disk drive. The hard disk drive itself is a rigid metallic platter coated on both sides with a thin layer of magnetic material that stores digital data.

First Portable Computer

Adam Osborne completed the first portable computer, the Osborne I, which weighed 24 pounds and cost $1,795. The price made the machine especially attractive, as it included software worth about $1,500. The machine, made in Hayward, featured a 5-inch display, 64 kilobytes of memory, a modem, and two 5 1/4-inch floppy disk drives.

Sun Microsystems Founded

On February 12, 1982 Vinod Khosla, Andy Bechtolsheim, and Scott McNealy, all Stanford graduate students, founded Sun Microsystems. Bill Joy of Berkeley, a primary developer of BSD, joined soon after and is counted as one of the original founders. The Sun name is derived from the initials of the Stanford University Network. The initial design for what became Sun’s first Unix workstation was conceived by Andy Bechtolsheim when he was a graduate student.

Apple Introduces Lisa

Apple’s Lisa was the first personal computer with a graphical user interface, its development was central in the move to such systems for personal computers. The Lisa´s sloth and high price ($10,000) led to its ultimate failure. The Lisa ran on a Motorola 68000 microprocessor and came equipped with 1 megabyte of RAM, a 12-inch black-and-white monitor, dual 5 1/4-inch floppy disk drives and a 5 megabyte Profile hard drive.

Macintosh Launched

Apple Computer launched the Macintosh, the first successful mouse-driven computer with a graphic user interface, with a single $1.5 million commercial during the 1984 Super Bowl. Based on the Motorola 68000 microprocessor, the Macintosh included many of the Lisa´s features at a much more affordable price: $2,500.

Microsoft Adds PowerPoint

Microsoft acquired Forethought of Menlo Park, the maker of PowerPoint. Later that year, PowerPoint is awarded MacUser’s “Best New Desktop Presentation Product”.

Silicon Valley in the 1990s

Palm Computing Founded in Sunnyvale

Palm Computing, Inc. was founded in 1992 by Jeff Hawkins, the co-inventor of the Palm Pilot (along with Donna Dubinsky and Ed Colligan). The company was started in Sunnyvale to create a PDA for consumers, called the Zoomer. The devices were manufactured by Casio and marketed by Tandy, while Palm provided the PIM software. The operating system was provided by Geoworks.

ZAP founded in Santa Rosa

ZAP (short for Zero Air Pollution) was founded in Santa Rosa in 1994. The company, which manufactures and markets various electric vehicles, is now a publicly-owned corporation listed under the stock symbol ZAAP on OTC Bulletin Board.

Yahoo Incorporated

Jerry Yang and David Filo were Electrical Engineering graduate students at Stanford University. In April 1994, “Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web” was renamed “Yahoo!”, and by the end of 1994, Yahoo! had already received one million hits. The Yahoo! domain was created on January 18, 1995. Yang and Filo quickly realized their website had massive business potential, and on March 1, 1995, Yahoo! was incorporated.

Hotmail Founded by former Apple Employees

Hotmail was founded by two colleagues from Apple, Jack Smith and Sabeer Bhatia, and launched in July 1996. Hotmail was one of the first free webmail services and was funded by the venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson. It was subsequently acquired by Microsoft in 1997 for an estimated $400 million, and shortly after it was rebranded as “MSN Hotmail”.

Google Incorporated

Google began in January 1996, as a research project by Larry Page, who was soon joined by Sergey Brin, when they were both Ph.D. students at Stanford. They hypothesized that a search engine that analyzed the relationships between websites would produce better ranking of results than existing techniques. Originally, the search engine used the Stanford University website with the domain The domain was registered in 1997, and the company was incorporated as Google Inc. on September 4, 1998, at a friend’s garage in Menlo Park, California.

Silicon Valley in the 2000s

PayPal Acquired by eBay

PayPal was acquired by eBay for $1.5 billion in October 2002. PayPal had previously been the payment method of choice by more than fifty percent of eBay users, and the service competed with eBay’s subsidiary Billpoint. As a result of the acquisition PayPal’s offices moved from Palo Alto to eBay’s San Jose campus.

Tesla Motors Founded

Tesla Motors, Inc. is a San Carlos startup focusing on the production of high performance, consumer-oriented battery electric vehicles. The firm was incorporated in July 2003 by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning. Eberhard, a computer engineer, combined his passion for sportscars with his concerns about global warming to conceive of the company.

Facebook Moves to Palo Alto

Facebook came about as a spin-off of a Harvard University version of Hot or Not called Facemash. Mark Zuckerberg, while attending Harvard as a sophomore, concocted Facemash on October 28, 2003. According to The Harvard Crimson, Facemash “used photos compiled from the online facebooks of nine Houses, placing two next to each other at a time and asking users to choose the ‘hotter’ person.” The following semester, Zuckerberg founded “The Facebook” and its base of operations was moved to Palo Alto.

ILM Moves to the Presidio

In summer 2005, Industrial Light and Magic moved to the Letterman Digital Arts Center. For the first time in the company’s history, all of the Lucas award-winning businesses including ILM, LucasArts Entertainment, Lucas Licensing, Lucas Online and Lucasfilm Ltd. were under one roof. The custom-designed 23-acre campus is located at the Presidio in San Francisco.

Twitter Tweets for the First Time

Jack Dorsey of San Francisco created Twitter, the internet-based text messaging service. The prototype took him about two weeks to build. BusinessWeek named him one of technology’s “Best and Brightest”. Dorsey’s three guiding principles, which continue to guide the company, are simplicity, constraint and craftsmanship.

Valley of the Heart’s Delight

The term Silicon Valley was coined by Ralph Vaerst, a Northern California entrepreneur. Its first published use is credited to Don Hoefler, a friend of Vaerst’s, who used the phrase as the title of a series of articles in the weekly trade newspaper Electronic News. The series, entitled “Silicon Valley USA,” began in the paper’s issue dated January 11, 1971.

The “Valley” in “Silicon Valley” refers to the Santa Clara Valley, located at the southern end of San Francisco Bay. “Silicon” refers to the high concentration of companies involved in the semiconductor and computer industries that are concentrated in the area. From the 1950s forward, technology firms slowly replaced the fruit orchards which gave the area its erstwhile nickname, Valley of the Heart’s Delight.