When Facebook goes public later this spring, its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, will be following in the footsteps of a long line of Silicon Valley tech entrepreneurs that includes Steve Jobs and Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin. But there was a time when the idea of an engineer or scientist starting his or her own company was rare.
In 1956, what is now called Silicon Valley was called the Valley of the Heart’s Delight. Its rolling hills were covered with farms and orchards. To become Silicon Valley it needed four ingredients: the first, brilliant scientists.
Collecting Scientific Talent
William Shockley was certainly brilliant, says Leslie Berlin, a historian and archivist at Stanford University.
“People tend to collectively agree,” she says, that “[Shockley] was one of the smartest people to walk about this valley for quite a long time.”
In 1956, Shockley won the Nobel Prize for co-inventing the transistor. His next dream was to make transistors out of silicon; he decided to set up his lab in Mountain View — near Palo Alto — largely for personal reasons.
“He’d grown up in Palo Alto,” Berlin says. Most importantly, she says, “his mother was still living in Palo Alto.”
Of course, it helped that nearby Stanford University was also doing federally funded electronics research. Shockley was a magnet who drew more brilliant scientists to the valley. Among them was Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel and the man who would come up with Moore’s Law — the observation that the number of transistors on a chip doubles about every two years.