The small towns sandwiched between the San Francisco Bay and the Santa Cruz Mountains often feel more like sleepy middle America than the powerhouse for the world’s digital economy but Palo Alto is ground zero for the electronics explosion.
It was here in the 1950s that Stanford University researchers and tiny start-ups brainstormed the transistors, semi-conductors and silicon wafers that would kick-start computing and give the region a new name: Silicon Valley.
The Stanford campus itself is an oasis of palm trees and elegant Mission-style buildings amid the Valley’s strip malls and traffic-choked highways. In 1969, a computer terminal at Stanford sent the very first message over the ARPANET, the military-funded precursor to today’s Internet. Researchers managed to type in just two letters “lo…” before the machine crashed.
While Stanford was the breeding ground for such world-changing ideas, it is worth remembering again the debt owed to California’s Gold Rush pioneers. The appalling working conditions of the miners led directly to an 1872 California law allowing workers complete freedom to change their employers.
It’s the freedom to walk away with a profitable idea and go directly into competition with the company you were just working for that drives so much innovation here. Another short walk along leafy streets brings me to 367 Addison Avenue, as good a place as any to call the birthplace of Silicon Valley.
In the small garage of this detached house, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard designed and built their first oscilloscope in 1939, so forming one of the most successful IT companies.