The Origins of Silicon Valley, Through the Eyes of MIT Alumni

by Jay London on February 5, 2013 · 1 comment

in Alumni Life, In the News, Media, Remember When...

Because California’s Silicon Valley has become such an important part of the U.S. economy and culture, it’s hard to believe its roots are barely 60 years old. A new PBS documentary chronicles the origins of the valley and, as you might guess, many MIT alumni feature prominently in its story.

Silicon Valley” highlights the eight men who abruptly left Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory in 1957. Shockley Labs was led by William Shockley PhD ’36 and one of the first to work on silicon semiconductor devices. The men, who came to be known as the “Traitorous Eight,” include Jay Last PhD ’56, Robert Noyce PhD ’53, and Sheldon Roberts SM ’49, PhD ’52.

Those eight men formed Fairchild Semiconductor. Fairchild was located in a small building south of San Francisco and surrounded by farm fields with no electricity, phones, running water, or toilet. But within two years, a microchip co-created by Noyce helped put astronauts on the moon, aided the U.S. military, and made Fairchild an enormous success.


“The birth of Silicon Valley is the story of pioneers who took a plunge into the unknown hoping to make a better life for themselves and for an untold number of others.”

Fairchild’s success led to more engineers and researchers moving to the region. Within a few years, an entire technology-based industry, now known as Silicon Valley, had developed just south of the San Francisco Bay.

From PBS American Experience:

“Noyce transformed the world with not only his invention, but also his management style, which launched the unique business culture for which Silicon Valley would come to be known—openness over hierarchy, risk over stability, jeans over suits.”

“Silicon Valley” premieres on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 9 p.m. (EST) on your local PBS affiliate (watch a preview). The documentary features appearances by Last and Roger Borovoy ’56, and archival interviews of Roberts, Shockley, and Noyce.

Part of the PBS documentary series American Experience, the program is co-produced by Tracy Heather Strain of MIT’s Music and Theater Arts program.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Georgi Yordanov February 6, 2013 at 11:38 am

It is very interesting and exiting story. I’m in the industry almost 25 years and from the country of the computer inventor John Atanasoff.
“John Vincent Atanasoff was an American physicist and inventor, best known for inventing the first digital computer in the 1930s at Iowa State College”
And a question: Is there any specific reason calling the region Silicon Valley some kind of characteristic of the sand (quartz, silicon).


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