Location and geography:
The term “Silicon Valley” usually refers to the Santa Clara Valley in California, although it is an imprecise term that often includes other parts of the greater San Francisco Bay Area. It is generally considered to be centered around the city of San Jose in Santa Clara County.
The population of Silicon Valley is as indeterminate as its borders. The population of the Santa Clara Valley is about 1.8 million people, but what is considered to be “Silicon Valley” could possibly have several million more if surrounding counties are also included.
Story behind the name:
Silicon Valley became famous as the birthplace of the silicon-based transistor in the 1950s. A man named Don Hoefler later entered the nickname into the public consciousness through a series of articles he wrote for the Electronic News in 1971, having borrowed the term from his friend Ralph Vaerst. By this time, the rapid growth of the tech industry was well underway in California.
Counties and cities:
The matter of which specific communities make up Silicon Valley is notoriously vague, but the most prominent are as follows:
- Campbell (Santa Clara County)
- Cupertino (Santa Clara County)
- East Palo Alto (San Mateo County)
- Foster City (San Mateo County)
- Fremont (Alameda County)
- Los Altos (Santa Clara County)
- Los Altos Hills (Santa Clara County)
- Los Gatos (Santa Clara County)
- Menlo Park (San Mateo County)
- Milpitas (Santa Clara County)
- Monte Sereno (Santa Clara County)
- Mountain View (Santa Clara County)
- Morgan Hill (Santa Clara County)
- Newark (Alameda County)
- Palo Alto (Santa Clara County)
- Redwood City (capital, San Mateo County)
- San Jose (capital, Santa Clara County)
- San Mateo (San Mateo County)
- Santa Clara (Santa Clara County)
- Saratoga (Santa Clara County)
- Scotts Valley (Santa Cruz County)
- Sunnyvale (Santa Clara County)
- Union City (Alameda County)
History of Silicon Valley:
Because of the U.S. Navy’s attachment to San Francisco, the surrounding areas became a center for the development of radio and aerospace technology, even hosting a failed attempt to create a fleet of blimps in the 1930s and 40s. In later years, Stanford professor Frederick Terman encouraged the university to lease some of its property to high-tech corporations, creating what was called the Stanford Industrial Park. Major engineering companies such as Eastman Kodak and General Electric opened offices there, which provided plum opportunities for technically-minded students and stimulated a boom in research and discovery. For this reason, Terman is often known as the one of the “fathers” of Silicon Valley, together with William Shockley.
William Shockley is the reason behind Silicon Valley’s nickname, due to his innovations to the design of the semiconductor. Although he himself was never able to profit from this research, eight of his employees left Shockley and founded many successful tech companies, most notably Intel Corporation in the 1960s. These companies gave rise to others, and continued to drive progress in California’s central region. One of Silicon Valley’s oldest and most successful technology companies, Hewlett-Packard, thrived in several of these newly created markets.
In the 1970s, Xerox Corporation opened the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in Silicon Valley in order to develop new technologies. PARC proved to be a hotbed of invention and innovation, leading to the advent of such technologies as the graphical user interface, ethernet cables, and laser printing. Xerox famously failed to capitalize on most of these ingenious technologies, but Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were two of the people who were able to see their potential. Apple Computer and Microsoft Corporation would go on to spark a revolution in personal computing that would not only pave the way for countless other companies, but also change everything about modern technology.
As the Internet became popular in the 1990s, Silicon Valley found itself to be the center of an explosion in dot-com businesses. Young engineers trained at Stanford and/or employed at older tech companies began creating their own start-ups in droves, fueling an economic and real estate boom in California. Although the dot-com bubble eventually burst, many of the companies that were founded in that era have grown to dominate the web services of today: notable examples include eBay, Netflix, and Google.
Below are just a handful of the important companies, in the past or present, to have been founded in or have strong associations with the region of Silicon Valley.
- Google Inc.
- Hewlett-Packard Company
- Intel Corporation
- Apple Inc.
- Facebook Inc.
- Adobe Systems
- eBay Inc.
- Symantec Corporation
- Varian Associates
- Yahoo! Inc.
- Cisco Systems
- LinkedIn Corporation
- Mozilla Foundation
- Xerox PARC
- Netflix Inc.
- AOL Inc.
- Sun Microsystems
- TiVo Inc.
- VMware Inc.