Computers are a part of our lives. They are extensions of our arms and minds. We use them every day in everything we do from Face-Timing grandma to sending an important business email. If we look back just a few decades, things were very different.
Silicon Valley grew up in the area between San Jose, California, and San Francisco as a result of Frederick Terman, the legendary dean of Stanford engineering school during the 1940s and 1950s. He created the tradition of Stanford faculty starting their own companies.
The “Silicon” in Silicon Valley refers to the silicon-based computer chips that many of the startup companies used. It was a breeding ground for high-tech wizardry and advances in science. Silicon Valley in San Jose CA gave birth to many of the computer chips and microprocessors that we use today. Now there are thousands of startups and many of the Fortune 1000 companies that reside in this area.
We can look back as far as 1833 to uncover the history of silicon Chips. Michael Faraday invented the first semiconductor. Technology developed slowly, and it wasn’t until 1874 when Ferdinand Braun improved this model when he wrote about the first semiconductor diode. In 1926 Julias Lilienfeld started working on semiconducting copper, and it wasn’t until 1931 when Alan Wilson published an article about using quantum mechanic to explain these magical conducting properties.
In the 1940s, technology took off. World War II required more advanced semiconductor diodes for radar microwave detectors. Russell Ohl discovered the p-n junction (Positive/Negative) that led to the use of transistors. This p-n junction allows the control of electric current flow within a circuit. It was the groundwork of how chips work today. Jon Bardeen and Walter Brattain in 1947 are the first to make these transistors work with a germanium point contact device.
In 1948, in France, Herbert Matare and Heinrich Welker also developed a germanium point-contact transistor, and in the same year William Shockley improves this transistor and bases it on a new theory of the P-N junction. In the early 1950s, work continued on these projects and in the background, Silicon was on its way.
Silicons Humble Beginnings
Until the late 1950s, they used germanium for transistors and conductors because silicon wasn’t good enough yet. Silicon had problems that germanium solved at the time because of its unstable properties. It wasn’t until 1956 when William Shockley co-invented the first working silicon transistor, along with John Bardeen and Walter Houser Brattain. The coined “Fathers of Silicon Valley”, worked for decades in Silicon Valley.
Mohamed Atalla, at the Bell Labs in 1957, improved their work and made it easier for silicon to be a conductive material. This one change tipped the balance in silicons favour, and germanium was a thing of the past. This paved the yellow brick road towards mass-production of silicon chips. In 1959, Atalla and his colleague Dawon Kahng in 1959 created the first MOS transistor. It was this multi-purpose transistor that made the silicon dream we live in, a reality.
Twenty years later the first single chip, the Intel 4004, appeared on the scene. Federico Faggin and his colleagues Ted Hoff, Masatoshi Shima and Stanley Mazor released the first usable computer chip. It was during this time that venture capital in Silicon Valley exploded, as everyone raced to be the first super company of the future. Apples IPO at $1.3 billion in 1980 sent this revolution sky-rocketing and led to the 20 year growth cycle that would end in the famous Dot-com bubble.
The Largest Concentration of Silicon Wealth
In the San Jose and general San Francisco Bay Area, there is the largest concentration of high-tech jobs in the US. Silicon Valley accounts for 70% of those jobs. The San Jose area has the highest concentration of multi-millionaires and billions in the United States. It’s no surprise that Silicon Valley also has one of the highest living costs and the highest salaries.
West of San Jose by the edge of Santa Clara is Apples ring shaped headquarters. North of San Jose in Mountain View sits the famous Googolplex building. Many other companies like Intel, oracle, Adobe, Netflix, Paypal, Yahoo and Facebook are among the thousands of other companies that live in Silicon Valley.
Silicon In Our Modern World & The New Age of Information
When you look back at the short history of the Silicon Chips, it’s hard to imagine that we’ve come so far, so fast. In less than 50 years humans have moved into the “age of information” where we are all connected to each other in a worldwide network. We use chips in everyday objects, computers and phones, and we do it without even thinking.
The old computers that existed when we sent a man to the moon, were the size of entire rooms. Now that same processing power fits in our pocket. Silicon chips have led to humans exploring space, driving around in semi-autonomous electric vehicles, and being able to speak to someone across the world face to face on video chat.
Silicon chips have transformed our way of life. They are in our medical devices, our TV’s, and our GPS systems. Every app from Uber to Airbnb to Candy Crush relies on this technology. Who knows what our lives would be like without this powerful little piece of Silicon.