Fifty years ago the Adam company of the Silicon Valley Eden bravely raised its pointed little head in a former fruit-packing shed at 391 San Antonio Road, Mountain View, when the Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory was officially announced on February 13, 1956, by Arnold O. Beckman of Beckman Instruments, and William Shockley, Nobel Prize winner and co-inventor of the transistor at Bell Labs.
(Shockley employees toast boss William Shockley
— seated at the head of the table — on his 1956 Nobel Prize award
for the co-invention of the transistor)
Shockley hired some of the best and brightest scientists available, but an asshole is an asshole even if he is a genius and one of the “century’s most important scientists” (Time magazine), and by September 1957, the haughty, abrasive, paranoid leader had succeeded in alienating a group of eight researchers including Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore (“Moore’s Law“), the “traitorous eight,” who resigned to form Fairchild Semiconductor, the third company in Silicon Valley.
Fairchild pushed the envelope, surfed the cutting edge, and otherwise created some of the innovative technologies that would push the field forward. The new company started out producing transistors — their first 100 sold to IBM for $150 apiece — but two years later Fairchild researchers invented the integrated chip, which really put the company and the region on the map. The company grew from twelve to twelve thousand employees, and was soon achieving sales of $130 million a year.
Perhaps in direct reaction to Shockley’s abrasiveness, Noyce pushed the company toward what has become known as the “California” style of management, complete with casual clothing and laid back atmosphere. Over the years many of the founders left to form other companies, the “Fairchildren,” and these offspring helped populate Silicon Valley into the semiconductor central it is today. Noyce and Moore left in 1968 to found Intel – you’ve probably heard of it.
The legacy of the Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory and the origins of the semiconductor industry in Silicon Valley will be explored in a panel discussion — “The Rise of Silicon Valley: From Shockley Labs to Fairchild Semiconductor” — at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View on February 27. Panelists include Jim Gibbons, Jay Last, Hans Queisser, and Harry Sello, scientists who worked at Shockley in the late-’50s and early-’60s and went on to play leading roles in the semiconductor industry. Moderator is science historian Michael Riordan, co-author of Crystal Fire: The Birth of the Information Age.
As such things go, it ought to be lively.