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Silicon Valley Culture Originated In Radio Days 84

Posted by kdawson
from the engineers-money-and-risk dept.
yroJJory writes to recommend a piece up at SFGate on the history of Silicon Valley and its roots in radio, accompanied by some great old photos. "When the Traitorous Eight [founders of Fairchild], as they're sometimes called, held their hush-hush meeting in San Francisco, they had reason to fear discovery — but no way to know that by quitting safe jobs for a risky startup, they would earn a place among what Stanford University historian Leslie Berlin calls the 'Founding Fathers of Silicon Valley'... Roughly 30 years before Hewlett and Packard started work in their garage, and almost 50 years before the Traitorous Eight created Fairchild, the basic culture of Silicon Valley was forming around radio: engineers who hung out in hobby clubs, brainstormed and borrowed equipment, spun new companies out of old ones, and established a meritocracy ruled by those who made electronic products cheaper, faster and better."
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Silicon Valley Culture Originated In Radio Days

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 30, 2007 @04:42PM (#20804091)
    This is just how guilds worked in Europe from about 800 AD until the industrial revolution.

    You'd have groups of craftsmen who were skilled in a particular trade. Some would excel at trenching. Others were best at masonry. Some were masters of carpentry. There were glassblowers, window paners, plough craftsmen, and a wide variety of other trademasters. These individuals would form guilds, where they would study and promote their trades.

    These were very meritocratic groups. Those who truly excelled would often form their own guilds, drawing talent away from the existing guild. Essentially, it's what we've seen in Silicon Valley over the past century.

    Although I don't know much about them myself, I'd imagine that there were similar groups in Arabia, Asia, Mesoamerica, India and many other areas of the world, perhaps far earlier than the Europeans. So this really isn't a unique concept, by any means.
    • by tjstork (137384) <(todd.bandrowsky) (at) (gmail.com)> on Sunday September 30, 2007 @05:41PM (#20804407) Homepage Journal
      This is just how guilds worked in Europe from about 800 AD until the industrial revolution...These were very meritocratic groups. Those who truly excelled would often form their own guilds, drawing talent away from the existing guild. Essentially, it's what we've seen in Silicon Valley over the past century.

      Well, no. The guild system existed to restrain the flow of ideas and competition. The idea of the guild was to control all the knowledge in a particular craft to reduce competition. If you were in a glassblowers guild, you did not tell someone else how to blow glass, and you also worked to try and control production so that too much glass was not blown. So, they restrained knowledge and restrained trade. To some extent, the guilds also shared a common interest with the church. The guilds didn't want too much technological advance, and neither did the church, as the pace of change could well mean a loss of power for both, and ultimately did.

      What killed the guilds? Free trade and the emergence of nation states over city states. The idea of copyrights and patents were promulgated by the emerging central governments to kill two birds with one stone. First, was to break the guilds, and the second, was promote freer trade. The idea of state funded educational centers did not help the guilds either. It actually wasn't that hard to learn how to blow some basic level of glass, for example, and so, once the guild system was broken, industrialization could take place, bringing further revenues to the crown. In this sense, craftsmen of the guilds began the transformation to employees of an emerging industry. It would take the idea of using investment capital to buy industrial machines that would ultimately make that transformation complete, so, in a sense, when Andrew Carnegie sent the Pinkertons in, he was ultimately breaking the guild system once and for all.

      The emergence of labor unions, to a degree, could be seen as a response to the breaking of the guild system. Except that, labor unions could never monopolize knowledge of a particular skill the way the guilds did, because the companies owned all the big machines that needed to be learned (and they were rapidly obsolete anyway), and had to turn to other arguments to try and monopolize labor.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        > The guilds didn't want too much technological advance, and neither did the church, as the pace of change could well mean a loss of power for both, and ultimately did.

        [citation needed]

        As far as I'm aware, the church was not concerned with technology in and of itself. Now, they might have been against things like alchemy (which some practitioners practiced as a religion), but it's hard to say that they were somehow against learning itself, especially when you had monks like Mendeleev doing research that
        • As far as I'm aware, the Church was not concerned with technology in and of itself

          That's true to a point. The Church's interest in technology was to understand its theological implications before it would really adopt a position on it. To wit, the Church had the idea that all knowledge could bit fit together in a single integrated whole. Back in the day, the Church saw the Bible as a backing to an oral tradition, so, it could always modify the oral tradition to clarify the Bible as needed. With that in
          • by Suicyco (88284)
            Wow, that was the strangest demonization of unions ever. Capitalist libertarian dogma at its best right there. Lets frame the history of industry in modern capitalist ideas, and oh my gosh! socialized labor is an anachronism!

            In the bizarro world that is America, perhaps thats a bit true. Our leaders have squashed the entire idea of a working class, so much so that people like you don't even realize that they ARE the working class. Pity you let yourself be a slave in such an idealistic way.

            You are confusing
        • Please go peddle your [citation needed] tags somewhere else.

          Also I'd like to thank the grandparent poster - I received some insight on history just now from his post. Now it's my job to go read about the subjects he talked about offhand and if I want to, make sure what he said was true.
      • It would take the idea of using investment capital to buy industrial machines that would ultimately make that transformation complete, so, in a sense, when Andrew Carnegie sent the Pinkertons in, he was ultimately breaking the guild system once and for all.
        No, that was the American Dream. He was breaking the American Dream once and for all.
    • by enrevanche (953125) on Sunday September 30, 2007 @06:00PM (#20804547)
      This was a highly dynamic and constantly changing environment where new companies and partnerships were created based on new ideas. The guild system was highly static and very closed. It's purpose was to limit competition, not foster new ideas. Most workers in the guild system were skilled in a particular trade, not because they had a special talent, but that they got in to the trade via family or other relationships.
    • The earliest elements of modern industrialization began in the 1800s starting in England and spreading to other nations including France, Germany, and the US. What goes on in Silicon Valley is a particular specialized form of this that is particularly prevelent in the US where places of higher learning are used to increase the pace and quality of research and development, thus advancing the possibilities for industry.
  • by ScrewMaster (602015) on Sunday September 30, 2007 @04:54PM (#20804165)
    ... and established a meritocracy ruled by those who made electronic products cheaper, faster and better.

    That's all well and good, but it's now 2007. Our electronics manufacturing sector is in ruins. What happened?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ZombieWomble (893157)

      What happened?
      China?
      • I'd say Japan did most of the damage a couple decades ago. China just came along to finish the job.
      • China?

        I'd say they had a wee bit of help form various corporate managements and political administrations. China was the recipient of the gift, but the initiation of giving was almost completely home-grown.

    • by sconeu (64226)
      What happened?

      Harvard MBAs
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      NAFTA
    • by jcr (53032) <jcr.mac@com> on Sunday September 30, 2007 @05:44PM (#20804419) Journal
      Our electronics manufacturing sector is in ruins.

      What's your next guess?

      I'm working on a hardware project right now, and I've got very competitive bids from companies spread from California to Pennsylvania. If we go up to tens of thousands of units, we'll probably get them built in China or India where the costs are lower, but the USA has plenty of manufacturing capability if you're willing to look for it. Most of the American PCB/assembly shops I know about concentrate on quick-turn and small run (100-500 unit) prototyping work, because that's where the margins are better.

      -jcr

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ScrewMaster (602015)
        Well, when I said "in ruins" I was referring primarily to large-scale consumer product manufacturing, the kind of things that the Japanese took over from us many years ago. How many television sets, media players, LEDs, motherboards, integrated circuits, LCD panels, memory sticks and other such high-volume items are still produced in the U.S.? Not as much as there used to be ... matter of fact we don't even know how to make a lot of that stuff on any significant scale anymore. I'm sure we could probably fin
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Skreems (598317)
          What happened is economic disparity between countries. It's cheaper to employ people elsewhere, because they get paid less relative to workers in the US. It's like asking why there are no electronics manufacturing plants in downtown Manhattan, but on a global scale.
          • That's not a sufficient answer. There's always been economic disparity.
            • by jcr (53032)
              You seem to have a weird hang-up about where particular business activities take place. We used to have 80%+ of our population working on farms. Is it bad that most of us no longer have any idea how to grow a crop of potatoes or milk a cow? We're moving up the value chain, and that's a good thing.

              -jcr
              • Your example isn't relevant. Technology reduced the need for large numbers of people to work on farms, granted. Those displaced farmers ended up working in manufacturing plants, and the thousands upon thousands of businesses that supported our industrial base. If we don't need them to farm, and we don't need them to make things ... what the hell are they going to do? Where are their paychecks going to come from? Do you have anything resembling an answer to that?

                You seem to have a complete lack of underst
                • by jcr (53032)
                  in the long run, is the global economy good for us?

                  The answer is very obviously yes, and if you don't understand that, then I recommend that you follow your own advice, and take a course in economics at your local community college.

                  -jcr
          • by jcr (53032)
            It's like asking why there are no electronics manufacturing plants in downtown Manhattan, but on a global scale.

            Exactly!

            Social division of labor works at all scales. Trade is voluntary, and both sides benefit: it's not a zero-sum game.

            -jcr
    • by etnu (957152)
      Software became much more profitable.
  • Let's hope that all of the newer technologies that we know and love do not face the same fate as radio. I would have to see the internet or personal computers controlled entirely by a couple of megacorporations... oh, wait.

    Thank God for FOSS!
  • by PhantomHarlock (189617) on Sunday September 30, 2007 @05:04PM (#20804223)
    More or less a good article, but I'm very surprised that there is not a single mention of SRI, given that is the best example of university-millitary-private sector development cooperation, and the breeding grounds for such things as...the computer mouse. (Douglas Englebart)

    I worked on the campus for a while in 2000 - 2001. Interesting place.

    Also, yes, there are a lot more people in SV now, but it's not nearly as bad as it was during tech boom, when everyone had somewhere to be all the time. It was nothing short of amazing, but it's nice that it's back to some level of sanity. I wouldn't describe what's going on now as some sort of tech bust, I'd describe it as 'normal'.
    • I agree SRI was important to the development of Silicon Valley, but SRI was not alone. I suggest you consider the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, too. Stanford broke ground for the construction of a two mile long linear accelerator in the early 1960's. The engineers and physicists at SLAC were early adopters and developers of many technologies including semiconductors of all kinds.

      Do you remember the Homebrew Computer Club? Do you know where they met every Wednesday evening? Clue: it was on the SL
  • In order to get where you are going, it is good to know where you have been. Plain and simple.
  • by LM741N (258038) on Sunday September 30, 2007 @05:25PM (#20804319)
    HAM RADIO
    • by FudRucker (866063)
      i once made a radio out of ham, it did not work but it sure tasted good...
      • Amateur!!

        Shades of my late best friend Bob Long (W6QBN) who veered into computers because someone who knew a bit about electronics was needed to fix the old LGP30's and SDS 930's. If he hadn't known what he did about radio I would have never learned that AM transistor radio trick -- put it on top of the memory register and listen to your program compile ("it's sorting its symbol table now -- hear the loops? Bubble sort too, sounds like"). Best way to instrument your code back then.

        • We used to do that with early microcomputers and play music. Sounded like a noisy kazoo, and it was tricky getting the delay loops right ... but it worked.
    • by Ritchie70 (860516)
      No, they mean radio. There was a time when broadcast radio didn't exist and radio of any sort was new technology.
    • One of the big electronics swap meets in Southern California is run by the TRW Amateur Radio Club (now Northrup Grumman). It goes back to the 60's, although that's before my time. These days it's split between radio and computer vendors. Computer equipment doesn't age well, so most of that is pretty junky unless you spot the gem you need. The ham radio equipment is even older, but it ages better.
  • Modern science fiction was born in radio "catalogs" that sold mostly subscriptions to radio wannabes, especially the ones edited by Hugo Gernsback [wikipedia.org]. Science fiction is very much engineering marketing dressed as technoporn, bred to appeal to radio hobbyists.
  • by slashdotard (835129) on Monday October 01, 2007 @12:02AM (#20806803)
    This article is too damned dangerous for publication.

    Decades and decades of "facts" about the history of electronics are threatened by this article.

    The "facts", as was taught by California's own schools, that electronics technology was all invented by Edison and his neighbour there in Menlo Park (New Jersey), Lee De Forest, and that, at least until Mayor Janet Gray Hayes announced San Jose to be the Capitol of Silicon Valley, nothing but fruits and vegetables, beef, Disney, cowboys and movie stars came out of California.

    Lee De Forest was in Menlo Park, all right--Menlo Park, California and certainly no neighbour of The Great Edison. And it seems that the first regularly broadcasting radio station was in San Jose. But let's fudge a few years or so and say it was somewhere out East, instead--Nothing but the Wild, Wild West, out there in California, no way they could be technological leaders in their own right!

    California was considered "the wild west" well into the 20th century. Except by those who lived there. Kind of hard to reconcile the romantic notion of the wild west with reality, it would seem.

    O well, it's about time the facts got out.

  • "This check is an early installment on Fairchild Semiconductor's first sale: 100 transistors sold to IBM for $150 apiece"

    Interesting detail is that it shows $1,500.00 to be paid...
  • by Anonymous Coward
    FTA: "...The klystron tube led to more powerful radars, helping the United States and its allies gain an advantage in World War II."

    But hang on what about the cavity magnatron?

    quickly look up wikipedia

    "...During the second World War, the Axis powers relied mostly on (then low-powered) klystron technology for their radar system microwave generation, while the Allies used the far more powerful but frequency-drifting technology of the cavity magnetron for microwave generation...."
  • by Hoi Polloi (522990) on Monday October 01, 2007 @09:51AM (#20810265) Journal
    We can thank Dr Leaky for his groundbreaking archeological work in Silicon Valley. His famous "protonerd" fossil remains were dated via C14 and their physical association with a number of ancient nerd tools including crude slide rules, vacuum tubes, and soldering irons. A number of early nerd homes have been found including the foundation of a garage and a basement lair that are theorized to have belonged to the resident's parents. Nearby midden piles filled with snack wrappers, TV dinner trays, and receipts from Radio Shack show that these sites were used for decades. One nerd grave had what seems to be an especially large and heavily bearded nerd "lord". He was buried with many valuable personal items including an IPO announcement, QSL cards, a first edition Little Lulu comic, his soldering iron, his HAM radio license, and a large assortment of ancient snacks. He was also buried with a large number of Avalon Hill war games but unfortunately most of the counters had been taken by grave robbers along with an Altair 8800.

Stinginess with privileges is kindness in disguise. -- Guide to VAX/VMS Security, Sep. 1984

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