Six Intriguing Silicon Valley Stories

Best known now for its homegrown, market-dominating tech companies like Microsoft, Facebook and Apple, Silicon Valley has a short, yet intriguing, history. This small section of the San Francisco Bay Area has become globally recognized for its contributions to the advancement of technology, but it’s not without its stories.

Said Margaret O’Mara of the history behind Silicon Valley, “we know that one of the secret ingredients is time. It’s history. What we have now, the Silicon Valley of today, is the product of 75 years of history. It’s a story of big government, incredible entrepreneurship and technological advancement, including the famous people you’ve heard of — these business leaders who kind of took their companies and broke out from the pack and became really market-disrupting, market-defining companies. But it’s also a cast of thousands of both technical and nontechnical people who helped make the magic happen.”

1. The Shockley Semiconductors Laboratory and The Traitorous Eight

“Over 60 years ago, when much of Mountain View was still a landscape of orchards and pastureland, a small industrial shop off San Antonio Road developed the modern semiconductor. The research laid the foundation for the tech revolution and enshrined the area as a hotbed for innovation. Today the Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory is considered the crucible of Silicon Valley, its former employees founding a string of other companies today valued at more than $2 trillion.” (Mark Noack, Mountain View Voice)

Although the company eventually became unsuccessful financially, the Shockley Semiconductor Lab was the product of eight men who broke away from tradition and created their own space where new ideas could thrive. Their rebellion to leave old technology behind has become a common story of the Silicon Valley historians and is heralded as the beginning of technology’s greatest era.

2. The Silicon Valley Poker Game

“Silicon Valley is home to some of the wealthiest people in the United States and also has the distinct honor of having one of the highest concentrations of billionaires in the country…The Silicon Valley home poker games came to the public’s attention mostly through professional poker player Phil Hellmuth, who scored an invite due to his friendship with former Facebook VP Chamath Palihapitiya. Hellmuth is considered one of the world’s best poker players, with many accolades to his name, but even he struggled to hold onto his cash after playing in the game.” (Global Poker)

What happens when you start a poker game with some of the world’s richest moguls, athletes, actors and influencers? In this case, the stakes are so high that no one really knows how much money is going back and forth on the table.

3. The Silicon Chips

“In 1958, Jack Kilby came up with the idea of creating the circuitry that made up a computer in miniature, using a single block of semiconductor and printing the circuit on top in metal instead of creating the circuit out of separate wires and components. Six months later, Robert Noyce came up with the idea of laying the metal over the semiconductor and then etching away the unnecessary parts to create the integrated circuit. These advancements greatly reduced the size of computer circuits, and made it possible to mass-produce them for the first time.” (Milton Kazmeyer, Techwalla)

The invention that gave Silicon Valley its name, silicon chips became a catalyst to create smaller, and even portable, technology. Today, modern silicon chips still follow a similar model of development from the plans laid in the 1950’s, with many different layers with different electrical properties.

4. The Dick Tracy Wrist Radio

“Just like any futuristic movies or television shows, like James Bond or Get Smart, there is some character whose job it is to always come up with new inventions aiding in the hero’s escape. Gould used a character he named Brilliant, a young inventor to come up with introducing this new tool, adding to Tracy’s already growing arsenal of gadgets. It was a way to communicate quickly with the police force as to where the criminals were…Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, described that as a little boy he had always hoped to see this come true one day. The day the fanciful and prophetic idea of the past that is now called The SmartWatch – has come.” (History Daily)

Have you ever read a comic book and thought to yourself, “I sure hope that becomes real one day!” If you’re Tim Cook, you can make that dream a reality. Inspired by the classic Dick Tracy comics, the “wrist radio” became the inspiration for the “Apple Watch,” and all its predecessors. Silicon Valley inventors and investors have long been fascinated with science fiction, and new technologies are starting to turn those make-believe stories into a reality.

5. The Theranos Downfall

“Wall Street Journal investigative reporter John Carreyrou got a tip about Theranos in early February 2015. On February 26, he contacted a former lab director at Theranos who told him about unethical and harmful practices there. At that time the company was operating at a limited capacity and had been generating false and unreliable results for patients…By the end of the summer, it appeared to be the end for the company itself. The Wall Street Journal reported in September 2018 that the company told its shareholders that it planned to formally shut down.” (Business Insider)

As an early-on success, the privately held company, “Theranos” made headlines as their innovative claims were slowly dismantled and fraud uncovered. The tech company claimed it had the tools to perform blood tests only using a small amount of blood, in a rapid amount of time. Once proved false, among other questionable practices, the entire healthcare mogul came crashing down.

Silicon Valley Today

If you’ve watched any of HBO Max’s “Silicon Valley” series, you know that there will always be something odd, and slightly humorous, about this tech hub. However, one thing is for certain: Silicon Valley was the foundation for a vast majority of products you use, and will continue to host some of the globe’s top technology leaders for years to come. Only time will tell what future stories come out of the Valley!