Today, let's meet the man who built Silicon Valley.
The University of Houston's College of Engineering
presents this series about the machines that make
our civilization run, and the people whose
ingenuity created them.
My wife and I often drove
down from Berkeley to her parents' house on the
coast during the late 1950s. The road passed
through the hot, sleepy valley around San Jose. The
valley had a new IBM plant and a small state
university. Stanford lay off to the right. The
yellow hills on either side shimmered in the summer
heat. It was a land of wine and artichokes.
Today that valley is built up, hill to hill. We
call it Silicon Valley. It seems changed beyond all
recognition. Yet that name was starting to fit it
even then. To see why, let's meet Frederick Terman,
who joined Stanford in 1925.
Terman grew up in the Valley, and he grew up with
electricity. Together, he and Herbert Hoover's son
built a radio transmitter. Terman went off to MIT
for an engineering Ph.D. Then, back at Stanford, he
unleashed a remarkable vision. It began with a
simple enough remark that he "would like to take
the boys out to see ... what the world off campus
was like." That obviously meant ties with industry.
But Terman took it much further.
He began by giving lab space to two engineers who
wanted to improve airplane navigation. They
invented the Klystron tube and set up a company to
produce it. By 1940 Klystron research at Stanford
was giving America its edge in the microwave field.
In 1937 Terman encouraged two former students to
form a local company. Their names were Hewlett and
Terman insisted that engineering should interact
with chemistry, math, and physics. That paid off in
a big way when Shockley came into the Valley with
his Nobel Laureate for the transistor. Shockley put
together a strong team. One member had just helped
invent the integrated circuit. Shockley was a hard
person to work with. The team soon walked off to
create another company. Then it, in turn, split
into eight more companies.
So the Valley grew. It was wild and unstable. It
was young and volatile. My wife and I didn't know
it then, but dozens of firms were already giving
America its dominance in computers and
semiconductors among the artichokes and wineries.
And we're told this about Terman: "He was studious,
soft-spoken, and forever self-effacing ... a
brilliant teacher ... a profound visionary." So
Terman is an apt hero. Others found fame and wealth
in the Valley. But what they claimed, he gave away.
In the end it was because he served others more
than he served himself that Terman could make all
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds