Below is an amazing lecture from Steve Blank on the history of Silicon Valley.
As military funding was a big part of it, the majority of the talk is around the role of electronic warfare in World War II and the Cold War.
Steve’s Secret History site shares the full slide deck and more.
Some interesting highlights from the talk:
- World War II was the first electronic war – the German air defence even had radar-guided flak guns!
- The ground-facing radar on Allied bombers that was designed to help identify targets was used by Germany to track them (and so was the radar warning receiver on their tails)
- This shows the cat-and-mouse game of measures and counter-measures in electronic warfare
- Allied bomber formations would throw out a cloud of aluminium foil “chaff” to reflect German radar, which was cut to exactly half the wavelength of the signal.
- Fred Terman of Stanford moved East during the war to run the Harvard Radio Research Lab
- He hired 11 colleagues from the Lab to join him at Stanford when he returned. Together they made Stanford the “MIT of the West”
- Heretically for the time, he encouraged faculty to sit on tech company boards and his graduate students to leave and start companies (for example, Hewlett and Packard)
- The Cold War became an electronics war as well
- The USA use the moon to pick up reflected Soviet radar signals and map out the locations of the radar bases
- CIA and NSA would fund big radio dishes for universities like Stanford as a result
- Shockley came back to Stanford. He was a great researcher and talent spotter but a terrible manager
- The “Traitorous Eight” left to start Fairchild Semiconductor and a suite of companies formed in the resulting ecosystem
- The US military “primed the pump” as the first customer for tech entrepreneurship in the Valley.
- But in the mid-1970s, the US Government slashed capital gains tax and told pension funds they could invest up to 10% of their assets in VC firms.
- As a result, inflows to VC firms rose by an order of magnitude and Silicon Valley became a hotbed of for-profit innovation