History of Stanford

The Rise of Silicon Valley

In 1939, with the encouragement of their professor and mentor, Frederick Terman, Stanford alumni David Packard and William Hewlett established a little electronics company in a Palo Alto garage. That garage would later be dubbed "the Birthplace of Silicon Valley."

Over the following years, Stanford would be a wellspring of innovation, producing advances in research and the formation of many companies that have made Silicon Valley one of the most innovative and productive high-tech regions in the world.

In 1947, professor William W. Hansen unveiled an electron linear accelerator prototype, and the following year construction began on a new Microwave Laboratory. In 1951 Varian Associates built a research and development lab on the edge of campus that would become the famed Stanford Industrial Park, now known as Stanford Research Park. In 1952, Stanford won its first Nobel Prize, which went to physics Professor Felix Bloch; three years later his colleague Willis Lamb, Jr. also won a Nobel.

Under the leadership of Terman, a professor of electrical engineering who served as provost from 1955 to 1965, the university embarked upon a campaign to build “steeples of excellence,” clusters of outstanding science and engineering researchers who would attract the best students. His role in fostering close ties between Stanford students and the emerging technology industries has led some to consider him the father of Silicon Valley. He created an entrepreneurial spirit that today extends to every academic discipline at Stanford.

Two of the university’s most iconic scientific institutions were built in the 1960s: the 2-mile-long linear accelerator (SLAC National Laboratory); and “the Dish,” a 150-foot diameter radio antenna in the foothills built as a joint venture between the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) and the Air Force. Also in the 1960s, Professor John Chowning developed FM sound synthesis to digitally generate sounds, leading to the invention of the music synthesizer.

In the early 1970s, professor Vinton Cerf, known as the “father of the Internet,” developed with a colleague the TCP/IP protocols which would become the standard for Internet communication between computers. In the 1980s, John Cioffi and his students realized that traditional phone lines could be used for high-speed data transmission, leading to the development of digital subscriber lines (DSL). In 1991, SLAC physicist Paul Kunz set up the first web server in the U.S. after visiting Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web, in Geneva, Switzerland.

The Internet, of course, is central to the story of Silicon Valley. Google, the web’s most popular search engine and one of the world’s most influential companies, got its start at Stanford when Sergey Brin and Larry Page developed their page rank algorithm as graduate students in the 1990s. Before them, alumni Jerry Yang and David Filo founded Yahoo. Other legendary Silicon Valley companies with strong ties to Stanford include Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard Company, Intuit, Silicon Graphics, and Sun Microsystems.