Silicon Valley Before the Startup

PBS documentary reveals how technology pioneers transformed Silicon Valley into the epicenter of technology innovation.

Gordon Moore remembers a time before the idea of a Silicon Valley startup existed. That was half a century ago, before the place became an epicenter for wildly successful technology, and companies such as Apple, Google and Intel generated billions of dollars in annual profits.

Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce at Intel in 1970s Silicon Valley

Gordon Moore (left) and Robert Noyce founded Intel in 1968 when they left Fairchild Semiconductor. Andy Grove joined the company the day it was incorporated.

“It just exploded,” said Moore in the PBS documentary, “American Experience: Silicon Valley,” premiering Feb. 5. “Every time we came up with a new idea we spawned two or three companies that would try to exploit it,” he said, referring to his days at Fairchild Semiconductor, a company he helped found in 1957, a decade before he co-founded Intel with Robert Noyce.

The documentary, directed by Randall MacLowry and narrated by Michael Murphy, shows how the space race spurred demand for transistors and transformed what became Silicon Valley into a global hub of technology innovation; in the third quarter of 2012 nearly 40 percent of all U.S. venture investment was in Silicon Valley, according to Fenwick and West.

The microprocessor invented at Intel in 1971 is just one of many transistor technology-related breakthroughs explored in the documentary. “It’s been successful beyond anything we could’ve possibly imagined in the beginning, and the result is it really revolutionized the way people live,” said Moore.

Silicon Valley’s Original Startup

Nearly 2 decades before the microprocessor was invented, Moore was among a group of young, highly educated innovators who came to the farmland of Santa Clara County to tinker with science, hoping to create the next technology. In Moore’s case, that career path led to him helping take the transistor mainstream at a laboratory in Mountain View, Calif. under William Shockley, who was awarded the 1956 Nobel Prize in physics for co-inventing the transistor.

Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce at Intel SC1 in Silicon Valley of 1970

Gordon Moore (left) and Robert Noyce walk to the parking lot of the Intel SC1 building in Santa Clara in 1970.

“We discovered a group of young Ph.Ds. couldn’t push aside a Nobel Prize winner so easily,” said Moore, describing what led to the Sept. 18, 1957 defection of the so-called “traitorous eight” from Shockley Labs. After failing to convince company owners that Shockley should be removed as manager because of increasing mistrust among employees, Moore and seven young scientists left the company to found Fairchild Semiconductor. The documentary singles out Fairchild as the source for hundreds of startup companies — dubbed “Fairchildren” — and the catalyst for the startup economy that defines Silicon Valley to this day.

Several recordings of Noyce, who left Fairchild with Moore and died in 1990, are included in the documentary. “I felt that I had a commitment to Shockley and I wanted to do everything that I could to make the organization work, so I felt that my first obligation was to try and talk those seven folks into not leaving,” Noyce said. “When I failed in that, I felt that I should join with them.”

“At Fairchild we had a clean slate,” said Moore. “We had an empty building and we could do it the way we thought was the right way to do it.”

Robert Noyce: The Mayor of Silicon Valley

Much of the documentary focuses on Noyce, an early transistor engineer who met Moore after both joined Shockley. “Bob was the kind of guy everyone liked when they first met him,” said Moore. “He had the kind of personality that came across very smoothly. As such, it opened doors and of course he was brilliant, which helped.”

Moore recalled a time at Fairchild when Noyce made a gutsy business deal to sell new integrated circuits for a dollar, which today would be about $8. “Bob was taking a risk that made us all gulp at the time,” said Moore. “But it turned out to be the proper solution.”

Moore recollected another daring leap instigated by Noyce in 1968. “Bob came to me and said, ‘How about we start a new company?'” said Moore. “My first reaction was no, I like it here. Then a couple of months later he came back and said, ‘Now that I’m leaving, how would you like to start a new company?’ It put a whole different light on the thing.”

That year, Noyce and Moore started Intel. In 1970 the company completed an initial public offering (IPO) that raised $6.8 million, which, calculating for inflation, would have the same buying power as $41.4 million today.

Silicon Valley Before the Startup

PBS documentary reveals how technology pioneers transformed Silicon Valley into the epicenter of technology innovation.

Gordon Moore remembers a time before the idea of a Silicon Valley startup existed. That was half a century ago, before the place became an epicenter for wildly successful technology, and companies such as Apple, Google and Intel generated billions of dollars in annual profits.

Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce at Intel in 1970s Silicon Valley

Gordon Moore (left) and Robert Noyce founded Intel in 1968 when they left Fairchild Semiconductor. Andy Grove joined the company the day it was incorporated.

“It just exploded,” said Moore in the PBS documentary, “American Experience: Silicon Valley,” premiering Feb. 5. “Every time we came up with a new idea we spawned two or three companies that would try to exploit it,” he said, referring to his days at Fairchild Semiconductor, a company he helped found in 1957, a decade before he co-founded Intel with Robert Noyce.

The documentary, directed by Randall MacLowry and narrated by Michael Murphy, shows how the space race spurred demand for transistors and transformed what became Silicon Valley into a global hub of technology innovation; in the third quarter of 2012 nearly 40 percent of all U.S. venture investment was in Silicon Valley, according to Fenwick and West.

The microprocessor invented at Intel in 1971 is just one of many transistor technology-related breakthroughs explored in the documentary. “It’s been successful beyond anything we could’ve possibly imagined in the beginning, and the result is it really revolutionized the way people live,” said Moore.

Silicon Valley’s Original Startup

Nearly 2 decades before the microprocessor was invented, Moore was among a group of young, highly educated innovators who came to the farmland of Santa Clara County to tinker with science, hoping to create the next technology. In Moore’s case, that career path led to him helping take the transistor mainstream at a laboratory in Mountain View, Calif. under William Shockley, who was awarded the 1956 Nobel Prize in physics for co-inventing the transistor.

Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce at Intel SC1 in Silicon Valley of 1970

Gordon Moore (left) and Robert Noyce walk to the parking lot of the Intel SC1 building in Santa Clara in 1970.

“We discovered a group of young Ph.Ds. couldn’t push aside a Nobel Prize winner so easily,” said Moore, describing what led to the Sept. 18, 1957 defection of the so-called “traitorous eight” from Shockley Labs. After failing to convince company owners that Shockley should be removed as manager because of increasing mistrust among employees, Moore and seven young scientists left the company to found Fairchild Semiconductor. The documentary singles out Fairchild as the source for hundreds of startup companies — dubbed “Fairchildren” — and the catalyst for the startup economy that defines Silicon Valley to this day.

Several recordings of Noyce, who left Fairchild with Moore and died in 1990, are included in the documentary. “I felt that I had a commitment to Shockley and I wanted to do everything that I could to make the organization work, so I felt that my first obligation was to try and talk those seven folks into not leaving,” Noyce said. “When I failed in that, I felt that I should join with them.”

“At Fairchild we had a clean slate,” said Moore. “We had an empty building and we could do it the way we thought was the right way to do it.”

Robert Noyce: The Mayor of Silicon Valley

Much of the documentary focuses on Noyce, an early transistor engineer who met Moore after both joined Shockley. “Bob was the kind of guy everyone liked when they first met him,” said Moore. “He had the kind of personality that came across very smoothly. As such, it opened doors and of course he was brilliant, which helped.”

Moore recalled a time at Fairchild when Noyce made a gutsy business deal to sell new integrated circuits for a dollar, which today would be about $8. “Bob was taking a risk that made us all gulp at the time,” said Moore. “But it turned out to be the proper solution.”

Moore recollected another daring leap instigated by Noyce in 1968. “Bob came to me and said, ‘How about we start a new company?'” said Moore. “My first reaction was no, I like it here. Then a couple of months later he came back and said, ‘Now that I’m leaving, how would you like to start a new company?’ It put a whole different light on the thing.”

That year, Noyce and Moore started Intel. In 1970 the company completed an initial public offering (IPO) that raised $6.8 million, which, calculating for inflation, would have the same buying power as $41.4 million today.