The Real Birthplace of Silicon Valley – Mountain View, California - Atlas Obscura
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Mountain View, California

The Real Birthplace of Silicon Valley

The first high-tech company in the valley that actually worked with silicon devices. 

While there were other high-tech companies making history in the Santa Clara Valley south of San Francisco in the first half of the 20th century—such as Hewlett-Packard’s famous garage—this overlooked lab marks the spot where the “silicon” aspect of “Silicon Valley” really got started. 

The Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory in Mountain View, founded by William Shockley in 1956, was the first company in the area to research and manufacture silicon-based semiconductors. Though it was short-lived, it laid the groundwork for the world-changing inventions that came out of the valley over the next few decades.

Yet until recently, the site of the lab was occupied by an international grocery store, and the only commemoration of the historical significance was a small sign and plaque on the sidewalk. Now a new office building and shopping complex is nearing completion at the site, and as part of the development, a humble memorial has been incorporated into the building and sidewalk. 

The memorial to the real birthplace of Silicon Valley features giant transistors and diodes, as well as the original plaque. There are also some new interpretive signs on the wall telling the story of how so many famous companies can trace their origins to this very spot. The engineering talent that worked for William Shockley went on to found over 65 companies over a period of 20 years, including such mainstays as Intel and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD).

If you are ever visiting Silicon Valley and are in the Mountain View area, take a moment to check out this historic block. The building is still under construction, but the sidewalk and memorial are accessible to the public. While you are there, you will almost certainly see some autonomous vehicles drive by, since Alphabet’s Waymo (formerly Google) self-driving car development takes place across the tracks. You can also take some time to visit the Computer History Museum, which is not too far away.