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February 1, 2013 7:29 pm
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Silicon Valley began with eight one-dollar bills, writes April Dembosky in San Francisco. Eight bright, disgruntled scientists were unhappy with the rigid management at Shockley Semiconductor near Palo Alto. So, in 1957, they held a secret meeting where they agreed to go out on their own, their pact sealed by each of them signing their name around George Washington’s portrait.
“Those dollar bills they signed are Silicon Valley’s declaration of independence,” says Leslie Berlin, project historian for the Silicon Valley Archives at Stanford University, “a statement that ‘we are going to go out and start a company according to our own ideals and our own beliefs, and nothing’s going to stop us’.”
The defection of the eight young men was the first mark of the entrepreneurial spirit that has come to define the valley. They formed Fairchild Semiconductor, and the group’s leader, 29-year-old Robert Noyce, set the tone for many start-ups to come by breaking down hierarchies, and prioritising risk over stability. Their story forms the backbone of Silicon Valley, a new documentary that is scheduled to air in the US on February 5.
“Our lives today really revolve around the technology that has come out of Silicon Valley,” says the film’s director, Randall MacLowry. “And there’s a lack of understanding about how it came about and who some of the major players are who created this place – the physical place and this place of mind and culture that people are trying to replicate in other places.”
The founders of Fairchild Semiconductor went on to build the first silicon transistors and integrated circuits that helped to put Americans on the moon. They upset the large technology incumbents with their fast, bold moves. But as they succeeded and grew, the technologists again became disgruntled with a new set of corporate limitations.
Venture capital money was now flowing into the region, and Fairchild employees were accepting it to start their own ventures, building silicon chips and circuits. Even Noyce eventually broke away to start Intel. Together the alumni, the so-called “Fairchildren”, spun off more than 100 new companies.
Soon the land that had been lush with apricot and almond trees was covered with office buildings and manufacturing plants born from the new cash crop: silicon.
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