Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Updating the history of Silicon Valley

In July, I went to The Tech (a San José children’s museum) to hear a talk on the history of Silicon Valley by John McLaughlin, amateur historian and founder of the Santa Clara Valley Historical Association.

In the early 1990s, McLaughlin researched an oral history of Silicon Valley’s origins. The interviews were aired on PBS and he also published as a coffee table book, The Making Of Silicon Valley: A One Hundred Year Renaissance.

At the July talk, McLaughlin aired some of the clips from the earlier show (still available on VHS) and talked about his current project to update the story to the present. I chatted with him afterwards about his interest in local history, how the earlier project came about and his hopes for the current project.

In the Merc this morning, columnist Mike Cassidy informed me (and the rest of the Valley) that the updated story is now out in book form. To update the story, McLaughlin enlisted Leigh Weimers, who retired in 2005 as a Merc columnist.

The new book, Silicon Valley: 110 Year Renaissance, is now for sale on Amazon (where else?) as well as the association’s website. The updated DVD (as well as the earlier DVD) are only available from the association, which also sells McLaughlin’s other books on local history.

Other important snippets of SV lore are available as articles on the association website. One of the most important is the history of Federal Telegraph, a key antecedent to the Valley’s concentration of electronics industries (including HP), but an old enough story to predate the 1990s-centric information available on the free WWW.

From my own knowledge of the Valley, McLaughlin has the details of the history right, and thus his current (and earlier) work are an important resource for anyone who wants to understand how the Valley came to be.

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