- Silicon Valley has been a hub of technological innovation for the last century.
- The region’s growth is closely tied to buildup during World War II and federal investment.
- Recent events like Mark Zuckerberg’s congressional hearing and Elizabeth Warren’s plans for big tech may usher in a new era of Silicon Valley history.
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People often think of Silicon Valley technology firms as an industry that popped up independently and wants less regulation, but historian Jeannette Estruth, an assistant professor of history at Bard College wants to remind you that Silicon Valley is in many ways a federal and state project.
“Its roots are totally enmeshed with the government,” she said, in particular to war efforts of the 20th century. She pointed to federal investment in Bay Area universities during and after World War II, and how closely tied their growth was to war. Research and knowledge production from the war made the explosion of growth possible.
“People don’t think about infrastructure,” Estruth said, noting how important the housing boom following the war, and later the expansion of the San Jose airport, were to Silicon Valley’s story.
Now, with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s congressional hearing and democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren’s plan to break up big tech, Estruth thinks that we might be entering a new era of increased accountability and oversight in Silicon Valley.
Check out the six unexpected moments that Estruth says shaped today’s Silicon Valley:
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1. Modern Silicon Valley developed as a result of the infrastructure build-up of World War II.
During World War II and the following years, the classic Cold War research university exploded, according to Estruth. Stanford University and UC Berkeley became part of knowledge creation in geography, chemical weapons, surveillance, and computation.
With the US presence in the Pacific theater of the war, the West Coast became an important center of shipbuilding, transportation of troops and material, and food. People, money, and resources were moving through the area and in university spaces, setting the stage for a tech boom.