News Column

Sunnyvale Rooted in Tech, Innovation

Aug 24, 2012

Alia Wilson


Next to the agriculture business, nothing influenced the development and evolution of Sunnyvale quite like the tech industry.

From orchards to offices, the city is now home to some of the biggest names in the industry. Apple, Nokia, Broadcom, AMD, LinkedIn, Yahoo, Juniper Networks, Intuitive Surgical, Bloom Energy, Motorola Mobility and Google have come to call Sunnyvale home.

Before the city became a Mecca for technology, several things had to happen. Even in its early days, the city was home to industry innovators.

Albert W. Bessey founded the Jubilee Incubator Company, according to Sunnyvale Heritage Park museum director Laura Babcock. The company patented a redesigned poultry incubator that replaced internal kerosene lamps with externally supplied hot water. The new design allowed for even heating and greatly reduced the risk of fire.

The museum has an incubator on display today.

Sunnyvale started branching out beyond agriculture--as far out as outer space--with the development of Moffett Field in the 1930s. The large air base was first managed by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, which would later become the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

According to historian Mary Jo Ignoffo, construction projects at Moffett Field provided many jobs for local workers in the early 1930s, but it wasn't enough to compensate for the steady stream of Dust Bowl migrants searching for work.

Farmers sought extra work at canneries and Hendy Iron Works, which contributed to the war effort in the 1940s.

But it wasn't until Lockheed arrived in the 1950s that the technology boom in Sunnyvale really began to take shape. Hundreds of engineers, a caravan of 350 people, made the move in 1956, according to Ignoffo.

"Once Lockheed came, technology just boomed in Sunnyvale," Babcock said. "Lots of kids had engineers for parents, so they were really on the cutting edge of technology."

These kids included Sunnyvale native Steve Wozniak.

"We have a direct inheritance from the very birth of Silicon Valley and the electronics age," said longtime Silicon Valley historian Michael S. Malone. "When I was kid, you could stand right on the corner of Bernardo and Fremont [avenues] and you could see Steve Wozniak come home from Cherry Chase swim club, or Ted Hoff or his boss Robert Noyce racing down the street. The creators of the integrated circuit, the microprocessor and the personal computer--perhaps the three most important inventions of the 20th century.

"As much as any place on earth, Sunnyvale is the birthplace of the digital revolution."

Military and defense operations became a huge driver for the local economy. In the 1970s, the semiconductor industry developed in symbiosis with the military-industrial field, including Electro Magnetic Systems Laboratories and Fairchild Semiconductor.

Between 1959 and 1979, former Fairchild employees founded more than 50 separate companies, sparking the computer industry.

Computer engineer Gene Amdahl left IBM in 1970 to develop his own line of faster and cheaper mainframe computers, and in 1976 Wozniak built a home computer from a used microprocessor he bought for $20, according to Ignoffo.

Throughout the 1980s and '90s, technological advancements were cultivated right here in Sunnyvale, including anything from virus detection systems to online gaming. Today, Sunnyvale boasts the latest in cutting edge tech, from robotic surgery to smart phones to social networks.

Such technological growth actually landed the city the No. 1 spot in a list of innovative cities compiled by The Daily Beast in 2011. The rankings were based on the number of patent applications per 100,000 residents.

For more information on technology in Sunnyvale, visit the Technology Timeline Exhibit at the Heritage Park Museum, 570 E. Remington Drive.

Source: (c)2012 the Sunnyvale Sun (San Jose, Calif.). Distributed by MCT Information Services

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