FARMING, FLYING, FINANCE, FILINGS
This is the world that the Americans from points east came to in the 1840s, first for land and then for gold. One of the initial groups of immigrants to arrive—just in time to fight in the Mexican War and to rescue the Donner Party that followed them—was the Murphy-Stephens-Townsend party. The leader, Martin Murphy Jr., was Catholic, of the Irish variety. Within a couple decades his ambition led him to own the Pastoria de las Borregas rancho, which covered today’s Sunnyvale and Mountain View, much of downtown San Jose, miles of the Diablo Range south of Mt. Hamilton, as well as vast regions of Argentina.
Murphy was yet another prototype of the Valley to come—in his case, the fearless empire builder and visionary tycoon. When his sons came of age, he didn’t hesitate to turn to his church, Mission Santa Clara, and help establish a college for their education. (He did the same for his daughters with the College of Notre Dame up the road.) And when, thanks to that education, those newly sophisticated sons and daughters wanted to move uptown from life on the farm, he built them the great Victorian homes that helped turn San Jose into a burgeoning city.
It was to this community, and to the blossoming wealth of the great ranchers like the Murphys, and to a growing professional class emerging out of Santa Clara College that another Catholic entrepreneur—this one Italian—was drawn: A.P. Giannini. When most histories discuss the Bank of Italy (in time, the Bank of America), first in San Jose and then San Francisco, they speak in terms of a bank for working-class people who deposited their nickels and dimes, and who obtained small loans to start their stores and businesses. But with a longer perspective—and from the vantage of the Silicon Valley to come—the early B of A becomes the template for the angel investors and venture capitalists who emerge in the second half of the 20th century.
Another piece fell into place at the end of the 19th century, when the first artesian wells were dug to the region’s underlying aquifer—and the Valley of Ranches saw the planting of 10 million fruit trees, which transformed the place into the Valley of Heart’s Delight. When we look back on this second Valley—with its orchards and canneries, and with boat rides on the Guadalupe River past the Victorian edifices of downtown San Jose—it seems like another world: on the one hand graceful and pleasantly paced but on the other parochial, limited in opportunity, and largely isolated from the events of the larger world. But the truth is that the Valley of Heart’s Delight, now all but buried under asphalt and cement, was not so different from the world we live in today.
If the clock was still ticking much more slowly than it would in the decades to come, the pace still felt blindingly fast to those who lived it—compared with the decades before. The toll of the Mission’s bell was lost in the whistles of the nearby canneries, the honking of automobile horns on El Camino, and the roar of planes flying out of San Jose Airport. Streetcars clanged and crawled up Stevens Creek Road from San Jose to the hills above Cupertino. Heavy farm machinery rumbled and spit out diesel smoke from one end of the Valley to the other.
The work of the Valley in the first half of the 20th century may have been fruit and produce, mills and small machines—but that work was already being driven by technological advances, managed by a growing professional class, funded by risk-taking local investors, and selling to a global marketplace. At the center of this transition remained Santa Clara Mission and University. It was the SCU-educated agricultural specialists, agronomists, and trained farm business managers who fanned out across the South Bay after graduation and ran these huge enterprises—directing everything from soil treatment to choice of crops, from the canneries to the market and distribution of millions of cases of fresh and dried fruit around the world.
And it wasn’t just farming. The Valley during this period was already becoming obsessed with the latest scientific advancements. John J. Montgomery’s pioneering experiments in flight at SCU inflamed the imaginations of the region’s young men, such as the Lockheed brothers in Los Gatos, who soon were doing their own tests, with seaplanes, on San Francisco Bay. The arrival of Moffett Naval Air Station—its huge hangar housing the giant dirigible USS Macon—and the adjoining NACA Ames Research Center (in time, NASA) showed that the U.S. military had already identified the region as both technologically sophisticated and capable of providing the technical talent needed to run one of the nation’s most advanced research installations.
Radio, too, was the subject of fascination in Santa Clara Valley. And while much of this interest centered around Stanford and young Fred Terman, the son of that university’s president, one of the biggest revolutions in that industry began in downtown San Jose, where Doc Herrold set up the nation’s second radio station and was the first to deliver a commercial broadcast. By the end of the 1920s, what has been called “the first Silicon Valley” company, radio manufacturer Echophone, had set up shop in Sunnyvale.
But Santa Clara University wasn’t just supplying the region with managerial and engineering talent. It was also providing the Valley with a legal community of national reputation that was far outsized to the small population it served. Courses in law were taught at the beginning of the century, and as the law school graduated its first class in 1914, those men began to fill not only the South Bay but much of Northern California with trained lawyers and, in time, judges at every level. Local business executives may have joked about the “Bronco Mafia”—SCU law grads who managed, over the course of their careers, to move from the campus down The Alameda to hang their shingles, and then on to downtown San Jose to serve on the bench—but those businessmen also recognized that this local legal community was, already by the 1930s, capable of handling any commercial legal task, from the mundane to the labyrinthine.
An entire history could be composed about the ways in which SCU Law’s contributions to contract, patent, intellectual property, and employment law shaped the success of the electronics revolution. Of course, that story is still being written.