by Deirdre Francks '20
By this point in my Stanford career, I have learned a fair bit about the history of Silicon Valley. I know the basic history behind the founding of Stanford, have heard the spiel about Hewlett and Packard, and have a general understanding of the rise of technology in the area. I have also learned about the gentrification which has accompanied the rise of tech, an issue which deserves its own extensive post by someone more qualified than me. But recently, I realized that I know very little about the history and climate of this region before it became “Silicon Valley.” What was this region like before the tech boom? Before Stanford was founded?
According the the National Park Service, the Santa Clara Valley formed “quite recently in geological history” as a result of intense mountain formation in the Cenozoic era. For this reason, the valley is sheltered by mountains from the coastal climate, thus giving us mild winters, glorious spring days of warmth, and hot summers. Skipping ahead at least one million years, the NPS reports the first documented humans in the valley to be the Ohlone Indians around 8000 BCE who, along with other tribes in the region, represent some of the earliest inhabitants of the Santa Clara Valley. These tribes were split into small, self-sufficient communities which moved between permanent and temporary villages, fishing, hunting, and gathering throughout the year. Though I can’t possibly speak to the entire history of these native cultures, it is important to note the rich communities from which the Santa Clara population began. Life for the Ohlone Indians changed drastically in the 1700s with the arrival and settlement of Spanish explorers and missionaries. This historical time period includes complex relations between Native Americans and European settlers, subsequent Mexican rule over the region, and eventually the Mexican-American war, but again, I’ll fast forward to after the United States’ acquisition of California when the Santa Clara Valley emerged as an agricultural paradise.
The Santa Clara Valley has another nickname besides the commonly-used and surely more famous, “Silicon Valley.” Fascinatingly enough, the valley used to be called “The Valley of Heart’s Delight” due to its flourishing agricultural production. From around the 1850s until the mid 20th century Santa Clara was one of the world’s greatest fruit-producing regions, making agriculture, along with some lumber and oil production, one of the primary industries in the area. It’s hard for me to imagine that when Leland and Jane Stanford laid the plans for a university they were working with an area recognized around the globe not for its scientific and technological innovation, but for its fertile land and ample agricultural exports. Among its most plenteous crops were prunes, cherries, pears, almonds, carrots, and more. Only around the 1950s did the agricultural presence in the Santa Clara Valley truly begin to diminish. In unison with the rise of the tech industry and the formation of “Silicon Valley,” the dramatic increase in population and urbanization saw the end of “The Valley of the Heart’s Delight.”
From here, the story becomes one of technological growth, population increase, urbanization and numerous other changes to the land and community of the Santa Clara Valley region. Of course, Stanford has played a sizable role in the rise of tech in the Bay Area, making it important to me as a Stanford student to know the history of the region before this institution was founded. From the geological formation of the valley itself to the native inhabitants who came long before the recorded census, the history of the Santa Clara Valley is far from simple. While my research on the Santa Clara Valley is far from complete, I now have a better understanding of the complex history of the land and inhabitants of the region, and an intense appreciation for all that came before Silicon Valley.
"History of Stanford." Stanford University. https://www.stanford.edu/about/history/
“Ohlones and Coast Miwoks” National Parks Service. https://www.nps.gov/goga/learn/historyculture/ohlones-and-coast-miwoks.htm
"Santa Clara "The Mission City"." City of Santa Clara. http://santaclaraca.gov/about/city-history/the-mission-city
"Santa Clara County: California’s Historic Silicon Valley" National Parks Service. https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/santaclara/history.htm
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