How a case of TB helped Fred Terman start Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley wouldn’t be here except for? Leland Stanford, Fred Terman and Bill Shockley (in that order).

Leland Stanford, entrepreneur, politician, horse breeder, wine maker, railroad magnate, robber baron and the founder of Stanford University. Fred Terman, Stanford professor, and the initiator of the foundation of Silicon Valley. Bill Shockley, co-inventor of the transistor, and such a terrible manager of people that his best employees left to found Fairchild Semiconductor, Intel and hundreds of other high-tech companies.

Terman grew up near Stanford University where his father was an eminent professor of psychology. At age 12, Terman put together a radio set without instructions; his only guide was a magazine ad.

Terman once commented that because the radio worked, he began a career in radio engineering, the forerunner of electronics. He was well known as one of the world’s leading experts in radio engineering and studied engineering and chemistry at Stanford. In 1924, he earned a doctorate of science degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

His MIT adviser, Vannevar Bush, one of the leading scientists in the U.S., asked Terman to remain at MIT as a professor. Before his teaching career began at MIT, Terman returned to Stanford for the summer and contracted tuberculosis.

Unable to return to MIT in Boston, Terman stayed at Stanford to recover. During this period, he taught a class in radio engineering each term. By the end of the school year, Terman notified Bush that he would remain at Stanford to teach.

Entrepreneurial role model
Terman was dedicated to Stanford. Throughout his career as professor, dean of engineering, provost and acting president, Terman encouraged and assisted many of his students to start their own businesses, including Bill Hewlett and David Packard, the Varian brothers and many others.

The success of these Stanford students created an atmosphere of support in the local community and role models for future entrepreneurs. In addition to his help with young entrepreneurs, Terman was a key player in developing the Stanford Industrial Park (now the Stanford Research Park), the first and most successful of its kind in the world.

As David Packard told us in a 1994 interview, “Fred Terman and Bill [Hewlett] and I had sort of a game. He’d invite these people out to tell them what a great place this was going to be and then he’d send them over to see us and we would back him up with that. The old one-two punch worked on these fellows to bring their establishments out here.”

The synergy of Stanford Industrial Park, the positive entrepreneurial community, Fred Terman and Stanford University all set the stage for explosive innovation during the next 70 years. Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurial innovation doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon.

John McLaughlin is founder and president of the Silicon Valley Historical Association