(IBM's Silicon Valley Lab - photo by Andrew Nordley.)
As IBM celebrates its centennial this year it is interesting to consider its association with the Silicon Valley area. Although IBM is considered an East Coast computer company it has a long history with this region, long before there was a Silicon Valley.
The first IBM presence in the area was established in 1943:
On August 22, 1943, 105 men, women and children, among them 43 IBM employees, alighted from a special train that carried them across the continent to establish new homes and the new IBM Card Manufacturing Plant Number 5 at 16th and St. John Streets.
At the time, Thomas J. Watson, Sr. (1874-1956), declared, "Our decision to establish a plant on the Pacific coast is based not only on the large amount of business which we now have in the territory, but on our belief that after the war the Pacific coast will be a far greater industrial district than ever before."
It was 1952 when the San Jose Lab was formally announced. IBM's invention of the hard drive happened here.
Albert Hoagland, one of the original engineers that worked on the project recalls:
Larger than a refrigerator, it held a mere 5 megabytes (an amount that would be used up by three or four typical-sized digital pictures these days). Today, domino-sized drives can hold 10 gigabytes (or 10,000 megabytes). “Storage density has increased by a factor of 50 million in 50 years,” explains Hoagland.
Some of the early work on relational databases also came out of the San Jose Labs.
Silicon Valley as a term first appeared in 1971 in an article in Electric News. It started very small, a collection of chip companies that spun out of Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory.
Venture capital then helped to found more companies. The VC money really kicked-in after the phenomenal success of the $1.3 billion Apple Computer IPO in December 1980, where reportedly even the parking attendants became millionaires -- and Silicon Valley began to expand at a tremendous rate.
IBM also grew and expanded its presence by building onto its San Jose Research Labs and then moving it to 650 acres in Almaden in the early 1980s. It was renamed the Almaden Research Center and you can read a history of this site here.
IBM also has its Silicon Valley Lab which was formerly known as Santa Teresa Lab, located in San Jose where it focuses on developing software technologies. (Pictured above.)
At various times, IBM has had more than 25,000 workers in the Silicon Valley area.
It is ironic that with IBM's strong focus on innovation it seems to be largely absent from Silicon Valley and its culture of innovation -- yet IBM was one of the first tech companies in the region. And it continues to have a large but relatively quiet presence here.
Once a year or so IBM will invite the press to events at its labs but curiously, there is not much effort made to strengthen the connection in people's minds between IBM and Silicon Valley -- the global engine for innovation.
As more of the world looks to Silicon Valley as a mecca for innovation, new technologies, and radical business models - IBM is largely absent from that conversation. Yet it would seem that this is precisely the conversation it should participate in given its own focus on these key subjects.