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Journal of America Team:

 Editor in chief: 
Abdus Sattar Ghazali

 Managing Editor:
Mertze Dahlin   

Senior Editor:
Arthur Scott

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Silicon Valley in the early days

By Mertze Dahlin

Silicon Valley is here now, but it has been here for some time making history. We use that term “making history” to imply that something remarkable has been done. In fact it has, it is and it is continuing to do so. Sometimes we remember what has been done but competently, it has been recorded, samples have been kept to put on display so others may learn something about it. It is kept and recorded among similar items, professionally, in a special museum displaying items relating to “Silicon Valley”.

The term “Museum” makes me think about something old. Perhaps it should at least connote “old” as compared to new. But where does “old” begin. Historically, old should refer to any time before “now”. As for a museum, it is the keeping place for a collection of history, a place to display what was before and a place to conduct research on our historical past and – hopefully, learn from it and improve our future. The most interesting way to learn about this aspect of looking into the past is to become a volunteer Docent in a museum.

We sometimes say “been there, done that” when something new to someone else is related to you and you wish to say that you already know about it. We follow it up by saying “that’s history now”, even though it may have happened only minutes before. It is safe to assume that the latest part of history has just now occurred. Everything else is destined to follow as more history.

But history, by itself, is much too wide in scope to be contained in one place, or one medium. The growth of a community has a history of its own as also there is a history of stars or any celestial occurrence or again, the writings of any of these phenomena. We concede that everything will be history. It surely does need limitations spelled out, such as at the Museum of “History San Jose”, to exclude the un-ending broad scope of, say, all of California. Our knowledge and awareness of the High Tech industry is relatively recent in that many of us saw it all occur within our own lifetime, therefore the need for a specialized museum that considers so many  “new” items to the exclusion of whatever caused this entire valley to “come of age”.

If I learned about the history of “you”, I would surely understand “you” much better. I would likely learn why “you” think the way you do, I may understand how come “you” work in your particular job or where “you” like to go for your vacation and perhaps have an idea about the kind of clothes “you” like to wear.

This is why it is exciting to learn about the history of, in this case, San Jose, California, the capital of Silicon Valley. To live in San Jose is one thing. To realize that it was the first capital of California is certainly eye opening. That is about the time your interest peaks and you wonder how many more wondrous events have occurred in San Jose. At the very least, while becoming more involved in the museum of “History San Jose”, we learn that it is a city of many firsts. We were the first to have electric street lighting on the West Coast. That was after we were known as the city with the brightest light in America. That happened in 1881 at the urging of the Editor of the San Jose Mercury. This was our first attempt at electric street lighting in which we installed a two hundred thirty seven foot tall tower in the middle of the street intersection of Market and Santa Clara streets. It had six carbon arc lamps installed at the top of the tower and it lit the countryside as far away as the towns of Los Gatos and Saratoga. We have a half size replica of the light tower at an intersection in “History San Jose” museum.

It makes one wonder what did we have for street lighting before electricity. Everybody knows about gas lamps and that was what we had. They piped in gas from somewhere to every streetlight. It was these items of National interest that drew the innovator into our area. These are the roots that began our Silicon Valley.

Just to be involved with this museum or any other one in this valley is the exciting part. You can’t help but learn more about this fair city and discover the endless wonders. The practical way to be involved, of course, is to be a volunteer. Nobody will complain that you are paid too much. In general, this permits you to meet visitors who usually come from some distant city or even a distant country. The visitor to the museum has a lot in common with you. He may have already done some research and is hoping you can fill him in on the details. He already has an interest in San Jose and he knows a museum of the city will somehow be laden with archives telling the story of how this city of San Jose came into existence.

However, like a coin, there are two sides to this meeting with a visitor. The chances are, that he may have come from an exotic place, or at least exotic from your viewpoint. This is the time that you also learn about him. Everybody likes to talk about himself or where his home is and now you can enjoy learning about what he may have to say. I have had conversations with people from many parts of the world as they visited the museum and this is the time you can ask those questions that have been dwelling in you for such a long time.

This continues to go further as now when your acquaintances tell you of their recent trip to wherever, you know what they are talking about and you may be able to fill in details that your friend has missed.

The layout of our History San Jose museum is such that it is like the small town of San Jose of perhaps a hundred years ago. On the sometimes rare occasions that you like to take a peaceful, quiet picnic, but not too far away, it’s nice to slip back into history and take advantage of spending the day or afternoon at our museum.

You may wish to take a short trolley ride to the other side of the History Park, and the trolley operator would surely take the opportunity to tell you about “his” trolley car history and the story of trolley transportation in the “Valley of the Hearts Delight”, as this area was known before the turn of the previous century.

History has a way of being rather non-stop. Our Grandchildren will learn about the stories this museum has to offer, but it will be supplemented with the “sand and crystal” time of San Jose which were the building blocks of our now “Silicon Valley”. This too will be a familiar term in San Jose’s electronic history.

On occasion, you may have done something in this well-known valley to gain your fifteen minutes of fame. There is no reason to lament that  - now it’s gone. You have done something that was worthy of documentation and it becomes an item to be entered into the archives of San Jose history.

Future generations will read about your accomplishment along with the story of Google, Yahoo, IBM and Apple computer. All of which could be called “modern” history and then reach into older times to see the first Radio Broadcasting station in America. The call letters used then were FN. When the Government became more involved with radio, it assigned the call letters  KQW, which later evolved into radio station KCBS.  Then learn the story about the birth of the Bank of America, and about O’brians, the store to buy the first Ice Cream and Sodas west of Detroit, Michigan.

Just by taking the opportunity to become a volunteer Docent of History San Jose museum, you can’t help but become very educated about our present Silicon Valley, which was known earlier as the “Valley of the Hearts Delight”. It goes back to the days of the Ohlone Indians, who numbered as much as one hundred thousand – but now, non are left.

Until farming became the chief industry here, the area was pretty well covered with four foot tall Savannah grass and many of the local animals thrived on it.

We didn’t actually become a state until 1850, largely due to the discovery of gold in California and the number of people arriving from back east in hopes of becoming rich from the gold. We had belonged to Mexico up until then when we simply proclaimed ourselves to be a state. The Mexican era in California hadn’t been that long since it was only in 1821 that Mexico overthrew the Spanish rule in which we were part of the Spanish Empire. It was really Spain who formed San Jose. This was a necessity because there were two Presidios full of soldiers who needed to be fed. One was in what is now San Francisco and the other was in the area of what is now Monterey.

Spanish explorers discovered the San Jose area and realized that it was perfect to provide food for the two military posts in San Francisco and Monterey. The Pueblo of San Jose was formed and populated with farmers from Mexico. This was the first “civilized” town, ”El Pueblo de San Jose de Guadalupe” in California, aside from the Ohlone Indian tribes that were presently abundant. The second Pueblo was established in Los Angeles. In the late 1500’s, Spain had established a route of Missions from north to south along California after their poor treatment of the local, Native Americans. The purpose of this Missionary system was to teach Christianity to the Indians and to civilize them. They also taught them Spanish because the Indian languages did not have enough vocabulary to explain about religion.

The Native American Indians had been here much longer that anyone, even if we consider how long it has been since the white man came here in search of gold. They had, according to historians, come here by means of walking on the continental shelf, which was available to traverse then, near Alaska around ten thousand years ago. They were nomads from Finland, Russia and other northern areas during the ice age around sixteen thousand years ago. They walked through North America during several generations of their living and continually looked for food and shelter as they worked their way South. In this Bay Area, they found abundant shellfish and a variety of local food growing here. They would seasonally migrate to the nearby hills to hunt and return to the bay for the local food including acorns and shellfish. Until farming became the chief industry here, the area was pretty well covered with four foot tall Savannah grass and many of the local animals thrived on it and it was useful for building shelters for the local Indian tribes.

As their community grew, they split up into various tribes in this bay area. There were six different language groups in California. Probably among the most well known groups, were the Castanoan Indians. They all had political organizations in that they elected a chief, man or woman. They also had a medicine man or woman to take care of religion or medicine and none of these Indians were very warlike. They lived peacefully among the various local tribes and life was good.

Two thirds of their time was spent in preparing food to eat. They only developed bows and arrows about fifteen hundred years ago. To make a coat, they needed one hundred and fifty rabbit skins. They also required about one thousand pounds of acorns to supply a family for a year. These were the days of the Ohlone Indians of our area, who numbered as much as one hundred thousand – but now, non are left. The last one died in 1906.

There are too many aspects of San Jose history and as much as possible, they should be and are treated in specialized museums in order to maintain concentration on that particular subject. In the “History San Jose” museum, it is one of the relatively early museums and so it touches on many aspects of life in San Jose. Due to space and time limitations, an in-depth recording of many aspects is missing. That’s where the specialization comes in and you may find museums about the Ohlone Indians, computers, gold mining, Chinese community, electronics and others which have a great deal of information to be made available.

Our goal in life now is to make history.

Mertze Dahlin is a Member of the Board of Directors of the American Institute of International Studies.