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San Jose and “Silicon Valley”  

Glenna Matthews

Since 1988, San Jose has billed itself as the Capital of Silicon Valley. Thirty-five years later, it is the wealthiest city in the country. Despite San Jose’s size and its self-proclaimed title, however, the city remains far less known than its Bay Area sister cities—San Francisco and Oakland—both of which were smaller in population after 1980. Yet the history of San Jose and the metropolitan region deserves to be better known for a multiplicity of reasons. First, in the heart of the Santa Clara Valley, San Jose was the first secular pueblo established by the Spanish in Alta California, in 1777, hence is California’s oldest city. Second, with its Native Californian population, its Hispanic Catholic first settlers, and the diversity of immigrants after the discovery of gold in 1848, San Jose has never been a place of Protestant hegemony. Despite the existence of racism and ethnocentrism, newcomers there encountered a playing field different from much of the country. That the Silicon Valley workforce has had so strong an immigrant profile is perhaps related to the fact that San Jose was born diverse. Finally, San Jose’s political and economic history are important. A small market center for the vast fruit-growing and processing industry in the Valley—as of 1930, there were at least a hundred thousand acres in orchards and dozens of canneries—San Jose began a transformative period of explosive growth during World War II that saw the city’s local economy dramatically change while increasing tenfold in geographical size and twice that in population. Local boosters, in fact, hoped and planned for it to become “the Los Angeles of the North.” Whether that goal was desirable or not, their vision, along with developments at Stanford University and enormous amounts of federal spending on defense, paved the way for the Santa Clara Valley to evolve into “Silicon Valley.”