Case | HBS Case Collection | January 2013 (Revised May 2014)

The Origins and Development of Silicon Valley

by Tom Nicholas and James Lee


On October 1, 1891, as Senator Leland Stanford cut the ribbon at the ceremony gifting 8,000-acres of his Palo Alto, California, stock farm to a new, 559-student university bearing his name and seeking to produce "useful" in addition to "cultured" graduates, the majority of onlookers were orange groves and wildflowers. There was, as Gertrude Stein would remark of nearby Bay Area city, Oakland, nearly 50 years later, almost "no there, there." That is, it was a place with little social depth, identity, or culture. But over time, the region became synonymous with a culture of entrepreneurialism and developed into the most significant innovation hotspot in the world. What factors, if any, made what was to become known as "Silicon Valley" unique? Will Silicon Valley remain a vibrant community of technological innovation and economic growth, or will it decline like other previously thriving U.S. regions?

Keywords: Silicon Valley; History; Venture Capital; Entrepreneurship; United States;


Nicholas, Tom, and James Lee. "The Origins and Development of Silicon Valley." Harvard Business School Case 813-098, January 2013. (Revised May 2014.)