Quora Question: Why is Silicon Valley a Startup Hub?

Google employees eat lunch in a cafeteria adorned by artwork created by Google employees, in Mountain View, Calif. Jan. 6, 2006. Eros Hoagland/Redux

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Answer from Rob Ennals, Product Manager:

The single most important reason Silicon Valley happened was because of the huge surge of high-tech military spending that took place during the cold war.

The evidence for this is hiding in plain sight. Until recently, many of the biggest tech employers in the Bay Area were military contractors like Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. A lot of critical research was done in places like SRI that had a strong military tilt. The Internet started out as DARPANET, which was created for military reasons. People talk about Hewlett Packard as being key to the story of Silicon Valley while forgetting not only that HP was a military contractor, but that David Packard was secretary of defense.

Military spending wasn't the only reason Silicon Valley happened. Military spending was also being directed to other metro areas, and lots of local events led to the growth of particular companies like Hewlett Packard and Intel. However, if I was going to pick a single cause for Silicon Valley becoming what it is now, then it's hard to argue that military spending wasn't the big one.

It's interesting to see how little people mention military spending when talking about the history of Silicon Valley, given how critical it was. I think this is because it doesn't fit with the worldview of either the left or the right. The left is uncomfortable with the idea that something good could result from huge amounts of military spending, while the right is uncomfortable with the idea that economic success results from the government spending huge amounts of money to bootstrap new industries.

Future historians will find this all very amusing.

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