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AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: Silicon Valley

Airs Wednesday, September 24, 2014 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Fairchild Semiconductor, 1960. Pictured: Eugene Kleiner, Julius Blank, Gordon Moore, Sheldon Roberts, Jay Last, Robert Noyce, Jean Hoerni, Victor Grinich (Everyone is facing Noyce).

In 1957, decades before Steve Jobs dreamed up Apple or Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook, a group of eight brilliant young men defected from the Shockley Semiconductor Company in order to start their own transistor company. Fairchild Semiconductor’s radical innovations helped make the United States a leader in both space exploration and the personal computer revolution, transforming a fertile valley in California into a hub of technological ingenuity and changing the way the world works, plays and communicates.

Courtesy of Wayne Miller/Magnum Photos

Robert Noyce seated at his desk in front of a diagram on a blackboard at Fairchild.

Courtesy of Wayne Miller/Magnum Photos

The Fairchild 8, who left the lab of Nobel Prize winner William Shockey to form Silicon Valley's first start-up, Fairchild Semiconductor. From left to right: Gordon Moore, C. Sheldon Roberts, Eugene Kleiner, Robert Noyce, Victor Grinich, Julius Blank, Jean Hoerni and Jay Last. 1960

Courtesy of Intel Corporation

Intel executives Robert Noyce, Gordon Moore, and Andy Grove standing over a mask design on 10th anniversary of Intel.

Their leader was 29-year-old Robert Noyce, a physicist with a brilliant mind and the affability of a born salesman. Over the next decade, Noyce ran the new company and co-invented the integrated circuit, which would become an essential component of modern electronics including computers, motor vehicles, cell phones, and household appliances.

Told through the story of Noyce, who went on to found Intel, "Silicon Valley" is a vibrant examination of the rough-and-tumble early days of the high tech industry and the thrilling interplay of cutting-edge science and high-stakes business that defines the unique culture of Silicon Valley. This program was directed by Randall MacLowry.

On October 4, 1957, the young founders of the newly minted start-up heard some startling news: the Soviet Union had just launched the first artificial satellite into orbit around the earth. With the United States scrambling to catch up, the timing couldn’t have been better for the upstarts at Fairchild. Eisenhower quickly launched NASA and the nation’s new obsession with technology provided the opportunity of a lifetime.

In less than two years, Noyce would co-create a groundbreaking invention that would help put men on the moon. But Noyce’s innovation — the integrated circuit — would have an impact far beyond the Apollo program.

The integrated circuit, also known as the microchip, would re-shape the future, making possible the invention of smart phones and digital video recorders, pacemakers and microwaves possible, and launching the world into the Information Age.

Not only did Noyce’s invention transform the world, his management style launched the unique business culture for which Silicon Valley would come to be known — openness over hierarchy, risk over stability, jeans over suits.

This revolutionary new style continued at Noyce’s next venture, Intel, which in 1971, introduced the world’s first microprocessor, the driving force of every digital product we use today, and the heart of a 100-billion-dollar industry.

An eye-opening look at the birthplace of the modern technological era told by the people who shaped it, "Silicon Valley" is a fascinating reminder of how a few brilliant iconoclasts transformed a rural farmland into one of the most exciting, innovative and influential places on earth.

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE is on Facebook, and you can follow @AmExperiencePBS on Twitter.

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Preview: American Experience: Silicon Valley

Above: Led by physicist Robert Noyce, Fairchild Semiconductor began as a start-up company whose radical innovations would help make the United States a leader in both space exploration and the personal computer revolution, changing the way the world works, plays, and communicates. Noyce's invention of the microchip ultimately re-shaped the future, launching the world into the Information Age.

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Video Excerpt: American Experience: Silicon Valley

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Silicon Valley in the 60s

Above: Throughout the early 1960s thousands of young men and women poured into the Santa Clara valley every month, lured by the booming electronics and defense industries. "There was just too much talent stuffed into one place."

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Robert Noyce Goes to Silicon Valley

Above: As an undergraduate student, Robert Noyce sees the technical reports on the brand new transistor and knew he was looking at the future. "The concept hit me like the atom bomb," he later recalled. But he does not like the structure of the large East Coast tech companies.

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The Wild West in Silicon Valley

Above: During the early days of Silicon Valley, physicists and engineers from various companies in the valley would meet at "The Wagon Wheel," a hangout for Fairchild employees and for people who worked at Fairchild spin-off companies. As one Fairchild employee put it, "the Wagon Wheel was a hub of networking."

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Silicon Valley and the Digital Revolution

Above: Introduced in 1971, the microprocessor is basically the fundamental driving force and brain of all of the digital equipment we use today -- from iPhones and computers to notebooks and tablets.