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United States Businesses The Almighty Buck Technology

Before Silicon Valley, New Jersey Was Tech Capital (npr.org) 91

New submitter artmancc writes: It was in New Jersey that Thomas Edison invented sound recording, motion pictures, and the light bulb in what is considered the first modern corporate R&D facility. In other words, Edison invented the modern lab -- teams of people working together, sharing ideas and perfecting devices. In the century after Edison, New Jersey became the place to set up shop if you wanted to invent. On top of all the other assets, the state had lots of inexpensive land available. The transistor and cellular communications came out of AT&T's Bell Labs, also in New Jersey. If it was 1955 and you had to bet on where the next half-century of technical innovation would emerge, the Garden State would be the most likely winner, not some farmland south of San Francisco. As a couple of Jersey natives at NPR note, it didn't quite work out that way. What happened?
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Before Silicon Valley, New Jersey Was Tech Capital

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  • In a word, patents (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 06, 2017 @01:35PM (#54561363)

    Back in those days the only way to escape Edison's patent lawsuits was to flee to the West Coast. Long story short, we have been fighting the patent system in order to progress for the entirety of the history of the United States.

    • Back in those days the only way to escape Edison's patent lawsuits was to flee to the West Coast.

      Which is, incidentally, not only why we have Silicon Valley but also why we have Hollywood.

    • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Tuesday June 06, 2017 @02:55PM (#54562003)

      No mod points, but this.

      Creative people fled the corporate IP ownership that Edison fathered. To a place where employees could move back and forth without having their knowledge and experience effectively stripped from them.

      Is it any wonder that at the far end of this philosophical spectrum New Jersey became one of the centers of mob activity? Where you have to cut the big boys in on the action if you want to play in their markets.

  • Didn't Edison (the "Wizard of Menlo Park") leave New Jersey and set up in Menlo Park, California?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Thomas Edison didn't invent shit. He found existing inventions that weren't properly patented and did so in his name. He also patented everything invented by his employees under his name.

    The guy was a genius, but a genius at management and thievery. The myth that he invented hundreds of things all by himself needs to die.

    • The guy was a genius, but a genius at management and thievery.

      Easy to see why he was a hero to Steve Jobs.

    • Yes and no. He did a lot of very hard work perfecting the inventions, many inventions were his own or from his labs. It was a time when everyone was building upon everyone else's work. No one invented a full blown product all on their own, the patents were all incremental modifications. Don't let an online comic strip fool you into thinking he was evil personified.

  • What an unfortunate and malodorous outcome.
  • tl;dr (Score:5, Informative)

    by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Tuesday June 06, 2017 @01:48PM (#54561465) Journal
    The reason California became the tech hub was because of non-compete laws in New Jersey. Shockley couldn't build a lab in New Jersey to compete with Bell Labs because it would have been against state law, but California didn't have such laws.

    In California, anyone who had an idea could quit their job and start a new company. So people did it. In New Jersey, they expected you to stay with the company for life, and had laws to enforce that paradigm. I'm saying this based on what the article presented. If you want to know the answer, skip to the bottom, the rest of the article is just entertaining filler.
  • I'm going to be contrarian here and say that, Thomas Edison was a great man. At the very least, setting up a lab for inventing was very impressive, and clearly a predecessor to Bell Labs.
  • Not only Edison. New Jersey is the place where Curtis-Wright (the manufacturer of Lindberg trans-Atlantic flight airplane engine), this is biopharmaceutical hub and the place of one of the largest ports in the worlds. AT&T and its offspring Verizon have/had headquarters here. The departure of the cinema business to Los Angeles has always been attributed to the availability of sun. I will take a great risk of being downvoted, but I have to bring what is obvious: 1. The unions. 2. Property taxes. Proba
    • I got out of there 13 years ago. When I was a kid it was full of little farms and things like that but now it's been plastered over with dull poorly built suburbs.
      • I got out of there 53 years ago. When I was a kid it was full of little farms and things like that but now it's been plastered over with dull poorly built suburbs. Back then, our suburbs weren't poorly built.
        • Yeah my grandfather raised 7 kids in this huge house in Westfield with summer home in Neptune... he was millwright at a ball bearing factory. Those days are long gone the house is probably a million+ dollars now.
          • If I had mod points today, you'd get one. I grew up one town over, and if each kid has a separate bedroom, there's no probably about the million+ price tag; my parents' much smaller house is valued at well over $700k now. And I wonder whether Neptune is considered a "commuter town" for NYC yet.
  • by pz ( 113803 ) on Tuesday June 06, 2017 @01:52PM (#54561499) Journal

    What happened is the tech industry moved to Boston, around Route 128. From there we had technology giants like DEC, Polaroid, Thermo Electron, Bolt Beranek and Newman, Raytheon, Wang, Honeywell, MITRE, Analog Devices, etc.

  • by Zontar_Thing_From_Ve ( 949321 ) on Tuesday June 06, 2017 @01:58PM (#54561547)
    Two words - Internet bubble.
    One word - Lucent.
    Bell Labs and innovation died because AT&T spun off Lucent in the internet bubble days and put Bell Labs in it. I went to Murray Hill maybe a couple of years before Lucent existed and it still had really smart people there who were interested in doing cool things. Lucent didn't really know what it was doing and it basically killed Bell Labs through incompetence. Lucent doesn't really exist any more. It's passed through 2 more owners and now is some part of Nokia. I was in an investment club during the Internet bubble and I remember we bought Lucent stock and we kept getting stock in spin off companies as Lucent tried desperately to spin off the crap parts of its business, like old school analog phone service, to save the high tech part of it, but nothing they did worked.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    To take quote from Family Guy : "I'll have you know that Bridgeport is among the world leaders in abandoned buildings, shattered glass, boarded-up windows, wild dogs and gas stations without pumps." .... Yeah. :)

  • It's hard to make new things in an environment that values stability and incrementalism, which pretty much defines the attitude of the Northeastern US.

    Even the Liberals in the Northeast are conservative.

  • What happened... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Pollux ( 102520 ) <speter&tedata,net,eg> on Tuesday June 06, 2017 @02:06PM (#54561623) Journal

    William Shockley and the Traitorous Eight [wikipedia.org], that's what happened.

    The article alludes to this: William Shockley, one of those brilliant Nobel laureates who invented the transistor, moved to California to open his lab in Mountain View, the current home of Google. His employees also left to found their own companies.

    In a nutshell, Silicon Valley gave birth to this innovation, because New Jersey and Bell Labs demanded loyalty to the company. If the company didn't agree with your ideas, then they wanted those ideas tossed into the garbage can so that you had time to work on their ideas. Shockley thought his ideas were better, so he went out to California to develop them (where New Jersey's anti-competitive laws didn't apply), and brought the Traitorous Eight with him. And then the Traitorous Eight left Shockley to form Fairchild Semiconductor. And so on...

    • Shockley had quite a personality. The reason the 'Traitorous Eight' left him was because he was annoying to work for. After his work in the computer world, he went around promoting eugenics. He largely lost credibility in the popular press when someone asked him, "So why aren't your children smart?" and he couldn't answer.
      • I read an interview with Shockley in which he answered that question. It's called return to the median. The average intelligence of the children of very intelligent people is less than their parents.
  • New Jersey tech was doing fine, doing boring, staid, telecomm work until AT&T was broken up; the remnants continued on until the recovery of NYC, which really finished off NJ tech.

  • by DontBeAMoran ( 4843879 ) on Tuesday June 06, 2017 @02:22PM (#54561769)

    He was a dick. [youtube.com]

  • The common misconception is that Bell Labs invented the transistor, but it actually invented the bipolar transistor. The field effect transistor predates the bipolar by a bit, but was not practical for most existing tube (valve) applications.

    I read an editorial in EEE (now IEEE) Magazine from the time Bell announced the bipolar transistor and it was not nice to Bell or that device that changed the world. It described several issues with bipolar transistors that FETs didn't have and concluded with the assertion (paraphrased) that Bell should stick to telephones and leave solid state research to those who know what they were doing.

    While bipolar transistors led the way to the solid-state revolution with devices like the transistor radio, the first common household application, most of today's integrated circuits are, in fact, mostly or entirely based on Field Effect technology. Maybe EEE was right. ;-)

    • I could easily be wrong, but my recollection is that FETs require a degree of purity of ingredients and process that were not practically achievable back then. In addition, early transistors were pretty feeble, and it's easier to make a high current bipolar transistor than a high current FET.

      Most early FETs were junction FETs, a different technology from the MOSFETS that dominate digital circuits.

      • You are right. All FETS of that day were contact FETs. They existed, were hard to produce, and had limited functionality. But most researchers were certain that they were the future.

        The main issue was that FETs worked much like a tube with very high input impedance. Practically a drop-in replacement while bipolar were really current regulated devices with low impedance which required a very different mindset.

        My father, educated in the 20s, never really understood them.

  • Back in the 1960's, if I remember correctly, Marty Goetz sued IBM and won the ability to open their vaults to developers. Prior to Mr. Goetz's suit, the software that ran the big iron of IBM was proprietary and closely guarded. Marty created AutoFlow and a string of successful mainframe products with his company Applied Data Research, in the Princeton, NJ area. MetaCobol, Librarian, Roscoe, Ideal, DatacomDB and more were deployed all across the country and were top notch products. (ADR was first swallow
  • Helping create a great tech climate?

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