Date: 5/2/18
 

 

Where does the Silicon Valley story actually begin? That was one of our first questions when we started developing the “Origins of Silicon Valley” podcast series. Turns out, we didn’t have to look very far.

Stanford University isn’t just in Silicon Valley – Stanford created Silicon Valley. 

Stanford wasn’t always a top university with razor-slim acceptance rates. The events that helped transform Stanford into a destination for aspiring entrepreneurs and technologists didn’t transpire until the mid-20th century. (We trace that part of the story in the next episode.) But when Leland and Jane Stanford founded the school in 1885, they instilled values that are woven into Silicon Valley’s culture today. 

Leland Stanford Sr. built his fortune by partnering with a group of ruthless men who called themselves The Associates. They masterminded America’s first transcontinental railroad, which spanned North America. This audacious undertaking was a technological triumph, but it was only made possible because of massive backing by the federal government and the Associates’ willingness to exploit Chinese labor and destroy Native American lands. The surprising thing, though, is that despite the fanfare the transcontinental turned out to be a financial failure. It lost huge sums of money and it dragged Leland into a world of corruption, greed, and deceit. 

Like many contemporary Silicon Valley leaders, Leland believed he was deploying technology for the greater good of society. He believed he was helping to build America. Perhaps his faith in technological progress allowed him to rationalize his hunger for power. 

When Jane and Leland Sr. lost their one and only son, Leland Jr., they decided to create a university in his honor. Then, shortly after the university was founded, Leland Sr. died unexpectedly. Jane was left alone, and it was up to her to keep the school running. She quickly evolved from a Victorian wife into an impressive power broker in her own right, earning the nickname “Iron Will Jane.”  Were it not for her, there would be no Stanford University. 

Leland Sr. and Jane were full of paradoxes. As products of the Gilded Age, they benefited from a system that allowed extremely wealthy people to operate independently from the rest of society. Yet, the couple were also progressive. Leland was an abolitionist. He and Jane gave money to suffragist Susan B. Anthony. And in Stanford’s founding decree, they enshrined egalitarian principles, determined to differentiate their California university from east coast institutions. 

Silicon Valley’s history is replete with complicated figures, and part of the challenge in interpreting the Valley’s influence comes in separating the technologists from the technology. 

Today, Stanford continues to fuel the economic engine of Silicon Valley. The list of companies founded by Stanford alumni is impressive, and there’s no shortage of innovations that were first conceived and developed on the Stanford campus. But it is not our goal to fawn over the technologies themselves. Our series is not a history of business – it’s a history of culture. And looking back at Silicon Valley we can trace a long tradition of corporations at the cutting edge of technology that earn enormous profits while claiming to advance freedom and opportunity around the world. 

That belief, it turns out, has been here since the beginning. 

MUSIC CREDITS:
Junior85 - Eeeeoooww
Rui - Caress Me to Sleep
Johnny Ripper - Cloudhead
Johnny Ripper - Intimacy (with Lyndsie Alguire)
Monplaisir - The Void is Never So Far
Komiku - Action Time Attack Research
Komiku - Ambiant Wait
The Books - Buzz Note
Johnny Ripper - 23 juillet
Rui - Precisamos de um Plano
Lee Maddeford - Ouverture
Junior85 - As It Happens pt 3
Johnny ripper - Waltz for an Imaginary Piano
Rui - Krankenwagen Im Stau
Sunhiilow - Le Songe d'Hacolhii
Johnny ripper - persona
Komiku - Action Discovery
Urbano A. Zafra - Danza Filipina

 


TRANSCRIPT

MIKE OSBORNE: Welcome to Raw Data. I’m Mike Osborne.

LESLIE CHANG: And I’m Leslie Chang.

LC: In the first two seasons of Raw Data we explored how digital technologies are transforming society. We took stock of how these technologies are changing humanity, for good and bad.

MCO: The question we’re going to tackle this season is, “How did we get here? How did Silicon Valley come to have so much power in our lives, and what does history tell us about where we might be heading?” Silicon Valley came of age in the 1970s, back when the industry was known for producing computer chips. But, the historical roots of power actually go back much further. As it turns out, the story starts here.

LC: Stanford University is not just the next door neighbor of the technology sector. Leland and Jane Stanford, the founders of the university, sowed the seeds for what would become Silicon Valley. Leland made his fortune by building the original networked technology that brought together America – the railroad. Later, the Stanfords would infuse their university with many ideals that have filtered down through history and still exist here today.

MCO: So to learn more about how this university came to be, we decided to start with a campus tour.

MCO: We went down to the visitor’s center where we met DJ Dull-Mackenzie, the university’s director of visitor relations.

DJ DULL-MACKENZIE: I was a member of the class of '88 here. I used to work for the alumni association, then I worked in government for a while. Now I'm back here again in my current role. I've been here for about five years.

LC: Nice. And we hear, basically, that you give an amazing tour of campus.

DJ: Well, I do my best. Hopefully you'll enjoy it. Here we go.

LC: DJ guided us out of the visitor’s center. And right off the bat, we asked about Leland.

DJ: Leland Stanford Sr. was originally a lawyer back east in Wisconsin, and in the mid-1800s //his law offices burned down, as well as his law library. So he did what a lot of other people did who were down on their luck in the mid-1800s and decided to go west.

LC: In her book River of Shadows, author Rebecca Solnit describes Leland Stanford. “As a young man he had the smoldering good looks of a stage villain, but as he became stouter, he came to look like a badly taxidermized badger.”

MCO: Now, back in 1850 Leland had married a woman named Jane Elizabeth Lathrop. Leland affectionately called her Jennie, but we’ll call her Jane.

MCO: Okay, so in the early 1850s, after his library burned, Leland decided to go to California. This was during the Gold Rush, when California was being advertised as a land of opportunity. Jane wanted to go with, but her father was sick and dying. She was pressured by her family to return to her hometown of Albany, New York and take care of her sick father. So Jane went east, Leland headed west, and they did the long distance thing for a while.

DJ: So, gallantly leaving his wife Jane behind in New York with her ailing father, he went out and joined his brothers.

MCO: For Jane, the separation was awful. She missed Leland desperately, and in Albany she felt she was judged as an abandoned wife. Meanwhile, Leland began building a business in Sacramento.

RICHARD WHITE: He comes out, realizes there's more money to be made in supplying miners than working in the mines. And he becomes the kind of small success that very many people became in California.

MCO: This is historian Richard White, an expert on the 19th century American West. A few years ago Richard wrote a book called Railroaded. It follows the group of men in California who helped build the transcontinental railroad, including Leland Stanford.

RW: He's not an immensely rich man but he's a prosperous store keeper in Sacramento...

DJ: Aaaand once he had achieved a great deal of success, and then actually Jane Stanford's father passed, he went back to New York and retrieved her, and brought her out to join him in California.

LC: In the 1850s, when Jane and Leland finally traveled to California together as a couple, the journey from east to west across land could take 7 or 8 weeks. There was no railroad line crossing the great plains or the rocky mountains. California and the American West were largely disconnected from the rest of the United States. It was a whole other world.

MCO: But the transcontinental railroad – spanning the continent from ocean to ocean – was about to be built, and Leland Stanford was going to be right in the middle of it.

RW: his big break is he falls in with one of the nastiest, the most able men in nineteenth century United States and that's Collis P. Huntington.

LC: Collis P. Huntington was a ruthless businessman, and when Leland threw his hat in the ring with Collis, he chose a path that would change the course of his life. Together with Mark Hopkins, and Charles and Edwin Crocker, the five men founded the Central Pacific Railroad in 1861. They called themselves the Associates. Their first big joint venture was finding a way to capitalize on the Pacific Railway Act, passed by Congress in 1862 authorizing the construction of the transcontinental.

MCO: This was in the early days of the Civil War when the future of the union was at stake. The North thought the transcontinental would help secure control over resources in the western territories. The original idea of the Railway Act was that private companies would use government bonds to build the railroad. Once the railroads were up and running – and making money – the private companies would repay their government loans. The Associates smelled opportunity.

MCO: What is the business model? How are these men going to profit?

RW: The business model becomes a basic Silicon Valley business model. It's how in the world do you make money from a corporation, which is losing vast amounts of money. And what they do is master [00:20:30] that. that's the genius. Huntington is the one who masters it.

LC: Huntington built political ties in Washington, and he leveraged his connections to get a second railway act passed in 1864, bringing $50 million in government bonds to fund the railroad. Then, the associates set up their own construction companies, then hired those companies at a rate that’s twice the actual price of building the railroad.

MCO: So basically half the money went to laying the tracks, and the other half went... to lining their pockets. On top of that, the Associates didn’t have to pay for the land where the railroad was built, because the government gave it to them for free – including lands where Native Americans were living.

LC: The Associates also built political power. Leland Stanford became governor of California in 1861. And as Leland’s power and wealth grew, Jane settled into her role as a loyal Victorian wife. At the gubernatorial mansion, she developed a reputation for being a great hostess, throwing lavish parties for politicians and high society.

MCO: Meanwhile Huntington was in Washington D.C., making sure Congress kept the money flowing. And while the Central Pacific was building the railroad eastward across the Sierra mountains, another railroad company – the Union Pacific – was building westward across the great plains. By 1869, the two are in sight of one another.

RW: they're going to meet up at Promontory Summit in Utah. They meet up quite literally in the middle of nowhere. It is still the middle of nowhere.

LC: If you learned about the transcontinental railroad in history class, you may remember the story of the Golden Spike – this was the last spike that would join the two railroads into one single line, coast to coast. As a way of marking the moment, the two railroad companies held a ceremony at Promontory Summit. Leland Stanford would drive in the golden spike.

RW: And the critical thing about the Golden Spike is they've attached the telegraph wire to it. They attach the telegraph wire and Leland Stanford is going to tap that and send out a signal. He misses on the first tap. But he misses. Big deal. He hits it on the next [00:26:00] tap. The signal goes out and then they're going to take up the spikes and they'll bring in real workmen and drive the spikes in. If you look at the pictures, too, the people who were actually working on the Central Pacific are not present. If you look at the early frames, there are Chinese workers there. They're withdrawn for the official pictures. They come back in to actually finish the spike that connects the railway.

LC: The completion of the first transcontinental is often described  as a triumph: a symbol of American industriousness, the crowning technological achievement of the day, and the first time the whole country is unified. But the truth is that the transcontinental railroad was only possible because the companies exploited Chinese workers, plowed across lands occupied by Native Americans.

MCO: And despite all the hype, surprisingly, the railroad itself was... not... profitable. It turns out that at that time, if you wanted to move lumber or precious metals across the country, it was still cheaper to ship cargo through the Panama Canal. This was a problem for the Associates. They had grown rich, but their company was in serious trouble – the interest on their government bonds was now due.

RW: And it's at that point where they simply go into doing all kinds of financial chicanery.

MCO: This was the 19th century American West. Opportunities for corruption were everywhere. The Associates kept shoddy financial records, and when their debtors came calling, they cooked the books.

LC: They created shell companies in order to hide their debts. they took out bank loans from a number of different banks so that they could shuttled the money around to keep investors at bay. Basically they were running a ponzi scheme. And on top of that, they applied political pressure wherever they could.

RW: there's a state Railroad Commission, which the associates buy. The first thing they do is they bribe the Railroad Commission, which pretty much takes care of that. The other thing is Leland Stanford becomes a United States senator, which he buys also. It is the period of corruption. That's not a myth.

MCO: Huntington, Stanford, and the rest of the Associates continued to line their pockets. But even though these guys made a fortune together…things started to sour. As their financial trickery grew more complex, they started to turn on each other, and even resorted to blackmail.

RW: The associates // come to hate each other. Their correspondence is vitriolic, but they can't separate each other because at this point all of their money is merged together. And they go to the end of their lives snarling and fighting, but there is no way they're ever going to be rid of each other.

MCO: Mark Twain called this era the Gilded Age. It wasn’t just the railroad barons – all across the country, industry tycoons were accumulating incredible wealth. There were monopolies in industries like steel, copper, oil, sugar. Leland Stanford was part of the American elite class during a time of extreme income inequality. It wasn’t until the Progressive Era decades later when antitrust action would finally break up the monopolies.

LC: Leland and Jane Stanford benefited hugely from the unregulated, anything-goes mentality of the Gilded Age – they were in the 1%. As their personal fortune grew, the Stanfords purchased land all around California. They owned a place on Nob Hill in San Francisco, and they poured money into a sprawling estate in Sacramento. And they purchased another estate midway down the San Francisco peninsula.

DJ: the Stanfords originally purchased 650 acres of land, on what is currently the Stanford property near San Francisquito Creek, to create a family estate on the site of what is now the Stanford Shopping Center. What is currently Bloomingdale's, Nordstrom, and Saks, and Neiman Marcus used to be the Stanfords family home. This was really their getaway.

LC: The Stanfords have money, land, power – they have everything they want… except for an heir. They had their own little empire, but no children to carry on their legacy. What’s the point in having an empire if you can’t pass it on?

MCO: Leland and Jane tried for years to get pregnant – they had trouble conceiving. It wasn’t until 1868 that Jane gave birth to their one and only son, Leland Stanford Jr. By this time, Leland Sr. was already in his forties, and Jane was 39. So, they were over the moon to finally have a child.

DJ: A great story about kind of the birth of Leland Stanford a lot of people don't know, is the way he was presented and announced to the world.

LC: To society.

DJ: To society, yes. To society. The Stanfords called a dinner party at their estate, at their mansion, and invited all of their closest friends, and inner circle to come to a dinner party. At an appointed time when they were all seated around the table, a bell was rung and a servant came in carrying a large silver platter that was covered with a dome, and walked in and said, "We would like to introduce someone to you." They lifted the lid off and little Leland Stanford was lying under the silver platter on a bed of blossoms, and he was kind of passed around the table.

LC: How bizarre.

DJ: It is kind of a bizarre story. But that was their way of announcing and presenting Leland Stanford Jr. to their inner circle of friends and confidants right after he was born. But anyway, so he was born in 1868, and he led a very privileged childhood, was very interested in education, very intelligent, very inquisitive, also, very interested in the arts. He particularly liked to collect archeological artifacts, and he had the goal of wanting to have his own museum even as a teen.

LC: Leland Sr and Jane indulged their son. DJ told us that as a young bo y Leland Jr. wanted to be a railroad engineer, perhaps naively inspired by his father’s business.

MCO: As a family, the three of them traveled all over the world. Leland Jr. loved collecting exotic artifacts on these adventures. But during a grand tour of Europe in 1884, Leland Jr. got sick. He spent a chilly day out on the deck of a ship, and soon after that he came down with typhoid fever.

DJ: So they kept trying to find all the best medical help they could for him while they were in Europe. They're traveling around, but within three weeks he succumbed to the fever while they were in Florence, Italy. Dying just a couple of months shy of his 16th birthday.

MCO: One version of the story is that, after Leland Jr died, he appeared in a dream to his father, telling him not to be sad, and that his parents could take all of the children of California under their wing. Leland Sr. and Jane interpreted this dream as a sign. They decided to create a university in honor of their dead son.

DJ: He said, "We shall make the children of California our children." It's been worded differently over the years. Basically, he was quoted as saying that was their goal.

LC: When we met Richard White, we asked him if we could do the interview at the Stanford mausoleum. We met him right next to the marble structure, which is in the middle of an oak and eucalyptus grove on the northeast side of campus. The bodies of the Stanford family are entombed inside the mausoleum.

RW: This was supposed to be the site of Jane and Leland Stanford's mansion. Before the new mansion was built their son Leland Jr died and they scotched the plans of the mansion off to our right or is this the garden, the cactus garden that was supposed to be a part of it. And instead of building a mansion they built a mausoleum. And the mausoleum is the beginning of what would become Stanford University, which really can best be understood as a monument to a dead child.

LC: Can you say a little bit more about that, the monument to a dead child.

RW: Years ago I give tours of the campus for my history classes and I had an undergraduate ask me a question, which is a kind of naive question, which undergraduates are really good at. And she asked me if Leland Jr. had been a girl, would there be Stanford University? And I thought about it and I said no. There never would have been Stanford University because Leland Jr. carried the hopes. He's the only child. He carries the hopes of the family and those hopes have to go down a kind of male line in the nineteenth century. And when he wasn't there, what they did instead is found a university, which I think quite sincerely said was going to be for all the children of California. If they'd had a daughter the same kind of hopes would not have been put in her. It's one of the things about what becomes Silicon Valley. A lot more hopes are put in men than are put in women.

MCO: Right by the mausoleum, tucked back a bit from the walkway is a statue of the family.

RW: What you see here is you see Leland Sr. who's off to the right on the statues gazing out in the distance. At the center up literally on a pedestal is Leland Jr. with a scroll in his hands pointing outward. And on her knees looking not at Leland Sr. but Leland Jr. is Jane.

MCO: Richard points to the base of the statue.

RW: If you look here, these are all emblems, which are largely the Masonic emblems or spiritualist emblems but they're also to crafts and arts. These are to the university as a place, which literally is going to make things.

MCO: Was there a plan to differentiate this university early on, and if so, how?

DJ: Yes, definitely. The Stanfords were very particular about their thoughts about what they wanted their university to be and not be. From a kind principles standpoint, they were very adamant when they drew up the founding grant about a number of things, which were five main principles that they said had to be true for as long as Stanford was going to be in existence. We call them the five founding tenets of Stanford.

MCO: The founding decree states that Stanford would be non-sectarian, open to students of all socioeconomic status, and, in contrast to norms of the time, co-ed. The fourth tenet was that Stanford University was tuition-free. Sadly that one got thrown out the window in the 1920s. The final tenet – and this would lay dormant for decades but would come to be important later on – is that none of the lands owned by the university could be sold. To this day, Stanford University owns over 8 thousands acres in one of the most brutal real estate markets anywhere in the world.

LC: With Leland Jr. dead, the university became the focus of the grieving parents. Leland Senior hired the famous landscape architect Frederick Olmsted to help design the layout – Olmsted had previously designed Central Park in New York, as well as Yellowstone National Park. Meanwhile Jane devoted her efforts to building a memorial museum to house her son’s collections. Jane also wanted all the roofs of the university to be red tile – so when Leland Junior looked down from heaven, he could easily spot the school.

MCO: The university opened in 1891. There were 15 faculty members, and about 400 students in the first freshman class.

LC: Just two years later, in 1893... Leland Sr died, launching the young university into chaos.

DJ: they have this brand new huge, sprawling university that just opened, and Leland Stanford Sr, the primary founder of it, died just two years later in 1893. Leaving Jane Stanford alone, having lost her husband and her son, and she's got a university on her hands.  [PAUSE] She was widely encouraged to shut things down.

LAURA JONES: When Leland Senior dies, his brothers and her brothers all show up and say, "This is too much for you Jane. Maybe you should just stop.

LC: This is a Laura Jones She’s a Stanford archaeologist.

LJ: ...and you're just a woman. Maybe this is too much and it's too big. And you can't do it alone." and She kept going, but there were people who thought, people in the family who thought that it was going to kill her too, the stress of trying to do it. She just wouldn't accept that the university was not going to go forward.

LC: On top of being alone and grieving and trying to keep the university open, Jane is also dealing with a huge court case. It’s been 30 years since the Central Pacific Railroad took out millions of dollars of bonds from the US government. The full sum – not just the interest – is now due.

MCO: Originally, Huntington had told all the Associates, don’t show off your personal wealth. We have to make it LOOK like we don’t have money to pay back the loans. Leland Senior, of course, ruined the facade by building a brand new university. And now, with Leland Sr dead, the government goes after Jane.

RW: Stanford's fortune is at risk because in the 1890s just after Stanford is // formed, the government wants its money back and it will sue because Stanford never repaid the original loans. So there is a real chance in the early twentieth century that Stanford will not have the funds to be able to continue.

LC: As soon as Leland Sr. died, all the Stanford assets were frozen. There was no way for Jane to access the endowment. So to keep the university running, she took money out of her personal accounts. She even traveled to London in 1897 and tried unsuccessfully to sell items from her treasured jewel collection.

LJ: I think of Jane Stanford, she really has these, she's a very complex person. On the one hand, she views the university as a personal project, and she's very attached to it because it's the memorial to her son, because it's the vision that she and her husband shared together. She sewed and hung the curtains in the women's dormitory when it opened. The women students arrive, and there's Jane Stanford, up on a chair, hanging the curtains. She really saw the students as an extension of her family. She could, on the other hand, also be, as one of the world's richest women, a very powerful woman, and a powerful woman in a time when women weren't really expected to exercise power. So her power got challenged constantly. She could be imperious also.

MCO: In 1896, the Supreme Court case was finally decided, in favor of the Stanford endowment. The court ruled that the original railway act was so vaguely written that Congress couldn’t sue individual stockholders like Leland Stanford for the railway’s corporate debt. So the money was back in the hands of Jane and the University trustees. And Jane was running the show.

LC: But Jane’s power within of Stanford was not always well received. For example, she clashed with a faculty member named Edward Ross, who was an early eugenicist. Ross was giving public speeches, expressing hatred of other races, especially Asians. He advocated restricting Japanese immigration.

LJ: Jane Stanford is extremely fond of Japan. She makes many trips to Japan. She loves Japanese art. She's got Japanese curators at the museum. She's personally offended by what he's saying about Japanese culture and Japanese people. // She says, "There's no place for this” // and She makes a speech about it. That the university's about these egalitarian values and he doesn't belong at the university.

LC: Eventually, Jane pressured the president of the university, David Starr Jordan, to make Edward Ross resign. She earned the nickname “Iron Will Jane”.

MCO: In the years after her husband’s death, Jane also turned toward spiritualism, which was a movement that was gaining popularity at the time. She believed she could talk to her dead son and husband through candlelit seances, guided by professional spirit mediums. By all accounts, it was a powerful comfort to her up until the end of her own life.

LJ: Jane Stanford died in Honolulu in 1905. It's likely that she was poisoned, that she was murdered. It's never been established who was responsible for that.

LC: It was a pretty horrific death.

LJ: It was a pretty horrific death, yes.

MCO: Jane’s death is a saga in its own right, and to this day it’s not entirely clear what happened. The night she died, her trusted handmaid  gave her a solution for an upset stomach that she thought was medicine, but it turned out to be laced with strychnine. There was an investigation, but it was sort of brushed under the carpet. No one was prosecuted. Many decades later historians started questioning the circumstances around Jane’s death. To this day, it remains unclear who killed her… it’s a worthwhile Wikipedia rabbit hole if you’re interested.

LC: What happened to the university after she passed away? What happened?

LJ: Well, to be frank with you, the university covered up her death. I think David Starr Jordan and the trustees were deeply afraid that there'd be a challenge to her will.

MCO: Despite the legal issues, the university was able to keep its doors open after Jane’s death. Without Jane Stanford, the history of this region would have been very different.

LC: We asked archaeologist Laura Jones how she understands Jane’s legacy.

LJ: Her sense of social justice is kind of rooted in her religious faith, and it's rooted in a notion that all people are created equal, women and people of color as well. She's firm about that, and it's remarkable, from a woman who has an eighth grade education in that time period. You know, on the other hand, she's the wife of Leland Stanford, Capitalist, and // there's no doubt that she represents capital and power and wealth, as well as representing a personal belief that Leland Stanford shared as well, that's relatively progressive.

Leland Stanford, there's no doubt in anybody's mind that he is a capitalist who's getting rich. There's no doubt about that, but he also thinks he's building America, that he's bringing civilization to the west. He sees all of this as necessary to the program, the sort of manifest destiny of America's greatness, so in his mind, he is doing this for the good of the American people, not just to line his pockets with money.

LC: This idea persists to the present: the belief that technology can transform society, and that there’s nothing wrong with making great profits along the way. This ideology has had many iterations. But throughout the history of what would come to be called Silicon Valley, the people who’ve risen to power have done so believing they are building a better world.

MCO: To sort of ask a devil's advocate question, why should anybody give a damn about the history of Silicon Valley? Should we care? Should the audience care?

RW: Yeah, but for reasons different than I think we usually put on it. I mean, what's interesting to me is that Silicon Valley develops and deploys in technology. And that technology is incredibly // impressive and what we tend to do is reason directly from the technology to social change. I'd back up a step. I'd say what's interesting is not so much the technology themselves, but the reason things change is the corporations, which deploy the technology. How they're organized and what they're trying to do.

That if you step back and look at Google and Google sale of advertising, for example. If you step back and look at Facebook and how it organizes its corporation and not necessarily at all the users of Facebook. If you look at Uber and not so much the people on the gig economy who I think are frankly being exploited, but the people making a whole lot of money // who are not gig operators. Then you begin to see that they are changing society, but not because of their technology but because of the incredible financial and corporate power that they can deploy.

Their ability to do something very, very old and in a capitalist economy, which is sell advertising because in the end there is no Silicon Valley if you can't sell advertising. That's what drives the whole thing. Looking at that part of it, seeing how that begins to shape the society and just seeing that all they've done is create a series of incredibly impressive platforms to do the same old stuff. To sell you something. That's what makes the whole thing work and we tend to get, we tend to lose that part of it. And in that way, it's why in the railroads I didn't spend a lot of time on the railroad technology, I spent a lot of time on the railroad corporations. THEY’re the ones influencing in politics. THEY’re the ones that are intervening to change things. So I do think they're disruptive. I do think they're transformative, but I think that technology is the bright shiny object and we're not looking at really the powerful things that the corporations themselves are doing.

MCO: It’s natural for us to sit in awe of technology, and that been true since the days of the transcontinental railroad. For everyday people, the power of railroad technology changed their entire perception of the world. It felt like a seismic shift in our ability to transcend the physical limitations of space and time. But underneath that transformation is an obscure architecture of power and influence that remains to this day.

RW: The history that's relevant goes back to the nineteenth century sense that space had been utterly rearranged. // its rearranged by the Telegraph. It's rearranged by the transatlantic cable and it's rearranged by the railroad. Ever since then, once that major disruption took place, all we've done is get faster and faster and faster. But // that’s the point at which the world seemed to have fundamentally changed. And once we've made that fundamental change, Silicon Valley and other technologies in between speed it up and speed it up and speed it up, but they don't change that fundamental realization. So for me that's the point. It becomes this Gilded Age nineteenth century point where literally we cannot think of space in the same way anymore.

LC: Today Silicon Valley is a place where entrepreneurs flock with dreams of world-changing technologies – technologies that promise to push humankind beyond constraints and into undiscovered realms. It is also a place churns out billionaires. It’s a powerful engine of wealth creation. It’s the American dream on steroids.

MCO: But back in the 19th century, this area was still on the far edge of the western frontier, just an outpost. It would be several decades before the Valley would begin its ascendancy. On the next episode of Raw Data.

Next time on Raw Data…

LESLIE BERLIN: I think today when we hear about doing “defense work” this sounds a little dark to us. Absolutely not the case then. //

STEVE BLANK: uh, because we thought we had a gun to our head. And the virtual gun was in World War II our survival and in the Cold War, we believed the same thing.

MCO: Atomic Warfare.

SB: Atomic warfare. And so, it turns out that the US military, in a crisis, does incredibly well.

LB:  We’re going into the Cold War. This is the time when a patriotic way to serve your country was to help build weapons.

MCO: The Raw Data team is Leslie Chang, Jackson Roach, Isha Salian, and me, Mike Osborne. Our next episode will be coming next week. To make sure you don’t miss it, be sure to subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.

LC: Thank you to all our interview subjects: DJ Dull-Mackenzie, Laura Jones, and Richard White. For this episode, we drew from Richard’s book Railroaded, which tells the complete story of the railroad barons. Richard also has a new book out as part of the Oxford History of the United States. The book is called The Republic for Which It Stands - The United States during Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865-1896.

MCO: Special thanks also this week to Jake Warga of the Stanford Storytelling Project. If you want to learn more about the mystery behind Jane’s murder, check out the Storytelling Project’s podcast series, “Who Killed Jane Stanford?”

LC: Thank you as always to Allison Berke of the Stanford Cyber Initiative, and to the whole Worldview team for their support and help.

MCO: Follow us on Facebook and Twitter at raw data podcast. On our website, raw data podcast DOT com, you can find all our past episodes as well as blog posts. Thank you for listening, and we’ll be back in a week.

 

 

 

Guests: 

Richard White, DJ Dull-McKensie, Laura Jones