Prior to World War II the economy of Santa Clara County was tied to agriculture. By 1939 San Jose, with a population of 57, 651, was the largest canning and dried-fruit packing center in the world, with 18 canneries, 13 dried-fruit packing houses, and 12 fresh-fruit and vegetable shipping firms. San Jose also served as a distribution point for the prune and apricot industry. Already, however, new technologies were developing--San Jose was one of the first California cities to create industries for making all the mechanical equipment for specialized farming. California: A Guide to the Golden State, written by the Federal Writers' Project, gives a descriptive version of the Santa Clara Valley in 1939, stating "US 101 cuts through the fruit trees that sweep in row on row across Santa Clara Valley. . . Now in the spring, from the foothills of its mountain walls-the Mount Hamilton Range on the east and the Santa Cruz Mountains on the west-it looks more like an expanse of snowdrifts because of the orchards white with blossoms." Today, those orchards are gone. What happened?
As early as the 1890's, when California Senator Leland Stanford established the Leland Stanford Junior University in Palo Alto, the changes were beginning which would create Silicon Valley. Palo Alto became, in the early twentieth century, a testing ground for radio equipment, and later the locale for development of continuous-wave transmission powered by arc generators, largely the work of Cyril Elwell. Elwell employed a radio research team that included Lee de Forest, who had invented a three-element vacuum tube in New York. In 1912 this team discovered that the tube could be rigged as an amplifier, which was a major breakthrough for long distance telephone and radio use. Later radar, television and computer systems would benefit from this discovery. By 1912 San Jose was receiving the first regularly scheduled radio broadcasts. Palo Alto was a technical beacon. It was here that the Federal Telegraph Company, created by Elwell, created ocean-spanning networks, which supplied US Naval communications during World War I.