Clay Maynard: Garage innovation – goose that lays golden eggs
America has been an incubator for creativity and innovation at least as far back as Benjamin Franklin. He was one of this nation's founding fathers and an inventor extraordinaire. If you have ever benefited from wearing bifocals, you should thank Ben Franklin.
Some inventors have become successful entrepreneurs and reaped astonishing financial rewards from their patents and copyrights. Their intellectual property (creativity) is like a goose that lays golden eggs. See www.patentfiler.com/patent-certificate.html.
There is something about freedom and fostering creativity that drives the American entrepreneurial spirit. Some of America's greatest inventions were created in garages, and many of those innovations have changed the world.
Here are only a few of the famous garages/ workshops that reads like a list of who's who:
• In 1896, Henry Ford built the first motorcar, called a Quadricycle, in a small garage-workshop behind his home at 58 Bagley Ave., Detroit, Mich. The car used a four-horsepower ethanol-powered engine.
• In 1939, William Hewlett and David Packard formed the partnership of Hewlett-Packard. They started HP in a garage located at 367 Addison Ave., Palo Alto. This is considered to be the "Birthplace of Silicon Valley."
• On April 4, 1975, Bill Gates and his longtime friend Paul Allen co-founded Microsoft and initially conducted business out of a hotel room in Albuquerque, NM. Microsoft recently opened an area for creativity at their Seattle-area headquarters campus called the "Garage" in an attempt to rekindle innovation.
• On April 1, 1976 (April Fools' Day), Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak formed the Apple Computer Co. They built the first Apple I computers in Jobs' parents' spare bedroom before expanding into their garage at 2066 Crist Drive, Los Altos.
• On Sept. 4, 1998, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin incorporated Google and set up their workspace in a garage at 232 Santa Margarita Ave., Menlo Park.
• In the summer of 2004, Mark Zuckerberg incorporated Facebook and began operations in a rented residence they called the "Facebook House" located at 819 La Jennifer Way, Palo Alto. They not only used the garage — they used the whole house.
These and other startup companies originated from very humble beginnings and grew to make America the world's technology leader. They also made their founders incredibly wealthy.
Some would say that Silicon Valley used to be like the Wild West. Innovators like Jobs and Wozniak did things then that they could not do today. For example, to get money to build Apple I computers, they made and sold devices that fooled the telephone company so users could get around paying for calls.
A little-known device the young innovators built and sold was called the blue box, but there were also black and red boxes. If you had a blue box, you could make long-distance calls for free; if you had a black box, you could receive long-distance calls free to the calling party; and if you had a red box, you could generate coin insertion tones that would allow you to use any payphone for free. If you attended home-brew computer club meetings, you would know about these boxes and how to get them.
It seems ironic that Apple's founders took advantage of AT&T in the early years, and now Apple's products are making lots of money for AT&T and creating lots of jobs. Go figure.
Technology markets are very competitive, and some innovators believe we are smothering the free-market process with mandates, laws, rules, regulations, fees, taxes and litigation. If American creativity is like the goose that lays golden eggs, then perhaps we should be careful not to kill the goose.
Here are some places to see America's technology history:
• The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, www.thetech.org.
• The Computer History Museum in Mountain View, www.computerhistory .org.
• The true story of how Bill Gates and Steve Jobs changed the world is on a DVD called "Pirates of Silicon Valley."
To foster creativity, one could conclude that all we need are more garages.
Clay Maynard of Yuba City is a technology consultant and chairman of the San Francisco Bay Area Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Vehicular Technology. Email him at ConsumerTechTalk@comcast.net.