ROBERT NOYCE, INVENTOR OF THE silicon microchip and co-founder of Intel, grew up in Grinnell, Iowa, one of countless small towns in the Midwest that had been founded in the 19th century as religious communities by so-called Dissenting Protestants: Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, and many others. What Dissenting Protestants dissented from was the Church of England and its elaborate ties to British upper-class life. The founder of the town of Grinnell (1854) was a young New England Congregational minister, Josiah Grinnell, who was weary of the decadence of the East Coast and wanted to establish a City of Light out on the virgin plains.Noyce was apparently about 3/4 New England ancestry and 1/4 recent English ancestry. More excerpts within:
The Congregational Church had no hierarchy. Each congregation was autonomous. A minister was a teacher rather than a holy shepherd with a flock. Each member of the Congregation was supposed to be his own priest, in direct communication with God.
When Noyce, whose father was a Congregational minister, was growing up in the 1930s and 1940s, there were still people walking around in Grinnell who had known Josiah Grinnell personally. They were getting old -- Grinnell had died in 1891 -- but they were walking around, and Josiah's hand still lay heavily upon his town of 7,000 souls. There were subtle gradations of status in Grinnell, and it was better to be rich than poor, but the important thing was not to show it. To all intents and purposes, there were only two social classes: those who were hard-working, God-fearing, church-going, and well educated and those who were not.
When they were in their teens, Noyce and his brothers made their pocket money by mowing lawns, raking leaves, and babysitting. In Grinnell that was socially correct behavior. To have devoted the same time to taking tennis, golf, or riding lessons would have been regarded as a gaffe of the genus Conspicuous Indolence. There was no Country Club set in Grinnell or anything approaching one. Josiah Grinnell had made sure that his City of Light turned its back on the European-based social lines that prevailed Back East.
This attitude had a fascinating corollary in education. Back East, as in Europe, engineering was an unfashionable field for any truly gifted student to go into. It was looked upon as nothing more than manual labor elevated to a science.
There was "pure" science and there was engineering, which was merely practical. Back East engineers, no matter how gifted, ranked below doctors, lawyers, Army colonels, Navy captains, business executives, and professors of English, history, biology, chemistry, and physics. This piece of European snobbery never reached Grinnell, however, nor did it turn up in many of the thousands of small towns in the Midwest and the Far West. An extremely bright student, the one possessing the quality known as genius, was infinitely more likely to go into engineering in Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, or Wisconsin than anywhere Back East.
As a result, the way to today's Information Superhighway, more recently known as the Digital Revolution, was paved entirely by geniuses from the Midwest and farther west. The inventor of the lightbulb, which started it all, was Thomas Edison from Port Huron, Michigan. The inventor of the vacuum tube, which made possible the development of the high-speed electronic computer, was Lee De Forest from Council Bluffs, Iowa. The three engineers at Bell Laboratories who won Nobel Prizes for inventing the transistor, which replaced the vacuum tube, were John Bardeen from Madison, Wisconsin, Walter Brattain from Seattle, Washington, and William Shockley from Palo Alto, California. The chief of the fabled Bell Labs in those palmy days was Oliver Buckley from Sloane, Iowa. The two inventors of the integrated circuit or "microchip," the very heart of the Revolution, were, first, Jack Kilby, from Jefferson City, Missouri, whose chip was made of germanium, and, six months later, Noyce, whose chip was made of silicon and became the standard for the industry and gave the Silicon Valley its name.