Inspired by all the recent attention for the 50th anniversary of Moore’s Law and SEMI’s cool new Infographic series, which reflects the industry’s role in “Making Small Things Makes Big Things Possible,” my colleague and Impress Labs managing partner, Martijn Pierik, took me on a trip down Silicon Valley Memory Lane, sharing his personal treasure trove of memorabilia from the archives of his friend and mentor, the late Walter Mathews, founder of Silicon Valley’s original high-tech PR agencies, Mathews & Clark Communications.

What transpired is this eclectic snapshot from the 60’s and early 70’s, featuring people and places that made this industry what it is today; people like William “Bill” Hugle, founder of Hugle Industries, and husband of the renowned Frances Sarnett Hugle, a pioneer for women in engineering; William Shockley, inventor of the transistor AND the TSV, and none other then Gordon Moore (before and after he made the observation that was to become Moore’s Law); and places like the Wagon Wheel, where industry journalists spent many a happy hour plying industry executives and their secretaries for the latest inside scoop. It’s easy to imagine the juicy tidbits that journalists like Marge Sandling and Pete Carey of the Palo Alto Times,extracted out of them over a few cocktails. Bill Hugle once said, “The Wagon Wheel restaurant in Sunnyvale was a place where companies were made, trends began and information was shared in abundance.”

The “I” was for Institute First
Sifting through various photos and clippings, we struck gold when we came across a paper by Hugle titled SEMI, The Early Years, detailing the events that led up to the formation of SEMI, accompanied by the articles in industry journals that ensued.

As the story goes, in 1966, Hugle, unhappy with the lack of semiconductor representation at the major electronics trade shows run by IEEE and Wescon, assembled his cronies to request a section of the IEEE show be dedicated to semiconductor equipment. When the organizers declined to participate in a meeting, the group, which included Hugle, Fred Kulicke of Kulicke & Soffa, and John Dannelly, VP and cofounder of Thermco, decided it was time to form a new industry association, The Semiconductor Equipment and Materials Institute (SEMI), and launch a trade show devoted entirely to the semiconductor industry. (It wasn’t until 1982 that the I in SEMI stood for International.)

A Rocky Launch to Success
According to this paper and the articles, SEMI’s early days were laced with controversy. Apparently Ben Beall, then president of Lindberg Heavi Duty (and direct competitor of Thermco) denounced the organization and its principal backers, saying “anything attempted by the likes of Hugle, Kulicke and Dannelly is doomed to failure.” Applied Materials (direct competitor of Hugle Industries) seconded the denouncement. Boy, were they wrong.

In his Palo Alto Times column on August 2, 1970, Pete Carey writes that the split within the “formerly solid ranks” of trade associations were headed for “an offbeat show business showdown.” According to Carey, Hugle’s motivation to establish SEMI was because the Wescon Show, co-sponsored by IEEE and WEMA (Western Electronics Manufacturing Association) was too defense-contract-oriented, and that there was a need for smaller, semiconductor-focused event. At the heart of this feud between the newly formed SEMI, IEEE and WEMA, was a SEMI membership rule that although anyone could join the other trade associations, if they exhibited at SEMICON, they couldn’t exhibit anywhere else. However inflammatory that rule was, the strategy proved to be fruitful, as the first-ever SEMICON profited $14,406.35, more than double its original target of $6,800.

Another interesting excerpt from that article was regarding the issues Hugle wanted SEMI to lobby for in Washington: “We want a softening of relations behind the Iron Curtain, in particular where we have overseas competition. We should be able to bid in the same way other countries can. After all, Communists are going to get the equipment anyway. Its just a question of whose balance of payments it helps – ours or someone else’s.” Quite a rogue statement for 1973, don’t you think?

The first SEMICON, which was held at the San Mateo Fairgrounds, was not without its share of logistical nightmares, which caused it to be pushed out from the originally scheduled dates of January 26-27, 1971, to May 25-27, 1971. Show headquarters were at the Royal Coach Hotel. According to Hugle, the hotel failed to provide adequate shuttle service to the fairgrounds, and a disgruntled employee double-booked all the rooms. “The layout of the hotel was so unusual, that many an attendee had trouble finding his/her way from the bar to their room. One innovative guest tied a string to his room door knob and took the other end to the bar,” writes Hugle. (I just might have to try this one sometime.) Despite these issues, the Royal Coach remained the show headquarters for a second year before moving to the Villa Hotel.

Hugle’s Legacy
In 1973, just before SEMICON III, the original controversy around the formation of SEMI inspired editors at Electronics Magazine to run a profile on Bill Hugle, detailing his life’s accomplishments. Hugle’s name may not be mentioned in history as often as Gordon Moore’s, but for those who knew him well, he was a significant force in the industry, particularly in the early days of Silicon Valley.

In 1946, at 19, Hugle started his own company, Stewart Labs, to make star sapphires, star rubies, and later photoconductors. He founded Siliconix in 1959 and served as vice president. In 1961 he co-founded Opto Electronics in Mountain View, CA, and in 1963 established the Stewart-Warner Microelectronics division. He and Frances co-founded Hugle Industries in Sunnyvale, CA. Hugle always credited much of the success of Hugle industries to Frances, who he always referred to as the smartest person he had ever met…and he met quite a few smart people. Hugle also took a stab at a political career, running for state congress representing the 17th California District, but lost.

The article talks about products in development at Hugle Industries that prove how forward-thinking the Hugle’s were. He was working on a line of telephone equipment that could perform some truly advanced functions: “In design is a clock/calculator/interval timer that attaches to the telephone. Hugle says that the machine will be able to connect a shopper to, say, the grocer. When the food bill is totaled, it will be shown on the display. It could also connect to a vacation cabin and, by pressing a code at home, turn on the porch light.” I don’t know about you, but this just screams, “Internet of Things.Just imagine the possibilities, if only Hugle’s life had extended as far as his vision for the semiconductor industry. He may not have been responsible for a law, but he was certainly a force to be reckoned with. ~ F.v.T.

The full articles referenced here are available here for download:

  • SEMI, The Early Years, by William “Bill” Hugle
  • Related Articles:
    • Semiconductor Industry Suppliers Organizing, by Marge Scandling, Palo Alto Times, July 2, 1970
    • Semiconductor Group Formed, by Pete Carey, Palo Alto Times, Aug 2, 1970
    • Frustration with IEEE Show led Hugle to help Found SEMI, Electronics, April 26, 1973

Francoise von Trapp

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