Long before microchips, personal computers, and dotcoms defined Silicon Valley, the San Francisco Bay Area was deeply involved in a wireless revolution. During the first half of the 20th century, communications moved beyond telegraph and telephone wires into an “Empire of the Air,” allowing transmission not only of voices but music, news and entertainment. Young Bay Area engineers and technicians, amateurs, and academicians, were remarkably inventive, adaptable, persistent, and versatile. Some, beginning without business connections, proved to be skilled entrepreneurs.
The Perham Collection highlights those enterprising individuals whose passion to explore new technologies brought the West Coast to the nation’s attention. It is more than a story of the lone inventor tinkering away in a backyard shed. These men and women, and their inventions, reveal, like today, the crossroads of scientific curiosity, good timing, and fortuitous events with market forces, business interests, ruthless competitors, and lawyers. Some later names will be familiar, but most of the individuals featured here have now been lost to the public’s awareness.