The Henry Ford of Engineering Creativity and the Genealogy of Innovation

lockheed skunk works

The Lockheed Skunk Works are a notable example in a long line of organizing engineering groups to be exceptionally creative and productive.  Few people outside of Engineering realize that Thomas Edison’s greatest invention is likely the large scale Research Lab he founded in Menlo Park, NJ around 1879.  From this seed came a line of great Research Labs including: Bell Labs (1925), IBM Research (1945), DARPA (1958), XEROX Parc (1970), Apple (1976), Microsoft Research (1991), Google X Lab (2010).and countless startup incubators and University Research Parks worldwide around which centers of innovation like Silicon Valley and Route 128 have arisen.

One can think of Thomas Edison as the Henry Ford of Engineering Knowledge.  Edison systematized and scaled Practical Scientific Research and Development into a large scale, cost-effective and reliable innovation factory.  In fact, Edison and Ford were best friends and even brought winter homes in Fort Meyers, FL next to each other.


( Edison’s Research Lab – Menlo Park, NJ circa 1880 )

Within about a decade of founding his Menlo Park lab it had grown to cover two city blocks.  During that short time his Menlo Park Lab helped Edison file about 400 patents.  It is no surprise that that the city Menlo Park, CA is the center of Venture Capital on Sand Hill Road and the birthplace of Google as well as the current home of Facebook and many other startups.


( Facebook – Menlo Park, CA circa 2014)

Like individuals, ideas and technical companies are often interconnected with each other.  From William Shockley who co-invented the transistor at Bell Labs in NJ came a immense family tree of innovation and successful high-tech companies that came to be known as the foundation of Silicon Valley in California.  Here is how one man with talent, drive and vision can create whole industries and transform our world as few other people in history have.


( It’s hard to read but you can see a lot of companies were spawned by the first company founded by William Shockley who is considered the Father of Silicon Valley)

Below is a more legible, if but abbreviated, version of Shockley’s Silicon Valley legacy seeded by his company Fairchild Semiconductor.


(click to expand and then click on the magnifying glass mouse pointer to zoom in further)::


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