Santa Clara County was one of the original counties of California, formed in 1850 at the time of statehood. The original inhabitants included the Ohlone, residing on Coyote Creek and Calaveras Creek. Part of the county’s territory was given to Alameda County in 1853.
In 1882, Santa Clara County tried to levy taxes upon property of the Southern Pacific Railroad within county boundaries. The result was the U.S. Supreme Court case of Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, 118 U.S. 394 (1886), in which the Court extended Due Process rights to artificial legal entities.
In the early 20th Century, the area was promoted as the “Valley of the Heart’s Delight” due to its natural beauty, including a significant number of orchards.
The first major technology company to be based in the area was Hewlett-Packard, founded in a garage in Palo Alto in 1939. IBM selected San Jose as its West Coast headquarters in 1943. Varian Associates, Fairchild Semiconductor, and other early innovators were located in the county by the late 1940s and 1950s. The U.S. Navy had a large presence in the area and began giving large contracts to Silicon Valley electronics companies. The term “Silicon Valley” was coined in 1971. The trend accelerated in the 1980s and 1990s, and agriculture has since then been nearly eliminated from the northern part of the county. Today, Santa Clara County is the headquarters for approximately 6500 high technology companies, including many of the largest tech companies in the world, among them hardware manufacturers AMD, Cisco Systems and Intel, computer and consumer electronics companies Apple Inc. and Hewlett-Packard, and internet companies eBay, Facebook, Google and Yahoo!. Most of what is considered to be Silicon Valley is located within the county, although some adjoining tech regions in San Mateo, Alameda, and Santa Cruz counties are also considered a part of Silicon Valley.