Varian Associates was one of the first high-tech companies in Silicon Valley. It was founded in 1948 by Russell H. and Sigurd F. Varian, William Webster Hansen, and Edward Ginzton to sell the klystron, the first tube which could amplify electromagnetic waves at microwave frequencies, and other electromagnetic equipment. Varian Associates split into three companies in 1999.
Incorporation and leadership
On April 20, 1948, the Articles of Incorporation were filed, signed by nine directors: Edward Ginzton, who had worked with the Varian brothers since his days as a doctoral student; William Webster Hansen, Richard M. Leonard, an attorney; Leonard I. Schiff, then head of the physics department at Stanford University; H. Myrl Stearns, Russell H. Varian, his wife, Dorothy Varian, Sigurd F. Varian and Paul B. Hunter. The company began with six full-time employees: the Varian brothers, Dorothy, Myrl Stearns, Fred Salisbury, and Don Snow. Technical and business assistance came from several members of the faculty at Stanford University, including Edward Ginzton, Marvin Chodorow, William Hansen, and Leonard Schiff. The company's legal counsel was Dick Leonard, a San Francisco attorney, and Paul Hunter, a patent attorney, handled matters related to patents and intellectual property rights. Francis Farquhar, an accountant and friend of Russell's from the Sierra Club, later became a director, as did Frederick Terman, Dean of Engineering at Stanford, and David Packard, of Hewlett-Packard. Russell served as the company President and a board member until his death; Sigurd served as Vice-President for Engineering, and served on the Board of Directors until his death, sometimes serving as Chairman of the Board. Following the deaths of both Varian brothers, Ginzton became the CEO of the company.
Under Thomas D. Sege, the company's chief executive officer (CEO) from 1981 to 1990, sales grew to exceed $1 billion per annum. In 1990, J. Tracy O'Rourke replaced Sege as CEO and was also made chairman of the board.
Early projects and goals
They initially created the company to commercialize the klystron and develop other technologies, such as small linear accelerators to generate photons for external beam radiation therapy. They also were very interested in nuclear magnetic resonance technology.
One of Varian Associates' major contracts in the 1950s was to create a fuse for the atomic bomb. The Varian brothers had initially been supportive of military applications for the klystron and other technologies, on the grounds that they were primarily defensive weapons. This contract, however, was different. Although politically progressive to the point of having socialist leanings, the Varians were patriotic at heart and had no sympathy for the Marxist model of socialism practiced by the Soviet Union. They also needed military contracts to survive and relished the technical challenges of this sort of work, but as early as 1958 Russell and Sigurd expressed regret for their involvement in the development of weapons of mass destruction.
Most of the founders of Varian Associates, had progressive political leanings, and the company "pioneered profit-sharing, stock-ownership, insurance, and retirement plans for employees long before these benefits became mandatory". Nearly 50 years later, in 1997, the company was still recognized by Industry Week as one of the best-managed companies in America. Among their early employees was bookkeeper Clara Jobs, mother of Steve Jobs.
The company was initially headquartered in San Carlos, California, and started with only $22,000 in funding. It had problems raising additional capital, particularly due to Russell's insistence that the company be owned by its employees and his related refusal to accept outside investors. Hansen mortgaged his home for $17,000 to raise additional cash, and the group sought out additional funds from their friends. Ultimately, however, the company raised $120,000 of necessary capital via an offer of stock to all employees, directors, consultants, and a few sympathetic local investors who shared the company's goals. Military contracts for technology deemed necessary during the Cold War, including some classified projects, also helped the firm succeed. In 1953, Varian Associates moved its headquarters to Palo Alto, California, at Stanford Industrial Park – noted as the "spawning ground of Silicon Valley" – and was the first firm to occupy a site there.
On April 2, 1999, the company spun off its Gloucester, Massachusetts ion-implantation equipment business into Varian Semiconductor Equipment Associates and its Palo Alto based scientific instrument business into Varian, Inc. The medical equipment business, which included the manufacture of x-ray tubes in Salt Lake City, Utah, renamed itself Varian Medical Systems, Inc. and remained headquartered in Palo Alto. After the breakup O'Rourke served as Varian Semiconductor's chairman. Varian, Inc., was later acquired by Agilent Technologies in May, 2010.
In 1998, the Congressional Record noted the 50th anniversary of the founding of Varian Associates, which then employed 7,000 people at 100 plants in nine countries. It had branched out into health care systems, analytical equipment and semiconductor manufacturing equipment. California Representative Anna Eshoo stated that the company had been awarded over 10,000 patents and was a "jewel in the crown of...Silicon Valley."
- Russell and Sigurd Varian
- Continental Electronics, a subsidiary from 1985 to 1990
- Communications & Power Industries, a 1995 spin-off, which includes the Varian brothers' original klystron business
- Intevac, a 1991 spin off
- Varian Data Machines, a former division of Varian Associates that sold minicomputers
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