Did Bing Crosby and the Nazis shape Silicon Valley?

The New Yorker assigns the legendary crooner an oversized role in creating California's technological landscape.

By Kim Peterson May 15, 2013 4:36PM
Credit: © Cummings Archives/Redferns/Getty Images
Caption: Bing Crosby in 1961The New Yorker has an impossible-to-ignore headline this week: "How Bing Crosby and the Nazis helped to create Silicon Valley."

Say what? The headline conjures images of Crosby tinkering with vacuum tubes and capacitors in a Santa Clara garage owned by the Third Reich. But that's far from the case. In fact, there are some improbable leaps in the article linking the crooner with the Nazis and California's rich technological history.

Here's how The New Yorker's Paul Ford sees it:

After World War II ended, the Americans sifted through German technological innovation and found magnetic tape. The Nazis had used tape recording to broadcast propaganda, Ford writes.

Engineers from a company called Ampex began studying the tape technology in the U.S. and showed Crosby, who by then was one of the wealthiest celebrities in the country. Crosby invested $50,000 in Ampex, and his new radio show became the first to use the technology.

Within the next decade, engineers from IBM (IBM) helped build the first hard drive. "There is a direct link in the Silicon Valley understanding between Bing Crosby's crooning and the rise of the hard drive, which was designed as an improvement over magnetic tape," Ford writes.

He even illustrates his thinking with an equation: Microphones + crooning + Nazis + radio + $50,000 = Silicon Valley.

These associations are a bit tenuous. On the AudioKarma home audio discussion forums, one member said last year that the Nazis really had nothing to do with the invention of magnetic tape or the equipment used to play it. "I suppose that we must call the airplane a 'Republican invention' and the Chevy Volt a 'Democratic electric car' since the incumbent presidents were members of those parties," that member wrote.

But these equations can be fun. How about this one: Abraham Lincoln + writing on a shovel by candlelight + coal = Helped create the iPad?

More on moneyNOW

Tags: IBM
May 16, 2013 12:59AM
This is the kind of journalism you get when there are too many journalists chasing too few stories. But we already knew that, of course, and much worse examples are in the news every week. They're much worse because they're put out as serious stories, but are just like this thing.
May 16, 2013 1:38AM
What a stupid article. And I fell for it...
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