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Charles Litton

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Charles Litton — early Silicon Valley entrepreneur


Charles Litton (1904-1972) was among the first in a long line of Stanford-educated engineer-entrepreneurs who made Silicon Valley an enduring technology center. In the 1930s, Litton developed metal- and glass-working machinery to mass-produce vacuum tubes, then in high demand in the burgeoning radio industry.

Litton earned his bachelor’s and ENG degrees at Stanford. In 1931, he founded Litton Engineering Laboratories not far from Stanford’s campus and went on to became a supplier to fellow Stanford graduates Russell and Sigurd Varian, makers of klystrons for radar applications. Soon, Litton himself began making magnetrons, which were important sources of microwave and radar technology during World War II.

In 1953, Litton spun off Litton Industries to Tex Thornton, who turned that company into a major defense conglomerate. Litton kept Litton Engineering Labs, a smaller glass-working machinery and manufacturing company, which is still in business in Grass Valley, California.