Submitted by Ken Middlebrook, Collections Manager at History San Jose
As curator of History San José’s exhibit at Diridon Station The Way to San Jose: Rotary Celebrates 100 Years of Transportation, I was challenged with how to present the breadth of material in the available space. We decided to have each individual display case cover a single theme such as water or air transport, trolleys, and land. Subsequently, a large image was selected for each case that would draw attention from passersby.
For the railroad case, I selected an image entitled “Key to San Jose Presentation,” taken at the Southern Pacific Railroad depot. This was a Chamber of Commerce ritual for recognizing newcomers or visiting dignitaries. On August 22, 1943, the Chamber welcomed employees and family members of an established New York firm that was opening their first West Coast manufacturing facility. Due to wartime labor shortages and wage competition from local agri-businesses, it was beneficial for the firm to transfer employees from across the country to start their punched card facility at 16th and St. John Streets. The firm was IBM.
It is doubtful that the pictured individuals could foresee the changes that would occur over next three decades after the war: local companies would expand exponentially; the population would double over each decade; and the bountiful farmland would give way to housing and new industrial parks, In this short time span, the Valley of the Heart’s Delight would be transformed into Silicon Valley.
As Collections Manager, I often peek into containers, much like a child during the holiday season expecting a new treasure. While walking through one of our warehouses this week, I opened a drawer to unexpectedly find…the ceremonial key pictured in the 1943 photo. Before being retired in 1967, the key was likely used in additional ceremonies. Some doubtlessly involved corporations such as IBM that were attracted by the economic benefits offered in San Jose.
At first glance, the key is simply paint on plywood; however just as with other items in our collection, it represents a story waiting to be retold.