This website uses cookies to improve your browsing experience. By continuing to use this site, you consent to the use of cookies on your device as described in our Cookie Policy.
  • 33895605

Local History

Palo Alto means Tall Tree. The San Francisco peninsula city claimed the name from the more than 250-year-old landmark, coastal redwood tree, El Palo Alto, which still grows by the railroad trestle near the intersection of El Camino Real and Alma Street. The history of Palo Alto is rich with tales of fortunes lost and gained, the selflessness of individuals who became community leaders, of families who put down roots in the beginning and remain today.

Historical Firsts

  • 1769 Gaspar de Portola party camps by El Palo Alto
  • 1891 Stanford University opens; first business opens (real estate office); soon joined by a restaurant and bookstore
  • 1892 First Palo Alto wedding
  • 1893 First Palo Alto school opens
  • 1894 Palo Alto votes for incorporation 98 to 21
  • 1896 Residents approve water system, the first step in creating utilities
  • 1904 First Palo Alto library opens
  • 1905 First traffic law passed - speed limit is a slow trot
  • 1906 Father of radio Lee de Forest invents the vacuum tube at Channing Avenue and Emerson Street
  • 1909 Palo Alto incorporated as charter city, first movie theater opens on University Avenue
  • 1922 May Fete Parade founded
  • 1925 Mayfield and College Terrace annexed
  • 1928 Palo Alto's yacht harbor opens
  • 1929 First dial phone call made in Palo Alto
  • 1931 Downtown post office opens
  • 1935 Palo Alto airport moves from Stanford University land to Baylands
  • 1938 Bill Hewlett and David Packard begin work in Addison Avenue garage
  • 1940 The Children's Library, the first stand-alone public library of its kind in the U.S., opens
  • 1953 First liquor store in city opens
  • 1956 Stanford Shopping Center opens; municipal golf course opens
  • 1958 City purchases Foothills Park
  • 1961 City buys first computer
  • 1971 First woman hired as police officer; recycling center at landfill opens
  • 1972 First cocktail served downtown
  • 1974 First woman firefighter hired
  • 1975 City Council passes first no-smoking law; Barron Park annexed
  • 1978 Palo Alto launches curb-side recycling
  • 1986 Garden Court Hotel opens downtown
  • 1987 First Palo Alto Black and White Ball held
  • 1988 Cable TV service to Palo Alto begins
  • 1993 First woman city manager appointed
  • 1994 Palo Alto becomes the first U.S. city on the Internet; celebrates Palo Alto Centennial
  • 2004 First woman police chief