The First Transistor

This picture shows the workbench of John Bardeen and Walter Brattain at Bell Laboratories. They were supposed to be doing fundamental research about crystal surfaces. The experimental results hadn't been very good, though, and there's a rumor that their boss, William Shockley, came near to cancelling the project. But in 1947, they switched to using tremendously pure materials. And it dawned on them that they could build the circuit in the picture. It was an amplifier!

The three shared a Nobel Prize. Bardeen and Brattain continued in research (and Bardeen later won another Nobel). Shockley quit to start a semiconductor company in Palo Alto. It folded, but its staff went on to invent the integrated circuit (the "chip") and to found Intel Corporation.

By 1960, all important computers used transistors for logic, and ferrite cores for memory. Memory chips replaced core in the 1970's.

Last modified: 2 February 1996

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