Innovation
Silicon Valley and the development of the silicon microchip - Part 2
By Michael Hennigan, Finfacts founder and editor
Apr 14, 2015 - 7:57 AM

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Fairchild founders, clockwise from Robert Noyce (front and centre): Jean Hoerni, Julius Blank, Victor Grinich, Eugene Kleiner, Gordon Moore, Sheldon Roberts and Jay Last. Photo: Wayne Miller/Magnum Photos, Courtesy of PBS

We noted in Part 1 of this series that the microchip is no longer manufactured in Silicon Valley but its development in the 1950s was a seminal event not only in ushering in the Digital Revolution but also in respect of the organisational culture which would develop in the area around the south and east of San Francisco Bay that would later be named Silicon Valley.

In 1983 Tom Wolfe in an essay, “The Tinkerings of Robert Noyce,” published in Esquire, wrote about the co-founder of Intel and the spirit of the young engineers of that time. (The essay is reproduced in a Google Book here.)

The celebrated novelist produced another essay, published in Forbes in 1997, on Robert Noyce, who was a native of Grinnell in the prairie state of Iowa, where his father had been was a pastor in the Congregational Church, which had no hierarchy and contrasted with clones of the Church of England in the East that were controlled by the wealthy.

Wolfe wrote that there was "pure" science and there was engineering, which was merely practical. "Back East engineers, no matter how gifted, ranked below doctors, lawyers, Army colonels, Navy captains, business executives, and professors of English, history, biology, chemistry, and physics. This piece of European snobbery never reached Grinnell, however, nor did it turn up in many of the thousands of small towns in the Midwest and the Far West. An extremely bright student, the one possessing the quality known as genius, was infinitely more likely to go into engineering in Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, or Wisconsin than anywhere Back East."

Tom Wolfe noted that:

The inventor of the lightbulb, which started it all, was Thomas Edison from Port Huron, Michigan. The inventor of the vacuum tube, which made possible the development of the high-speed electronic computer, was Lee De Forest from Council Bluffs, Iowa. The three engineers at Bell Laboratories who won Nobel Prizes for inventing the transistor, which replaced the vacuum tube, were John Bardeen from Madison, Wisconsin, Walter Brattain from Seattle, Washington, and William Shockley from Palo Alto, California. The chief of the fabled Bell Labs in those palmy days was Oliver Buckley from Sloane, Iowa. The two inventors of the integrated circuit or 'microchip,' the very heart of the Revolution, were, first, Jack Kilby, from Jefferson City, Missouri, whose chip was made of germanium, and, six months later, Noyce, whose chip was made of silicon and became the standard for the industry and gave the Silicon Valley its name."

The lightbulb was a vacuum tube and the development of the tube resulted in the invention of wireless radio and the development of the telephone system. By the 1940s computers were being produced with as many as 10,000 tubes but like the bulb, they got hot and often had to be replaced and the computers took up a lot of place.

In December 1947 the "transistor" was invented by Bell Telephone Laboratories. This key discovery and invention, was the start of the semiconductor revolution and the lead-in to the modern computer and information age. The name "transistor" was derived from a combination of words, which were TRANSconductance and varISTOR.

It was fifty times smaller that the tube, required much less power and required no "warm-up" time.

According to Prof David B Haviland: "Electronic circuits could be made more complex, with more transistors switching faster than tubes. However, it did not take long before the limits of this circuit construction technique were reached. Circuits based on individual transistors became too large and too difficult to assemble. There were simply too many electronic components to deal with. The transistor circuits were faster than vacuum tube circuits, and there were noticeable problems due to time delays for electric signals to propagate a long distance in these large circuits."

Geoffrey Dummer, a British engineer, was the first person to outline the concept of the integrated circuit and in 1952 he presented his work at a conference in Washington, DC, in which he stated: "With the advent of the transistor and the work on semi-conductors generally, it now seems possible to envisage electronic equipment in a solid block with no connecting wires. The block may consist of layers of insulating, conducting, rectifying and amplifying materials, the electronic functions being connected directly by cutting out areas of the various layers.”

UK companies were unwilling to invest in Dummer's work and he said later: “I have attributed it to war-weariness in one of my books, but that is perhaps an excuse. The plain fact is that nobody would take the risk. The Ministry wouldn’t place a contract because they hadn’t an application. The applications people wouldn’t say we want it, because they had no experience with it. It was a chicken-and-egg situation. The Americans took financial gambles, whereas this was very slow in this country”.

In 1954 a joint project including Texas Instruments of Dallas, launched the first portable transistor radio and a year later a small Japanese company launched a smaller model in the US market using the brand name Sony.

Also in 1955, William Shockley, co-inventor of the transistor, founded Shockley Semiconductor to build transistors, after leaving the Bell Labs and moved from New Jersey to his hometown of in Palo Alto in Santa Clara County, California. He recruited 12 young scientists — "PhD production line." Shockley won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1956. However, his dictatorial management style prompted 8 young scientists to leave company and establish Fairchild Semiconductor in 1957.

Termed the "Traitorous Eight" by Shockley, they developed a method of mass producing silicon transistors. The group included Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce who were later the co-founders of Intel in 1968.

The new company was profitable in six months with the help of its first sale: an order from IBM for 100 transistors at $150 apiece. The order was shipped in a Brillo scouring pad carton, picked up at a local supermarket.

In 1958 Jack Kilby (1923-2005) developed the first prototype of the integrated circuit, which became known as the microchip, and six-months later in 1959 Robert Noyce (1927-1990) produced his chip model at Fairchild Semiconductor.

Business from the Pentagon for weaponry and from NASA for the space program, helped to make the price of microchips commercially viable.

The Fairchild Semiconductor startup had received financial backing from industrialist Sherman Fairchild in 1957 who had been identified by the Wall Street firm of Hayden Stone and the Fairchild Camera and Instrument exercised its option to buy the company for $3m just two years after its birth, which made the young founding scientists wealthy.

Tom Wolfe wrote in 1983 that "defectors (or redefectors) from Fairchild started up more than fifty companies, all making or supplying microchips," including Noyce and Moore.

Walter Isaacson, the biographer of Steve Jobs, has noted that Robert Noyce adopted a culture from Bill Hewlett of Hewlett-Packard where he gave his employees flexible hours and plenty of freedom to determine for themselves how to accomplish their objectives. He took this approach to the next level. Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore complimented each other well. Isaacson notes:

Gordon Moore was similarly unpretentious, non-authoritarian, averse to confrontation, and uninterested in the trappings of power. Moore, always temperate and thoughtful, liked being in the lab, and he knew how to lead engineers with subtle questions or (the sharpest arrow in his quiver) a studied silence. Noyce was great at strategic vision and seeing the big picture; Moore understood the details, particularly of the technology and engineering."

Both shared an aversion hierarchy, which caused neither to be a decisive manager. This is where Any Grove, the third key man, steps in.

Source: Intel Free Press

Intel on Robert Noyce

Videos

World's First Transistor Invented by Bell Telephone Laboratories - Dec 1947

American Experience: Silicon Valley - PBS

Podfather - Robert Noyce and the Rise of Silicon Valley (2009) - BBC

The Impact of Integrated Circuits, lecture by Robert Noyce

Moore's Law 40th Anniversary with Gordon Moore

The Legacy of Fairchild Semiconductor

Sand to Silicon - the Making of a Chip - Intel


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