History of Innovation
   50th anniversary of the IC - about the invention  
50th anniversary of the IC - about the invention
Creating the first integrated circuit
Jack Kilby’s first working integrated circuit consisted of a transistor, several resistors, and a capacitor on a sliver of germanium less than half an inch long. It was a rough device by any standard. But as his oscilloscope screen showed, it worked.

Kilby often remarked that if he’d known he’d be showing the first working integrated circuit for the next 40-plus years, he would’ve “prettied it up a little.”

Successive generations of electrical engineers have done just that, while future generations will continue to push Jack’s original design even further.

But what technological pieces had to fall into place by 1958 for Jack to turn his rough design from idea to reality?

The door to advancements in semiconductor electronics had opened nine years earlier, when Bell Labs introduced the transistor.

Bell’s transistor replaced big, expensive, fragile and power-hungry vacuum tubes. By the mid-1950s, they were making inroads into consumer products and military applications.

Still, the transistor had its own disadvantages. Some applications required thousands of transistors to be hand-wired into circuits, with an equally large number of traditional components. The work was time-consuming, costly and jeopardized reliability.

Another problem – what engineers called “the tyranny of numbers” – also existed. The sheer number of a system’s interconnected transistors and other devices prevented progress. Their size and weight often precluded their use in many devices, including airborne military applications. And if one component failed, the entire system could be compromised.

Engineers worldwide hunted for a solution. TI mounted large-scale research efforts and recruited engineers from coast to coast, including Jack Kilby in 1958. At the time, TI was exploring a design called the “micromodule,” in which all the parts of a circuit were equal in size and shape. Kilby was skeptical, largely because it didn’t solve the basic problem: the number of transistor components.

While his colleagues enjoyed a two-week summer hiatus, Kilby, a new TI employee without any accrued vacation time, worked alone on an alternative in his TI lab.

TI had already spent millions developing machinery and techniques for working with silicon, so Kilby sought a way to fabricate all of the circuit’s components, including capacitors and resistors, with a monolithic block of the same material. He sketched a rough design of the first integrated circuit in his notebook on July 24, 1958.

Two months passed before Kilby’s managers, preoccupied with pursuing the “micromodule” concept, gathered in Kilby’s office for the first successful demonstration of the integrated circuit.

Kilby’s invention made obsolete the hand-soldering of thousands of components, while allowing for Henry Ford-style mass production.

Although the semiconductor industry initially greeted the integrated circuit with skepticism, the U.S. military’s use of the chip in airborne computers in the 1960s firmly positioned the technology as the new backbone of electronics systems.

And the rest is history. The impact Kilby’s invention has made in solving some of the world’s key problems is immeasurable.