History of Innovation
   50th anniversary of the IC - about the inventor  
50th anniversary of the IC - about the inventor
You probably don’t know Jack. But you know his work.
At 6 feet, 6 inches, Jack St. Clair Kilby stood tall. But probably never more so than on Sept. 12, 1958, when he demonstrated the first integrated circuit to fellow TI engineers.

They probably didn’t realize it then, but Sept. 12 would become one of the most important birthdates in the history of technology.

Kilby’s device was crude by today’s standards: a sliver of germanium measuring 7/16 by 1/16 of an inch, with protruding wires glued to a glass slide. Still, when Kilby applied electricity to the circuit, an unending sine wave undulated across his oscilloscope screen.

In that instant, Kilby demonstrated that he had solved the fundamental problems associated with miniaturization. He had successfully integrated all of the parts of an electronic circuit onto a single device made from the same semiconductor material. Kilby’s invention made Henry Ford-style mass production possible and put the hand-soldering of thousands of discrete components to bed forever.

By 1961, despite initial industry skepticism, Kilby and his TI team had developed computer applications for his invention. Six years later, his work on the integrated circuit led to the first handheld calculator.

For his career accomplishments, including more than 60 patents, Kilby won the inventor’s “Triple Crown”: the Nobel Prize in physics, the National Medal of Science and the National Medal of Technology.

The Wall Street Journal named Kilby one of the five members of its “High Tech Dream Team” in 1994, and the Smithsonian’s American History Museum displays Kilby’s first integrated circuit in its Information Age exhibit. His portrait in the National Inventors Hall of Fame hangs between pictures of Henry Ford and Ernest Lawrence, the creator of the atom smasher.

There’s no doubt that Kilby inspired untold numbers of engineers. Indeed, while accepting the Nobel Prize in 2000, Kilby repeated a quip he attributed to another Nobelist that spoke volumes about his respect for the TI engineers who later refined his invention with groundbreaking applications.

 “It reminds me of what the beaver told the rabbit as they stood at the base of Hoover Dam. ‘No, I didn’t build it myself, but it’s based on an idea of mine.’”

With typical Kilby humility, he concluded his remarks by saying, “I am pleased to have had even a small part in helping turn the potential of human creativity into practical reality.”
Mind of the inventor
According to Jack Kilby, an inventor has to define a need or problem, have the proper knowledge of the technologies or techniques available for reaching a positive solution, and develop a specific product or structure that allows them to select the right technologies necessary to achieve the desired result.

For Kilby, that meant writing everything down. He kept copious notebooks to document his inventive endeavors and saw value in efforts that failed. In other words, he often learned what was possible by discovering what wasn’t.

Kilby believed that an idea, particularly a new one, was fragile. He began each process by thinking about the problem, taking notes and drawing sketches – sometimes for several months. He used colored pencils to illustrate various layers, progressions or sequences. He knew he was near the end of a process when he had the inspiration to build something.

Proud of his achievements, Kilby preferred to be known as an engineer rather than a scientist. “There’s a pretty big key difference,” he explained. “A scientist is motivated by knowledge. He basically wants to explain something. An engineer’s drive is to solve problems and make something work. Engineering, or at least good engineering, is a creative process.”

A problem solver by nature and by training, Kilby always understood that his inventions needed to be practical and cost-effective. Yet within those constraints, creative ingenuity was still the driving force.

TI gave his creativity a home and supported his engineer’s desire to solve problems – a tradition the company continues today as it urges young engineers to tackle the world’s most urgent challenges.