It was a relatively simple device that Jack
Kilby showed to a handful of co-workers gathered in TI's
semiconductor lab 50 years ago -- only a transistor
and other components on a slice of germanium. Little did
this group of onlookers know, but Kilby's invention, 7/16-by-1/16-inches
in size and called an integrated circuit, was about to revolutionize
the electronics industry.
The Answer to a Problem
It was in a relatively deserted laboratory at TI's brand
new Semiconductor Building where Jack Kilby first hit on the
idea of the integrated circuit. In July 1958, when most employees
left for the traditional two-week
vacation period, Kilby -- as a new employee with no vacation
-- stayed to man the shop.
What caused Kilby to think along the lines that eventually
resulted in the integrated circuit? Like many inventors, he
set out to solve a problem. In this case, the problem was
called "the tyranny of numbers."
For almost 50 years after the turn of the 20th century,
the electronics industry had been dominated by vacuum tube
technology. But vacuum tubes had inherent limitations. They
were fragile, bulky, unreliable, power hungry, and produced
It wasn't until 1947, with the invention of the transistor
by Bell Telephone Laboratories, that the vacuum tube problem
was solved. Transistors were miniscule in comparison, more
reliable, longer lasting, produced less heat, and consumed
less power. The transistor stimulated engineers to design
ever more complex electronic circuits and equipment containing
hundreds or thousands of discrete components such as transistors,
diodes, rectifiers and capacitors. But the problem was that
these components still had to be interconnected to form electronic
circuits, and hand-soldering thousands of components to thousands
of bits of wire was expensive and time-consuming. It was also
unreliable; every soldered joint was a potential source of
trouble. The challenge was to find cost-effective, reliable
ways of producing these components and interconnecting them.
One stab at a solution was the Micro-Module program, sponsored
by the U.S. Army Signal Corps. The idea was to make all the
components a uniform size and shape, with the wiring built
into the components. The modules then could be snapped together
to make circuits, eliminating the need for wiring the connections.
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was working on the Micro-Module program when Kilby joined
the company in 1958. Because of his work with Centralab in
Milwaukee, Kilby was familiar with the "tyranny of numbers"
problem facing the industry. But he didn't think the Micro-Module
was the answer it didn't address the basic problem
of large quantities of components in elaborate circuits.
So Kilby began searching for an alternative, and in the process
decided the only thing a semiconductor house could make cost
effectively was a semiconductor. "Further thought led me to
the conclusion that semiconductors were all that were really
required that resistors and capacitors [passive devices],
in particular, could be made from the same material as the
active devices [transistors]. I also realized that, since
all of the components could be made of a single material,
they could also be made in situ interconnected to form a complete
circuit," Kilby wrote in a 1976 article titled "Invention
of the IC."
Kilby began to write down and sketch out his ideas in July
of 1958. By September, he was ready to demonstrate a working
integrated circuit built on a piece of semiconductor material.
Several executives, including former TI Chairman Mark Shepherd,
gathered for the event on September 12, 1958. What they saw
was a sliver of germanium, with protruding wires, glued to
a glass slide. It was a rough device, but when Kilby pressed
the switch, an unending sine curve undulated across the oscilloscope
screen. His invention worked he had solved the problem.
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Kilby had made a big breakthrough. But while the U.S. Air
Force showed some interest in TI's integrated circuit, industry
reacted skeptically. Indeed the IC and its relative merits
"provided much of the entertainment at major technical meetings
over the next few years," Kilby wrote.
integrated circuit first won a place in the military market
through programs such as the first computer using silicon
chips for the Air Force in 1961 and the Minuteman Missile
in 1962. Recognizing the need for a "demonstration product"
to speed widespread use of the IC, Patrick E. Haggerty, former
TI chairman, challenged Kilby to design a calculator as powerful
as the large, electro-mechanical desktop models of the day,
but small enough to fit in a coat pocket. The resulting electronic
hand-held calculator, of which Kilby is a co-inventor, successfully
commercialized the integrated circuit.
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The impact of Kilby's tiny chip has been far-reaching. Many
of the electronics products of today could not have been developed
without it. The chip virtually created the modern computer
industry, transforming yesterday's room-size machines into
today's array of mainframes, minicomputers and personal computers.
The chip restructured communications, fostering a host of
new ways for instant exchanges of information between people,
businesses and nations.
- Without the chip, man could not explore space or fly to
- The chip helps the deaf to hear and is the heartbeat of
a myriad of medical diagnostic machines.
- The chip has also touched education, transportation, manufacturing
For Texas Instruments, the integrated circuit has played a
pivotal role. Over the years, the company has produced billions
of chips. But the integrated circuit has done more than help
grow TI. It has enabled an entire industry to grow. Since 1961,
the worldwide electronics market has grown from $29 billion
to nearly $1,500 billion.
This growth will depend on the continued development of newer
and better technologies -- like those being developed at Texas
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Toward the Future
continuing advances in semiconductors, you can look forward
to more new amazing encounters with electronic equipment.
Imagine calling your day care center to check on your child,
and seeing her smiling face in the screen on your cell phone.
Imaging turning on the oven from your car phone as you pull
out of the parking lot at the end of the day. When you get
home, dinner will be nearly done. Imagine setting your car
on autopilot, and looking over notes for your next day's meeting
on your commute home. Imagine you want to see a movie. You
order it from the web, and within a matter of seconds it's
ready to view on your television at home.
It sounds like the stuff of science fiction, but new breakthroughs
are only a short stride away, with the help of technologies
being developed at Texas Instruments.
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