On this day in economic and business history…
A small company called Geophysical Science was incorporated in New Jersey on May 16, 1930 to create instruments for the oil and gas industry. The company used analog signal-processing technologies to help drillers in the Texas oil fields find deep undiscovered reservoirs. For more than a decade, this company continued to push the boundaries of technology in the oil patch, until a growing demand for the cutting-edge products of its electronics subsidiary pushed executives in a new direction, which demanded a new identity: Texas Instruments Incorporated (NASDAQ:TXN). The company was renamed in 1951 — executives originally wanted to become General Instruments, but the name was already taken — and thus began its march toward computing history.
Texas Instruments Incorporated (NASDAQ:TXN) went public two years later, but it was the creation of the first integrated circuit in 1958 that truly put the company on the map. The integrated circuit’s inventor, a young TI engineer named Jack Kilby, would later receive the Nobel Prize in physics for his efforts. A hearing aid released in 1964 became the first commercial product featuring TI integrated circuits, and TI became a source of national pride when its circuitry helped control the Apollo 11 lunar lander in 1969.
As the semiconductor industry began to shake out, Texas Instruments Incorporated (NASDAQ:TXN) would cede ground in microprocessors to Intel Corporation (NASDAQ:INTC), which produced the first commercial microprocessor in 1971. Texas Instruments Incorporated (NASDAQ:TXN) instead began to focus more on microcontrollers, which offer a complete system on a chip. That decision both kept Texas Instruments Incorporated (NASDAQ:TXN) in contention and prevented it from dominating an industry it helped build — today, it’s the fourth-largest semiconductor manufacturer in the world, but it only generates a quarter of the semiconductor sales as industry leader Intel.
One day, we’ll put this on a shark’s head
The first functional laser beam shot out of a synthetic ruby at the end of a polished, mirrored tube on May 16, 1960. Developed by physicist Theodore Maiman at Hughes Research Laboratories — now a jointly owned subsidiary of General Motors Company (NYSE:GM) and The Boeing Company (NYSE:BA) — the laser was originally described by its inventor as “a solution seeking a problem.” As we now know, many problems have been solved by lasers, including barcode scanning, missile guidance, eye surgery, optical-disc reading, precise distance measurements, scientific instrumentation accuracy, and even semiconductor manufacturing.