Texas Instruments Incorporated (TXN), Fairchild Semiconductor Intl Inc (FCS), Intel Corporation (INTC): The Chip That Changed the World

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On this day in economic and business history…

The foundations of the modern computing industry were laid on Sept. 12, 1958, when newly hired Texas Instruments Incorporated (NASDAQ:TXN) engineer Jack Kilby demonstrated a working integrated circuit for the very first time.

Texas Instruments Incorporated (NASDAQ:TXN)

Kilby had begun working on his prototype through the typical two-week vacation period afforded most TI employees, as his recent hiring meant that he had not yet earned vacation time. Originally, Kilby had been assigned to a project for the U.S. Army Signal Corps — the “Micro-Module” — to develop a standardized electronic component using transistors that could snap together with others like it to create complete circuits. Kilby decided to skip the “snap-together” part and put all the components on the same chip, as TI’s historical documents explain:

[Kilby] 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.

Kilby’s germanium design eventually proved inferior to a silicon chip developed by Fairchild Semiconductor Intl Inc (NYSE:FCS). However, because Kilby both demonstrated his integrated circuit and filed for a patent first, he is generally considered to be the father of this essential technology, while Fairchild Semiconductor Intl Inc (NYSE:FCS)’s Robert Noyce is honored for his work in perfecting the design. Noyce went on to help found Intel Corporation (NASDAQ:INTC) a decade after the development of the first integrated circuit, and three decades after that company’s founding, it became the first (and thus far only) dedicated chipmaker granted a place on the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

Today, integrated circuits power virtually every business operating today in one way or another, but their popularity got a little boost thanks to one big government program that became famous on Sept. 12…

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