Transistor Invented at Bell Labs 65 Years Ago


Sixty-five years ago last week (December 16, 1947) , the transistor was invented at Bell Labs in New Jersey when researchers William Shockley, John Bardeen and Walter Brattain were able to use germanium crystal to create an amplifier that boosted an input signal by 100 times. Some cite the date as December 23, when it was first demonstrated to Bell Labs officials. The three would share the Nobel Prize for physics in 1956.

Michael Kanellos, in a piece for ReadWriteWeb , writes that “the center of the computing industry, by rights, should be King of Prussia, Pennsylvania”, given the proximity of Bell Labs, companies like Sperry Rand (which grew out of the ENIAC project at Penn and later merged with Burroughs to form Unisys) and TV and radio manufacturers such as RCA and Philco who were doing advanced electronics research.

Also important were RCA’s research lab in Princeton, and Western Electric (AT&T’s manufacturing arm) facilities in Allentown and Reading. A couple of other pioneering companies I would mention are Kulicke & Soffa and Technitrol (now Pulse). In addition, the engineering and scientific resources of schools like Penn, Princeton and Drexel were valuable assets.

So with all these pieces in place, why did the Philadelphia/New Jersey region fail to become what Silicon Valley is today?

Although I doubt its so simple, Kanellos cites the often-told story of William Shockley departing for Palo Alto (where he was raised, actually), and others who followed him west, as being a critical turning point. Shockley’s erratic personality drove away many who worked for him, but several of those people went on to found Fairchild Semiconductor and then Intel.

[This article originally appeared in Philly Tech News on December 16, 2012. We have made minor changes. You can find the original article here.]

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