75th Anniversary of the Transistor

An important component used in our radios is 75 years old today!

On December 16, 1947, Walter Brattain and John Bardeen—two physicists who were members of Mervin Kelly’s Solid State Physics Group and Semiconductor Sub-Group at Bell Labs—managed to make the first working transistor, now known as the point-contact transistor.

An early point-contact transistor

“A week after that, the device was officially demonstrated to Bell Labs executives as a magnificent Christmas present. In January 1948, William Shockley demonstrated the junction transistor. All three received The Nobel Prize in Physics (1956)”. 1

The New York Herald Tribune predicted that this invention would be a revolution in the electronics industry. Little did they know just how big of a technology revolution this invention would end up being. The invention of the transistor may have been the greatest technology development of the 20th century!

As the performance, reliability, and manufacturability of discrete transistors improved commercial products began to use transistors, including amplifiers, switches, and detector circuits. In 1954 the silicon bipolar-junction transistor (BJT), perfected by Gordon Teal of Texas Instruments Inc., brought the price of this discrete component down to $2.50. The Texas Instruments news release from May 10, 1954, read, “Electronic brains approaching the human brain in scope and reliability came much closer to reality today with the announcement by Texas Instruments Incorporated of the first commercial production of silicon transistors kernel-sized substitutes for vacuum tubes.” Also in 1954 Bell Labs unveiled Tradic Phase One. The Tradic Phase One was the world’s first fully transistorized computer containing 800 transistors instead of vacuum tubes. In March 1955 Sony began to sell its TR-52 transistor radio in the US for $29.95, soon capturing this market. It is no wonder that in 1956 John Bardeen, Walter Brattain and William Shockley received the Nobel Prize in Physics.

Thanks to Jack Kilby at Texas Instruments and Robert Noyce at Fairchild Semiconductor, the 1960’s ushered in the era of Integrated Circuits (ICs). In the early 70’s the crowning achievement was the ability to integrate thousands of transistors and resistors onto a silicon chip. One of the most important ICs was the microprocessor. Intel’s 4004 microprocessor is widely regarded as the first commercial microprocessor. The 4004 was fabricated in 1971 with 2,250 Metal Oxide Semiconductor (MOS) transistors using 10 µm PMOS technology. PMOS logic is a family of digital circuits based on p-channel metal-oxide-semiconductor field-effect transistors (MOSFETs). In the late 1960s and early 1970s. In the mid-70’s PMOS circuits were superseded by Complimentary Metal-Oxide-Semiconductor (CMOS) circuits. CMOS circuits use both p-channel and n-channel transistors. Today Apple’s M1 chip has 16 billion transistors using TSMC’s 5 nm FINFET CMOS technology node! 2

Visit the 75th Anniversary of the Transistor page to view the IEEE EDS 75th Anniversary of the Transistor video and celebration photos; and to learn about upcoming activities, EDS newsletter articles, and media coverage.

About the Anniversary Celebration

The Electron Devices Society has decided to celebrate the year 2022-2023 as the 75th Anniversary of the Transistor. As the history of this invention and of its consequences is much more involved and interesting, it is imperative that the leading EDS Luminaries share the scientific & technological developments which took place in the last 75 years, with the current generation of researchers. Popularizing talks at Conferences and Mini-Colloquia, Technical Articles in the EDS Newsletter, Webinar Series shall be a part of the various activities undertaken by [the] “75th Anniversary of the Transistor Adhoc Committee” with an aim to provide technical information and education to enlighten EDS members. This shall be a mark of tribute to the men and women who have contributed to the Transistor Story—Discovery, Development, and Applications which has had a lasting impact on people’s lives and has benefited mankind where it serves good in social relations, caring for the Earth, science, technology, engineering, and economy. 1

eds.ieee.org 75th anniversary of the transistor logo

  1. “75th Anniversary of the Transistor”, IEEE Electron Devices Society, accessed December 16 2022, https://eds.ieee.org/about-eds/75th-anniversary-of-the-transistor↩︎ ↩︎

  2. “The Transistor’s 75th Birthday”, Arizona State University Core Research Facilities, accessed December 16 2022, https://cores.research.asu.edu/transistors-75th-birthday↩︎