Computer History MuseumSemiconductor History


The Silicon Engine: A Timeline of Semiconductors in Computers website has been developed by the Semiconductor Special Interest Group (Semi SIG) and the curatorial and technology staffs of the Computer History Museum, Mountain View, California, supported by a grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. Key contributors are acknowledged on the Credits page under the Resources tab. The site describes the major milestones in the development of semiconductor technology that enabled the computing and communications revolution of the second half of the twentieth century.

The Timeline pages cover the period from the first documented semiconductor effect in 1833 to the completion of the transition from discrete transistors to integrated circuits, marked by the development of the single-chip digital signal processor in 1979, in the format of successive technological milestone events. Each page describes a specific event, identified as the milestone, and places it in the context of prior developments that led up to it and future events derived from it. The People, Companies, and Glossary pages provide more details on each of these topics than can be included in the space available for the Timeline text.

While significant advances in speed, complexity and cost have been made since 1979, the period covered by the website embraces the development of the fundamental technologies and building blocks employed in today's billion-transistor microelectronic chips. The content describes the people, products, and processes that made a difference in computing systems. It does not attempt to describe how semiconductors work nor does it cover the myriad companies, products, and technologies created to serve other applications.

As in every creative endeavor, individual contributors to technology are typically the catalyst for progress and those accorded the highest acclaim. Whenever possible, we have identified the supporting team members who played critical roles and without whom many breakthroughs could not have happened. We have also tried to show how most inventions in the field of high technology are built on the foundation of ideas and the efforts of legions of earlier contributors. As a result, when technology advances to the point that they are practical such developments often occur contemporaneously in laboratories around the world. We include several such parallel developments. Our focus on computing systems does not allow us to cover significant work in Europe and Japan in consumer applications beyond a couple of early examples. Also our time span does not extend to the mid-1980s and beyond when Japanese, Korean, and Chinese manufacturers began to assume their current important roles.

Each milestone includes references to key Original Documents and More Information in the form of selected articles, books, papers, and patents that provide historical insight into the topic. Links to examples of some of the most significant documents are provided in the Classic Semiconductor Papers and Patents listing below. Other sections listed on this Resource page include some General Semiconductor History books, plus information on Oral History resources and selected Websites.

In May 2007 the Computer History Museum announced the award of a three year grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to document semiconductor history. One of the projects resulting from that award was series of three public lectures by important pioneers in the semiconductor industry. These lectures were presented in 2007 and 2008 in the "Computer History Museum Presents" format of conversations with distinguished moderators. Links to written transcripts and video recordings of the sessions are provided below.

An Evening with Arthur Rock
A conversation between legendary venture capitalist Arthur Rock and John Markoff, West Coast Correspondent for the New York Times, at the Computer History Museum on Tuesday, May 1, 2007.
Written transcript
Video on CHM Channel on YouTube
An Evening with Morris Chang
A conversation between Morris Chang, the 2007 Computer History Museum Fellow and founder of pioneer foundry manufacturer TSMC, and Jen-Hsun Huang, co-founder, NVIDIA, at the Computer History Museum on Wednesday, October 17, 2007.
Written transcript
Video on CHM Channel on YouTube
An Evening with Jim Morgan
A conversation between Jim Morgan, Chairman of the Board, Applied Materials, and G. Dan Hutcheson, CEO of VLSI Research Inc., at the Computer History Museum on Wednesday, April 30, 2008.
Written transcript
Video on CHM Channel on YouTube

The following publications and patents have been cited consistently over the years as being significant in terms of their contribution to laying the groundwork for modern developments in semiconductor devices and technology. The links below provide access to abstracts or to the complete text of these documents in pdf format.

1926 - Lilienfeld's patent for a "transistor" amplifier
"Method and apparatus for controlling electric currents" (U.S. Patent 1,745,175; Filed October 8, 1926)
1931 - The first paper to accurately model semiconductor behavior
Wilson, A. H. "The Theory of Electronic Semi-Conductors II" Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series A, in Vol. 134, No. 823 (Nov. 3, 1931)
1935 - Heil's patent on a "novel apparatus" to replace thermionic valves
"Improvements in or relating to electrical amplifiers and other control arrangements and devices" (British Patent 439,457; Filed March 5, 1935)
1948 - The first technical description of the discovery of the point-contact transistor
John Bardeen and Walter Brattain, "The Transistor, a Semi-Conductor Triode" Physical Review Vol. 74 (July 15, 1948)
1948 - Bardeen and Brattain's transistor patent
"Three-Electrode Circuit Element Utilizing Semiconductive Materials" (U.S. Patent 2,524,035; Filed June 17, 1948)
1949 - Shockley's seminal paper on P-N junction devices
Shockley, William. "The Theory of P-N Junctions in Semiconductors and P-N Junction Transistors" Bell System Technical Journal Vol. 28 No. 3 (July 1949) (Introduction only)
1950 - Shockley's influential text book
Shockley, William. Electrons and Holes in Semiconductors with Applications to Transistor Electronics (New York: Van Nostrand 1950) (Title page and table of contents only)
1951 - The first paper describing the fabrication of a junction transistor
Shockley, William, Sparks, Morgan and Teal, Gordon K. "p-n Junction Transistors" Physical Review, Vol. 83, No. 1 (July 1951)
1951 - "Ma Bell's Cookbook" information distributed at the transistor symposium
The Transistor: Selected Reference Material on Characteristics and Applications Prepared by Bell Telephone Laboratories, Inc. for Western Electric Co., Inc. (New York 1951) (Title page and table of contents only)
1956 - Bell Labs' scientists describe the process of diffusion
Tanenbaum, M. and Thomas, D. E. "Diffused Emitter and Base Silicon Transistors" Bell System Technical Journal, Vol. 35 (January 1956) (Introduction only)
1957 - Bell Labs' scientists describe the use of silicon dioxide in transistor fabrication
Frosch C. J. and Derick, L. "Surface Protection and Selective Masking during Diffusion in Silicon" Journal of the Electrochemical Society Vol. 104, No. 9 (September 1957)
1958 - Bell Labs' scientists describe early work in photolithography
Andrus, J. and Bond, W. L. "Photoengraving in Transistor Fabrication" in F. J. Biondi et al, eds., Transistor Technology, Vol. III (Princeton, NJ: D. Van Nostrand, 1958)
1959 - Kilby's patent on electronic circuits fabricated from semiconductor material
"Miniaturized Electronic Circuits" (U.S. Patent 3,138,743; Filed February 6, 1959)
1959 - Lehovec's patent on electrical isolation of multiple semiconductor devices
"Multiple Semiconductor Assembly" (U.S. Patent 3,029,366; Filed April 22, 1959)
1959 - Hoerni's planar patent
"Method of Manufacturing Semiconductor Devices" (U.S. Patent 3,025,589 Filed May 1, 1959)
1959 - Noyce's patent on improved structures for making electrical connections
"Semiconductor device-and-lead structure" (U.S. Patent 2,981,877; Filed July 30, 1959)
1960 - The first public description of the planar process
Hoerni, J. A. "Planar Silicon Diodes and Transistors" Fairchild Semiconductor Technical Paper TP-14. (1961). Reprint of paper presented in October 1960.
1960 - Kahng's patent based on the first documented working MOS transistor
"Electric Field Controlled Semiconductor Device" (U.S. Patent 3,102,230; Filed 31 May 31, 1960)
1963 - Wanlass's patent on Complementary MOS (CMOS) circuitry
"Low Stand-By Power Complementary Field Effect Circuitry" (U.S. Patent 3,356,858; Filed June 18, 1963)
1965 - The first published article on what became known as "Moore's Law"
Moore, Gordon. "Cramming More Components onto Integrated Circuits" Electronics Magazine Vol. 38, No. 8 (April 19, 1965)
1967 - Grove's influential text book
Grove, A. S. Physics and Technology of Semiconductor Devices. John Wiley and Sons (1967) (Title and table of contents only)
1967 - Dennard's patent on a single transistor RAM cell
"Field-effect transistor memory" (U.S. Patent 3,387,286; Filed July 14, 1967)

Bassett, Ross Knox. To the Digital Age: Research Labs, Start-up Companies and the Rise of MOS Technology. (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002).

Berlin, Leslie. The Man Behind the Microchip: Robert Noyce and the Invention of Silicon Valley. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).

Braun, Ernest and Macdonald, Stuart Revolution in Miniature: The History and Impact of Semiconductor Electronics (Cambridge University Press, 1982)

Hoddeson, Lillian, et al., eds. Out of the Crystal Maze: Chapters from the History of Solid-State Physics. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992).

Lécuyer, Christophe. Making Silicon Valley: Innovation and the Growth of High Tech, 1930-1970. (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2006).

Lojek, Bo. History of Semiconductor Engineering. (Springer, 2006)

Orton, John. The Story of Semiconductors. (Oxford, UK, and New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).

Morris, P. R. A History of the World Semiconductor Industry (London: Institution of Electrical Engineers, December 1990)

Queisser, Hans. The Conquest of the Microchip: Science and Business in the Silicon Age. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988).

Reid, T. R. The Chip: How Two Americans Invented the Microchip and Launched a Revolution. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984). Revised and updated edition published by Random House, 2001.

Riordan, Michael, and Hoddeson, Lillian. Crystal Fire: The Birth of the Information Age. (New York, W. W. Norton, 1997).

Seitz, Frederick, and Einsprunch. Norman G. Electronic Genie: The Tangled History of Silicon. (Urbana and Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1998).

Zygmont, Jeffrey Microchip: An Idea, Its Genesis, and The Revolution It Created (Cambridge, MA: Perseus, 2003).

Charles Babbage Institute
Index and transcripts of oral histories by technology industry pioneers.

Chemical Heritage Foundation
Index and transcripts of oral histories by Chemical Heritage Foundation members

Computer History Museum
Oral Histories Collection page. Access to transcripts of video and audio oral history interviews and workshops

Institute of Electrical Engineers, IEEE History Center, Oral Histories
Go to Components, Circuits, Devices & Systems

Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics
Oral History at the Center for History of Physics

SEMI: Semiconductor Equipment and Materials
Index and links to oral history interview archive of equipment industry leaders

Silicon Genesis: Stanford and the Silicon Valley Project
Index to videos and transcripts of interviews with Silicon Valley pioneers

Computerworld Honors Program
Oral History Collection of IT pioneers, includes some semiconductor industry executives

Chip Shots Gallery
Explores the hidden beauty in microprocessor chips.

From the Lab to The Fab: Transistors to Integrated Circuits
A short description of 42 important historical papers complied by Howard Huff.

Intel Museum
Showcases Intel's history and operations.

Mister Transistor's Historic Semiconductors
Information and images of historical transistors collected by Andrew Wylie.

Semiconductor Document Archive
An archive of over 11,000 data sheets on computers and semiconductors.

Smithsonian: The Chip Collection
An extensive listing of Texas Instruments artifacts held by the National Museum of American History plus copies of Don C. Hoefler's Microelectronics News and other industry documentation and photographs.

The Chip History Center
A sampling of documents and videos collected by VLSI Research, Inc.

Technology and Entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley
Legacy of the development of Tubes and Semiconductors in Silicon Valley.

The First Monolithic Integrated Circuits
Information and images of historical ICs collected by Andrew Wylie.

The Transistor Museum
Virtual museum of transistor history edited by Jack Ward.

Text version of PBS TV 1999 documentary on the history of the transistor and beyond.