Computer History MuseumSemiconductor History

1956 - Silicon Comes to Silicon Valley

Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory develops Northern California's first prototype silicon devices while training young engineers and scientists for the future Silicon Valley.

In September 1955 William Shockley and Arnold Beckman agreed to found the Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory as a Division of Beckman Instruments "to engage promptly and vigorously in activities related to semiconductors." Shockley rented a building at 391 South San Antonio Road in Mountain View, California, and began recruiting "the most creative team in the world for developing and producing transistors." He attracted extremely capable engineers and scientists, including Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce, who learned about and developed technologies and processes related to silicon and diffusion while working there. In December 1956 Shockley shared the Nobel Prize in Physics for inventing the transistor, but his staff was becoming disenchanted with his difficult management style. They also felt the company should pursue more immediate opportunities for producing silicon transistors rather than the distant promise of a challenging four-layer p-n-p-n diode he had conceived at Bell Labs for telephone switching applications.

After unsuccessfully asking Beckman to hire a new manager, eight Shockley employees - including Moore and Noyce plus Julius Blank, Victor Grinich, Jean Hoerni, Eugene Kleiner, Jay Last and Sheldon Roberts - resigned in September 1957 and founded the Fairchild Semiconductor Corporation in Palo Alto. Many other employees, from technicians to PhDs, soon followed. Over the next decade, Fairchild grew into of the most important and innovative companies in the semiconductor industry, laying the technological and cultural foundations of Silicon Valley while spinning off dozens of new high-tech start-ups, including Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) and Intel. Shockley continued pursuing his four-layer diode but his company never realized a profit. Beckman sold the operation to Clevite Corporation in 1960. Shockley became a professor of electrical engineering and applied science at Stanford University.

Contemporary Documents

Shockley, William. "Memorandums," "Golden West Theme Book" and "Record," in Shockley Papers, Accession Listing 95–153, Box 2B, Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries, Stanford, CA.

Shockley, William and Jones, Richard V. "Crystal Growing Apparatus," U. S. Patent 2,979,386 (Filed August 2, 1956. Issued April 11, 1961)

Sah, C.T., Noyce, R.N., Shockley, W. "Carrier Generation and Recombination in p-n Junction and p-n Junction Characteristics," Proceedings of the IRE, Vol. 45, No. 9 (September 1957), pp. 1228-1243.

Sah, C.T., Sello, H., Tremere, D.A. "Diffusion of Phosphorus in Silicon Oxide Film." J. Phys. Chem. Solids Vol. 11 (1959) p. 288.

Oral History transcripts online at the Computer History Museum

Last, Jay (Shockley, Fairchild, Amelco), an oral history (2007-04-25)

Queisser, Hans (Shockley), an oral history (2006-2-27)

Blank, Julius (Shockley, Fairchild), an oral history (2008-1-25)

Moore, Gordon (Shockley, Fairchild, Intel), an oral history (2008-1-25)

Shockley Labs employees, brief oral histories (2006-2-27) Transcript in process

Shockley Labs pre-lecture interviews - Gibbons, Last, Moore, Sello (2006-2-27) Transcript in process

Other Oral Histories

Moore, Gordon (Fairchild, Intel) The Silicon Genesis Interviews (3.3.1995). Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries, Stanford, California.

Sello, Harry (Shockley and Fairchild) The Silicon Genesis Interviews (4.8.1995). Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries, Stanford, California.

More Information

Riordan, Michael and Hoddeson, Lillian. Crystal Fire: The Birth of the Information Age (New York: W. W. Norton, 1997), pp. 233–253; see also Riordan and Hoddeson, “The Moses of Silicon Valley,” Physics Today (December 1997), pp. 42–47.

Lécuyer, Christophe. Making Silicon Valley: Innovation and the Growth of High Tech, 1930–1970 (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2006), pp. 129–139.

Shurkin, Joel. Broken Genius: The Rise and Fall of William Shockley (London: Macmillan, 2006), pp. 142–273.

"Lessons from Shockley Semiconductor," Chemical Heritage News Magazine, Chemical Heritage Foundation, Vol. 24, No. 4, (Winter 2006/7) p. 37.