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.

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.

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.

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. 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).

All lesson materials download in PDF format.

for students
To help students begin to understand the complex subject of semiconductors and related technology, in order to provide a foundation for further study.
Students will be asked to take notes and do research on a number of suggested key words and phrases, to gain a basic understanding of semiconductors. They will investigate these terms (and others they may find along the way), in order to come to a better understanding of how they relate to each other, and how they describe the basic functioning and uses of semiconductors.

(Estimated time: 2 class periods or more)
Language Arts
To help students think about the creative process of invention, and the individuals who used problem-solving skills to become inventors.
Students will learn about the process and evolution of a series of significant semiconductor-related inventions. They will be led to realize that innovations and inventions are created when problems or challenges are encountered and solutions have to be found. Students will be asked to try and figure out the connections, creative problem-solving steps and inter-related innovations, inventions and developments that occurred from one historical stage to the next, in the development of semiconductors. In other
Language Arts
To help students learn about the important individuals who shaped the technological computer revolution, in general, and the semiconductor industry, in particular.
Students will research one of the people mentioned in the timeline, in order to define his/her unique contribution to the development of semi-conductor technology. Students will be required to perform further research with other sources in order to gather more information about each inventor. They must be able to properly document and cite their sources in their individual biographical reports.

(Estimated time: 2 class periods or more)
Language Arts
Research Science
To understand that technological objects can be visually perceived as artistic objects. Students will view a technological object from the online exhibit as an object of art. They will share their perceptions of the piece, with an understanding that colors, forms, shapes, and other visual elements are additional characteristics that should be appreciated and perceived. Students will learn that the artists and inventors of the past (and future) were able to see things differently.
Students will be led to understand that there is a relationship between technology and art. They will be shown that technology artifacts and computer components may also be viewed as artistic creations by their inventors. Students will be asked to react with a new artistic appreciation to understand the ‘hidden beauty' behind technological objects, and then (optionally) work individually with a variety of materials to create their own abstract piece of technological art.

(Estimated time: 1 class period or more)
Art History
Computer History
To understand the meaning and significance of Moore's Law, use various graphs to make an analysis using comparable data, and to encourage thinking about the amazing speed of technological advances.
Students will specifically investigate Moore's Law, analyze various graphs that illustrate Moore's Law, and discuss its significance in computer history.

(Estimated time: 1 class period or more)
Computer History
To understand the impact of the silicon in transforming the area from an agricultural region into the capital of technology.
Students will learn about the history of the region through the study of the early Bay Area electronics companies.

(Estimated time: 2 class periods or more)
Regional Studies
To introduce students to a real life example of career development.
Through research and analysis of the biography of silicon luminary Gordon Moore, students will investigate the process of making career choices.

(Estimated time: 2 class periods or more)
Career Dev.
Life Skills
Text Analysis
To investigate the contribution of Japan in the progress and advancement of semiconductor technology.
Students will learn about the absorption of technological advancements by Japan and the major companies that engaged in the process.

(Estimated time: 2 class periods or more)
Global Economy
Cultural context
To enable students to work with primary source documents and to comprehend their importance as tools for learning history.
Students will read and discuss an original document and research the online exhibition The Silicon Engine: a Timeline of Semiconductors in Computers for technological developments between 1965 and 1975.

(Estimated time: 2 class period or more)
Prim. Srcs. Analysis
Life Skills
To help students learn about the role that microchips play in everyday life through videogames.
Students will learn about the first generation of video games.

(Estimated time: 2 class period or more)
Popular Culture