1952: Transistorized Consumer Products Appear

Semiconductors appear in battery-powered hearing aids and pocket radios where consumers are willing to pay a premium for portability and low power consumption.

Due to their initially high cost compared with vacuum tubes, transistors found their earliest consumer applications in portable devices such as hearing aids and radios, where small size and low power consumption were paramount.

The first transistorized consumer product in the US was a $229.50 hearing aid from Sonotone in 1952. It used two vacuum tubes and one transistor made by Germanium Products Corporation. Raytheon supplied three CK718 devices - the first transistor to be mass produced - for an all-transistor hearing aid introduced in 1953 by the Maico Company. By 1954, 97 percent of all hearing aids used only transistors. Aggressive pursuit of this market by Raytheon under vice-president Norman Krim made the company the largest manufacturer of transistors between 1952 and 1955.

Intermetall Corp. of Dusseldorf, West Germany, co-founded by Herbert Mataré (1948 Milestone), gave a public demonstration of a radio powered by four point-contact transistors at the Dusseldorf Radio Fair in 1953. The first transistor radio available to U. S. consumers, the Regency TR-1, hit US stores in October 1954 at a price of $49.95. Developed as a joint venture between Texas Instruments (which supplied its four germanium junction transistors) and the Regency Division of Industrial Development Engineering Associates, it generated sales of over 100,000 units and introduced the word "transistor" into the public lexicon.

That same month Tokyo Telecommunications Company, later renamed Sony, sold "germanium clocks" and hearing aids and showed a prototype transistor radio at the Mitsukoshi department store in Tokyo. In March 1955 Sony began to sell its TR-52 transistor radio in the US for $29.95, soon capturing this market.

  • "Regency Radio: World's First Transistor Radio," New York Times, advertisement (Nov. 21, 1954) p. 77.
  • "World's First Pocket Radio," Holiday magazine, advertisement (June, 1955) p. 123.
  • Bello, Francis. "The Year of the Transistor," Fortune (March 1953), pp. 128-133.
  • Braun, Ernest and Macdonald, Stuart. Revolution in Miniature: The History and Impact of Semiconductor Electronics (Cambridge University Press, 1982) pp. 55-56.
  • Morita, Akio with Reingold, Edwin M. and Shimomura, Mitsuko. Made in Japan: Akio Morita and SONY. E. P. Dutton (1986) especially pp. 63-92.
  • Riordan, Michael and Hoddeson, Lillian. Crystal Fire: The Birth of the Information Age (New York: W. W. Norton, 1997) pp. 209-217.
  • Lee, Thomas H. "Tales of the Continuum: A Subsampled History of Analog Circuits," IEEE Solid-State Circuits Society Newsletter (October 2007)