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Fascinating facts about the invention of Transistors by
John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley in 1947.
Almost every piece of equipment that stores, transmits, displays, or manipulates information has at its core silicon chips filled with electronic circuitry. These chips each house many thousands or even millions of transistors.

The history of the transistor begins with the dramatic scientific discoveries of the 1800's scientists like Maxwell, Hertz, Faraday, and Edison made it possible to harness electricity for human uses. Inventors like Braun, Marconi, Fleming, and DeForest applied this knowledge in the development of useful electrical devices like radio.

Early Bell Transitor
Their work set the stage for the Bell Labs scientists whose challenge was to use this knowledge to make practical and useful electronic devices for communications. Teams of Bell Labs scientists, such as Shockley, Brattain, Bardeen, and many others met the challenge.--and invented the information age. They stood on the shoulders of the great inventors of the 19th century to produce the greatest invention of the our time: the transistor.

The transistor was invented in 1947 at Bell Telephone Laboratories by a team led by physicists John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley. At first, the computer was not high on the list of potential applications for this tiny device. This is not surprising—when the first computers were built in the 1940s and 1950s, few scientists saw in them the seeds of a technology that would in a few decades come to permeate almost every sphere of human life. Before the digital explosion, transistors were a vital part of improvements in existing analog systems, such as radios and stereos.

When it was placed in computers, however, the transistor became an integral part of the technology boom. They are also capable of being mass-produced by the millions on a sliver of silicon—the semiconductor chip. It is this almost boundless ability to integrate transistors onto chips that has fueled the information age. Today these chips are not just a part of computers. They are also important in devices as diverse as video cameras, cellular phones, copy machines, jumbo jets, modern automobiles, manufacturing equipment, electronic scoreboards, and video games. Without the transistor there would be no Internet and no space travel.

In the years following its creation, the transistor gradually replaced the bulky, fragile vacuum tubes that had been used to amplify and switch signals. The transistor became the building block for all modern electronics and the foundation for microchip and computer technology.


History of Computing   from The Great Idea Finder

Crystal Fire: The Birth of the Information Age
by Michael Riordan, Lillian Hoddeson / Paperback: 368 pages / W.W. Norton & Company; (1998)

This book is very well written, and does a good job of telling the history of the invention of the transistor. The book focuses on the technological aspects of the invention, but also does a great job of telling the story of the personalities, and (now multi-million dollar) businesses that were involved with the invention.
Strange Stories, Amazing Facts ( This title is out of print. )
by Readers Digest Editors / Hardcover - 608 pages (1976) / Readers Digest Association
Man's amazing inventions only covers 32 pages.

Transistor Legacy
Bell Labs is the birthplace of the transistor, inventing the device that led to a communications revolution.
They stood on the shoulders of the great inventors of the 19th century to produce the greatest invention of the our time: the transistor.
The transistor, more than any other single development, made possible the marriage of computers and communication.
Landmark Inventions of the Millennium by Herb Brody
The last 1,000 years have produced an incredible number and variety of scientific and technological breakthroughs,  but which of these were the most important?

National Inventors Hall of Fame
Semiconductor Amplifier; Three-Electrode Circuit Element Utilizing Semiconductive Materials Transistor Patent Number(s) 2,502,488; 2,524,035
Bell Labs Innovations
See what the recent innovations have been and what they are working on today.
The Transistor was probably the most important invention of the 20th Century, and the story behind the invention is one of clashing egos and top secret research. Web site that accompanies a Public Broadcasting System television show about the history of the transistor.

The Discovery of the Transistor
A very brief summary of the discovery of transistors. Large image gallery of early transistors.
Invention of the First Transistor
The American Physical Society - APS News Online, November 2000 edition.
The Inventors
A brief bio on
John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley from Bell Labs. They were awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 1956.

What Is It!
In order to grasp the transistor effect, you need to understand how a transistor can function both as an insulator and a conductor.


  • Public announcement of the discovery was delayed for six months until June of 1948. Time was needed to gain an understanding of the device and to prepare the patent position.
  • Dr. Shockley left Bell Labs in 1955 to establish Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory (part of Beckman Instruments, Inc.), an effort that was instrumental in the birth of Silicon Valley and the electronics industry. His former employees later invented the integrated circuit and founded Intel, the most successful microprocessor company in the world.
  • Inventors John Bardeen, William Shockley, and Walter Brattain -- shared the Nobel Prize for their 1947 invention of this tiny, reliable, electronic component.


Reference Sources in BOLD Type This page revised March, 2005.

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