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Fascinating facts about Robert Noyce
co-inventor of the Integrated Circuit in 1959.
ROBERT NOYCE
Inventor: Robert Norton Noyce
Robert Noyce photo courtesy Intel Corporation
Criteria: Co-inventor. Entrepreneur.
Birth: December 12, 1927 in Burlington, Iowa
Death: June 3, 1990 in Austin, Texas
Nationality: American
Robert Norton Noyce was born December 12, 1927 in Burlington, Iowa. A noted visionary and natural leader, Robert Noyce helped to create a new industry when he developed the technology that would eventually become the microchip. Noted as one of the original computer entrepreneurs, he founded two companies that would largely shape today’s computer industry—Fairchild Semiconductor and Intel.

Bob Noyce's nickname was the "Mayor of Silicon Valley."   He was one of the very first scientists to work in the area -- long before the stretch of California had earned the Silicon name -- and he ran two of the companies that had the greatest impact on the silicon industry: Fairchild Semiconductor and Intel.  He also invented the integrated chip, one of the stepping stones along the way to the microprocessors in today's computers. 

Noyce, the son of a preacher, grew up in Grinnell, Iowa. He was a physics major at Grinnell College, and exhibited while there an almost baffling amount of confidence.  He was always the leader of the crowd.  This could turn against him occasionally -- the local farmers didn't approve of him and weren't likely to forgive quickly when he did something like steal a pig for a college luau.  The prank nearly got Noyce expelled, even though the only reason the farmer knew about it was because Noyce had confessed and offered to pay for it. 

While in college, Noyce's physics professor Grant Gale got hold of two of the very first transistors ever to come out of Bell Labs.  Gale showed them off to his class and Noyce was hooked.  The field was young, though, so when Noyce went to MIT in 1948 for his Ph.D., he found he knew more about transistors than many of his professors. 

After a brief stint making transistors for the electronics firm Philco, Noyce decided he wanted to work at Shockley Semiconductor.  In a single day, he flew with his wife and two kids to California, bought a house, and went to visit Shockley to ask for a job -- in that order. 

As it was, Shockley and Noyce's scientific vision -- and egos -- clashed.  When seven of the young researchers at Shockley semiconductor got together to consider leaving the company, they realized they needed a leader.  All seven thought Noyce, aged 29 but full of confidence, was the natural choice.  So Noyce became the eighth in the group that left Shockley in 1957 and founded Fairchild Semiconductor. 

Noyce was the general manager of the company and while there invented the integrated chip -- a chip of silicon with many transistors all etched into it at once. Fairchild Semiconductor filed a patent for a semiconductor integrated circuit based on the planar process on July 30, 1959. That was the first time he revolutionized the semiconductor industry.  He stayed with Fairchild until 1968, when he left with Gordon Moore to found Intel.  At Intel he oversaw Ted Hoff's invention of the microprocessor -- that was his second revolution. 

At both companies, Noyce introduced a very casual working atmosphere, the kind of atmosphere that has become a cultural stereotype of how California companies work.  But along with that open atmosphere came responsibility.  Noyce learned from Shockley's mistakes and he gave his young, bright employees phenomenal room to accomplish what they wished, in many ways defining the Silicon Valley working style was his third revolution.

Noyce was working to prevent the acquisition of a Silicon Valley materials supplier by a Japanese concern when he died unexpectedly of a heart attack in July 1990 at his home in Austin, Texas. He was 62 years old.

TO LEARN MORE

RELATED INFORMATION:
Invention of the Integrated Circuit    from The Great Idea Finder
The Entrepreneur   from The Great Idea Finder

ON THE BOOKSHELF:
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.
The Chip: How Two Americans Invented the Microchip and Launched a Revolution
by T. R. Reid / Paperback - 288 pages (October 9, 2001) / Random House (Paper)
Reid has thoroughly updated The Chip, his 1985 exploration of the life work of inventors Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce, to reflect the colossal shift toward smarter gadgets that has taken place since then.
The Man Behind the Microchip: Robert Noyce and the Invention of Silicon Valley
by Leslie Berlin / Hardcover: 402 pages / Oxford University Press (June, 2005)
Hailed as the Thomas Edison and Henry Ford of Silicon Valley, Robert Noyce was a brilliant inventor, a leading entrepreneur, and a daring risk taker who piloted his own jets and skied mountains accessible only by helicopter.
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.

Those Inventive Americans
( This title is out of print. )
by National Gographic Society / Hardcover - 231 pages (1971) / NGS-Special Pub. Division


ON THE WEB:
A Tale of Two Brains
They were born four years apart in two distant places, and yet they were destined to start a technological revolution that changed the world. Article by James Redin
(URL: www.dotpoint.com/xnumber/kilby.htm)
Robert Noyce
He invented the integrated chip, one of the stepping stones along the way to the microprocessors in today's computers.  Transistorized Series at PBS.
(URL: www.pbs.org/transistor/album1/addlbios/noyce.html)
Robert Noyce Biography
He received the IEEE Medal of Honor in 1978, "For his contributions to the silicon integrated circuit, a cornerstone of modern electronics. From the IEEE History Center.
(URL: www.ieee.org/web/aboutus/history_center/biography/noyce.html)
Robert Noyce: A Life Celebrated
The life of Intel co-founder Robert Noyce, co-inventor of the integrated circuit, is illustrated from childhood into adulthood, tracing his career from Fairchild Semiconductor and Intel to Silicon Valley statesman. From the Intel Museum.
(URL: www.intel.com/museum/exhibit/santa_clara/visit/museum_map.htm#learning)
Consumer Electronics Hall of Fame
Consumer Electronics Association Award to Robert Noyce in 2000.
(URL: www.ce.org/Press/CEA_Pubs/131.asp)

National Inventors Hall of Fame
The Patent No. 2,981,877 for Semiconductor Device-and-Lead Structure Integrated Circuit was granted to Robert Noyce, who later, in 1968 founded INTEL, the company responsible for the invention of the microprocessor. Dr. Noyce was issued 16 patents in the area of semiconductors.
(URL: www.invent.org/hall_of_fame/113.html)
Robert Noyce Foundation
In addition to the Foundationís continual push to improve teaching and learning in the content areas of science, math, and literacy, we have also begun to work in the education policy arena to support our other work.
(URL: www.noycefdn.org/)
The Man Behind the Microchip - Author
Leslie Berlin Site
A modern American success story, The Man Behind the Microchip illuminates the triumphs and setbacks of one of the most important inventors and entrepreneurs of our time.
(URL: www.themanbehindthemicrochip.com/)
Intel Corporation
Official Web site for the company co-founded by Robert Noyce in 1968.
(URL: www.intel.com/)


DID YOU KNOW?

  • He received the National Medal of Science in 1980 and the National Medal of Technology in 1987.
  • Noyce earned his B.S. from Grinnell College in 1949 and his Ph.D. from MIT in 1953.
  • Dr. Noyce was issued 16 patents in the area of semiconductors.
Reference Sources in BOLD Type This page revised October 19, 2006.
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