History of The Transistor
(the "Crystal Triode")
"Nature abhors the vacuum tube." - J.R. Pierce, Bell Labs
engineer who coined the term 'transistor'
Click to enlarge
From the Bell Labs website:
Labs is the birthplace of the Transistor, inventing the device that led to
a communications revolution.
John Bardeen, Walter Brattain and William Shockley discovered the
transistor effect and developed the first device in December 1947, while
the three were members of the technical staff at Bell Laboratories in
Murray Hill, NJ. [To
view the patent, see
US Patent #02569347 which was issued on September 25, 1951] They were awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 1956.
Developed as a replacement for bulky and inefficient
vacuum tubes and mechanical relays, the transistor later revolutionized
the entire electronics world. The transistor sparked a new era of modern
technical accomplishments from manned space flight and computers to
portable radios and stereos. Today, billions of transistors are
a few pages from Walter Brattain's lab notebooks on December 24th
1947, the day the world's first transistor was successfully tested. The
Bell Labs Press Release of the transistor dated July I, 1948 can be
viewed by clicking
A ballot was sent around Bell Labs to come up with a
name for the transistor.
is a (poor) copy of that ballot.
And how many of you know about the Transistor Water
Tower at Bell Labs? Click on
LINK to find out. Thanks to Doug Kirby for this
Source: Bell Labs
Click image above to enlarge
"A picture of the first transistor
ever assembled, invented in Bell Labs in 1947. It was called a point contact
transistor because amplification or transistor action occurred when two pointed
metal contacts were pressed onto the surface of the semiconductor material. The
contacts, which are supported by a wedge shaped piece of insulating material,
are placed extremely close together so that they are separated by only a few
thousandths of an inch. The contacts are made of gold and the semiconductor is
germanium. The semiconductor rests on a metal base.
Source: Bell Labs
Click image above to enlarge
The shape of the transistor has changed
dramatically since it was invented at Bell Labs in 1947 as a replacement for the
vacuum tube. Clockwise from the top: 1941 vacuum tube used for telephone
communications; the point-contact transistor as it was introduced June 30,1948
to the world, six months after its invention; 1955 transistor which replaced
vacuum tubes in network communications equipment; 1957 diffused base high
frequency broadband amplifier; 1967 microchip, used to produce the tones in a
touch-tone telephone set, contained two transistors; and (center) a Lucent
Technologies digital signal processor chip, which can contain as many as 5
million transistors, used in modems and cellular communications."
Bell Laboratories' germanium junction transistor was fabricated in 1950
A PDF file containing
images of the pages in actual lab notebook used during the invention of the
transistor can be viewed
Major Milestones in
from Bell Laboratories Record magazine - January 1975,
1948 - POINT CONTACT TRANSISTOR
1950 - SINGLE-CRYSTAL GERMANIUM
1951 - GROWN JUNCTION TRANSISTOR
1952 - ALLOY JUNCTION TRANSISTOR
1952 - ZONE MELTING AND REFINING
1952 - SINGLE-CRYSTAL SILICON
1955 - DIFFUSED -BASE TRANSISTORS
1957 - OXIDE MASKING
1960 - PLANAR TRANSISTOR
1960 - MOS TRANSISTOR
1960 - EPITAXIAL TRANSISTOR
1961 - INTEGRATED CIRCUITS
Gordon Teal at Texas Instruments
(TI) directed the development of the silicon transistor. Texas Instruments'
silicon device with its three long leads became famous making TI the sole
supplier of silicon transistors for several years in the 1950's. Morris
Tanenbaum at Bell Labs actually made the first silicon transistor, but he felt
"it didn't look attractive" from a manufacturing point of view.
SILICON PRECURSOR: Gordon Teal [left], while working at Bell Labs,
and fellow physical chemist Morgan Sparks successfully fabricated the first
working junction transistor from a germanium crystal.
PBS recently had a great documentary on the transistor
invention called "Transistorized!".
I bought the video tape of the show and highly recommend it.
"Birthplace of the
Transistor" - Bell Labs 1953 advertisement of the invention of the
transistor. (Scan courtesy of Mark Bearden)
Advertisement for the CK722 and CK721 transistors in the February 1953
issue of Radio and Television News magazine.
Laboratories Record -
25 years of Transistors - December 1972 Huge
PDF file almost 40 Megabytes!
More than 50 years
of the Transistor -
This document was available at one time on the
Bell Labs website but has since disappeared. It is, however, preserved
as an archive on this web server.
REALLY INVENTED THE TRANSISTOR?
historians say that Bell Labs should not get all of the credit. To
read an article on others that contributed to this invention, click
My Collection of Vintage
I've collected dozens of transistors since I was a
teenager. Other kids my age were collecting record albums but
transistors take up a lot less room than record albums!
The first photo is my most recent acquisition of a rare
transistor which is the Western Electric point-contact part number 2N23.
I actually have three of these - two are still
sealed in their foil envelopes inside a cardboard container.
Close-up photo of top of 2N23 transistor made
by Western Electric in 1954
Click on the following links to view more photos of this
rare 2N23 transistor:
- Photo 2 -
Photo 4 -
There is an excellent semiconductor history website
which has some information on this 2N23 transistor along with many more of the
first transistors produced. Click
HERE to enter that website's page on the 2N23.
Next is my Western Electric 2N110, date code is 1967.
Click on the images to view full-size.
The "Top Hat" case style
was rather popular among
several manufactures in the
1960's including General
Electric (GE). Shown here
is my Western Electric part
Close-up of bottom where
the wire leads exit the
epoxy-filled metal housing.
Note the phantom "fourth"
lead that is cut off at the
surface of the epoxy.
A couple of the
Labs (Bell System) Science Experiment kits had Western Electric
transistors in them. One kit,
From Sun to
Sound, had a nice
transistor in it. Here are some other close-up photos of this golden
beauty and the lead designations (click on images to enlarge):
Here are some photos of my personal collection of
non-Western Electric transistors:
Click on images above to view
For some EXCELLENT personal websites on the history of
the transistor and transistor devices, see:
Bell Labs "The Transistor" Paperweight
Click on image above to see entire "First Day
transistor be the result of "reverse engineering" of the electronic
remains of the UFO that landed in Roswell in 1947?