Semiconductors are solid-state electronic replacements for vacuum tubes. They vastly enhanced productivity and lowered cost. Semiconductors also lowered the amount of electricity computers, or any equipment that ran on tubes, required.

In 1947, John Bardeen, William Shockley, and Water Brattain co-invented the semiconductor while working at Bell Labs for which they were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1956. Shockley went on to commercialize the business by forming the Shockley Semiconductor Company, in Mountain View, California, in 1956.

Shockley was a brilliant technologist but a less than stellar manager. His authoritarian management style alienated a number of key employees. Additionally, Shockley was a horrible person, an outspoken white supremacist and eugenicist.

Eventually, eight key employees quit together to first join Fairchild Semiconductor, a firm set up by Doriot student Arthur Rock. The Traitorous Eight included Gordon Moore, C. Sheldon Roberts, Eugene Kleiner, Robert Noyce, Victor Grinich, Julius Blank, Jean Hoerni and Jay Last.

Subsequently, they left to start their own firms. Those companies – chipmakers Intel, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), and the venture capital firm Kleiner-Perkins among them – were significantly more successful than Shockley’s business.

Bardeen is the only person to have won two Nobel Prizes, a later one for superconductors. Bardeen and Brattain went on to academic careers as did Shockley, after the failure of Shockley Semiconductor. Despite being, by every account, a horrible person, a group of early Silicon Valley engineers declared that “Shockley is the man who brought silicon to Silicon Valley.”

One thought on “Semiconductors”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *