Taking the transistor mainstream with music on the go

75 years ago this week, the future began with the invention of the transistor. We have focused on the ecosystem of innovations that have grown the transistor into an interconnected digital revolution. The old Bell Telephone Laboratories in New Jersey were powered by genius and corporate monopoly power. But for transistors to become music for our ears, they had to go to Dallas.

Before the first iPod, before the Walkman, there was the transistor radio. It didn’t require bulky tubes, making it possible to carry a lighter and more mobile listening device.

The first was the Regency TR-1, priced at $50 when it was released just before Christmas 1954. About $550 in today’s money.

“What’s amazing is that people fell in love with it and sold it out at that price,” said Don Pies, son of the co-founder of the Regency company in Indianapolis.

The design looked good enough to eat: multiple colors, a large brass dial. It didn’t sound great, but I could take it to a game or to the beach. Regency created these at the invitation of a Dallas company that had just begun manufacturing his four transistors inside. This is to show that “yes, transistors are practical devices,” Pies said.

Regency TR-1 transistor radio. It is a light shade of blue with a brass dial.
Joe Haupt via Wikimedia Commons

And how did Texas Instruments of Dallas get into the transistor patented four years ago by Bell Laboratories of New Jersey? purchased a license.A man named Gordon Thiel was developing a new kind of transistor. He was the first to use silicon.

“Bell didn’t pursue it much because he didn’t need the ability to operate over a much wider temperature range, which is the real advantage of silicon,” said David Lawes, curator at the California Museum of Computer History. It is.” “The first commercial silicon transistor was a big success for TI because now military equipment can use the transistor.”

The company has its roots in electronics for oil exploration. But Texas Instruments’ new boss Pat Haggerty thought the job was too cyclical, said longtime TI employee Max Post.

“The oil market had a lot of ups and downs in exploration, and military contracts weren’t very stable at the time,” Post said. “He persuaded the company — ‘Let’s get to manufacturing.'”

Haggerty came to Dallas in 1945 after purchasing technology for the Pentagon during the war. He built a company with the culture to become a small Bell Labs.

“They gave you a chance to fail. They’d let you explore ideas. And back then, there were no penalties for failure,” Post said.

This culture attracted an engineer named Jack Kilby in 1958. He had a passion for packing circuits into small spaces for such important things as hearing aids. His rival company nearly hired him, but stipulated that he could only work part of his time.Instead, TI bosses said Kilby could focus on what he wanted to do. Told.

“He said let’s work full time and see what comes out of it,” Post explained.

Then at TI, Kilby co-invented the integrated circuit. It’s a way of placing transistors and other components on a chip without a rat’s nest of wires. He won the Nobel Prize. The pocket calculator is also partly his invention. And the first pocket radio his company touted as his marketing tool was the ?Regency TR-1? 150,000 sold. not bad.

But the platinum megahit goes to another organization, Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo, which has purchased a license for the transistor from Bell Labs. This starts the more familiar brand, Sony.

“It was a big success for Sony, starting to make high volume transistor radios at very low cost,” Laws said. “And of course it eventually took the market by storm.”

This was the beginning of the offshore shift of transistor production, which eventually led to the great trade dispute between Japan and the United States in the 1980s. Most semiconductor manufacturing then moved across Asia, which Congress and the Biden administration are now trying to address with his $280 billion CHIPS bill. But before that, we need to invent the microprocessor—a tiny brain on a chip with billions of transistors. This doesn’t happen at Bell Labs in New Jersey or Texas Instruments in Dallas, but in apricot orchards in the West.

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