Wednesday Dec. 23, 2020’s Smile of the Day: The Transistor

On this Day:

The single most important invention of the 20th century was the transistor, according to some researchers and analysts.The transistor was invented by John Bardeen, Walter H. Brattain and William Shockley in Bell Labs.

Yes, that’s right. The transistor. The little-talked-about transistor is the building block for the processor. Without the transistor, some say our servers would be three stories high, and laptops would be a prop on Star Trek. Our televisions would still use vacuum tubes, and our cars couldn’t guide us to the nearest Indian restaurant.

Heck, without the transistor, what would the digital economy look like? Would Microsoft Corp. and Google Inc. have become giants? Would geeks have become cool, rich guys driving BMWs? Probably not.

Sixty years ago — on Dec. 16, 1947, to be exact — the transistor was invented at Bell Labs, igniting a series of changes and advances that would change the way people listen to their favorite music, do their jobs, pay their bills, educate themselves and buy everything from books to used toaster ovens. Transistors inside pacemakers keep our hearts going. Computer chips run inside our cars, cell phones and even tiny, implantable LoJack-like devices that help find lost pets. The PC and the Internet have been phenomena, but how usable and ubiquitous would they be without millions of tiny transistors running inside laptops, desktops and servers?

  • The first transistor was about the size of the palm of a hand, with a depth of two matchbooks stacked on top of each other.
  • The first commercial device to use a transistor was the Sonotone 1010 hearing aid, created in 1953.
  • The first transistor radio, the Regency TR-1, went on the market for $49.99 in 1954. The radio contains four transistors.
  • Sony Corp. introduced the first portable, transistorized TV, the TV8-301, in 1960. It had a 5-in. screen and used 23 silicon and germanium transistors.
  • Intel Corp.’s Gordon Moore in 1965 came up with what came to be known as Moore’s Law, which stated that the number of transistors on a chip will double about every two years. Forty-two years later, Moore’s Law still holds true.
  • Busicom introduced the first single-chip, pocket-size calculator, the LE-120A HANDY, in 1971.
  • In 1983, Motorola Inc. introduced the first commercial mobile phone, the DynaTAC 800X. It was powered by transistors and cost $3,995.
  • Today, a 45-nanometer Penryn chip from Intel holds 820 million transistors.
  • Intel estimates that about 10 quintillion (or a 1 followed by 19 zeros) transistors ship each year. That 10,000 times the number of ants on Earth.

“The invention of the transistor was probably the most important invention in the 20th century,” said Risto Puhakka, president of VLSI Research Inc. “It has changed society. Look at transportation, computers, government, finance, manufacturing … it’s affected them all. Look at the change in the productivity of the whole economy. It’s probably doubled from what it would have been without transistors.”

Before transistors, vacuum tubes were turned on or off to represent zeros and ones. The tube would be turned off for a zero, and on for a one. It wasn’t a very efficient technology, and [it] required a lot of tubes and bulbs and heat to do basic mathematically calculations. In fact, the term bug was coined when moths or other insects would light on the tubes and blow them out, according to Mike Feibus, an analyst at TechKnowledge Strategies Inc. By modern standards, tube-based computers were slow and enormously bulky (per

From November 17, 1947, to December 23, 1947, John Bardeen and Walter Brattain at AT&T’s Bell Labs in Murray Hill, New Jersey, performed experiments and observed that when two gold point contacts were applied to a crystal of germanium, a signal was produced with the output power greater than the input. Solid State Physics Group leader William Shockley saw the potential in this, and over the next few months worked to greatly expand the knowledge of semiconductors. The term transistor was coined by John R. Pierce as a contraction of the term transresistance. According to Lillian Hoddeson and Vicki Daitch, authors of a biography of John Bardeen, Shockley had proposed that Bell Labs’ first patent for a transistor should be based on the field-effect and that he be named as the inventor.

Having unearthed Lilienfeld’s patents that went into obscurity years earlier, lawyers at Bell Labs advised against Shockley’s proposal because the idea of a field-effect transistor that used an electric field as a “grid” was not new. Instead, what Bardeen, Brattain, and Shockley invented in 1947 was the first point-contact transistor. In acknowledgement of this accomplishment, Shockley, Bardeen, and Brattain were jointly awarded the 1956 Nobel Prize in Physics “for their researches on semiconductors and their discovery of the transistor effect” (per Wikipedia).

First, a Story:

What did the electrical engineer say when he got shocked?  That hertz.

Second, a Song:

Connie Smith (born Constance June Meador; August 14, 1941) is an American country music singer. Her contralto vocals have been described by music writers as significant and influential to the women of country music. A similarity has been noted between her vocal style and the stylings of country vocalist Patsy Cline. Other performers have cited Smith as influence on their own singing styles, which has been reflected in quotes and interviews over the years.

Discovered in 1963, Smith signed with RCA Victor Records the following year and remained with the label until 1973. Her debut single “Once a Day” reached number one on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart in November 1964 and remained at the top position for eight weeks. The song became Smith’s biggest hit and was nominated at the Grammy Awards for Best Female Country Vocal Performance. Smith’s success continued through 1960s and mid 1970s with 19 more top-ten hits (including “Then and Only Then”; “Ain’t Had No Lovin'”; “Cincinnati, Ohio”; “I Never Once Stopped Loving You”; and “Ain’t Love a Good Thing”) on the country songs chart.

Smith has been nominated for 11 Grammy Awards, including eight nominations for Best Female Country Vocal Performance. She has also been nominated for 1 Academy of Country Music award and 3 Country Music Association awards. Rolling Stone included her on their list of the 100 greatest country music artists and CMT ranked her among the top ten in their list of the 40 greatest women of country music. She has been a member of the Grand Ole Opry cast since 1965. In 2012, Smith was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Connie recorded “Then and Only Then” as a single in 1965. That single included “Tiny Blue Transistor Radio,” on the  B-side,  which reached a peak of #25 on Hot Country Songs chart (per Wikipedia). 

Here is Connie Smith performing “Tiny Blue Transistor Radio” – I hope you enjoy this!


Thought for the Day:

“My first transistor radio was the heart of my gadget love today. It fit in my hand and brought me a world of music 24 / 7.” – Steve Wozniak

Have a great day!

© 2020 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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