Lexikon's History of Computing

Invention of the Transistor


On December 23, 1947, a revolutionary device was invented at Bell Labs at Murray Hill, New Jersey, the "transistor."

Although many people contributed to the field of semiconductor research leading up to the point-contact transistor, its invention is usually credited to three physicists working at Bell Labs:


John Bardeen (1908-1991)

Walter Brattain (1902-1987)

William Shockley (1910-1989)


Shockley also worked with R. L. Wallace and Morgan Sparks on the junction transistor in early 1951. The transistor promised to be a vast improvement over vacuum tube technology since it was smaller, used less power, and produced no significant heat. The very first transistors were unreliable, but later improvements in semiconductor research and production techniques caused the transistor to replace vacuum tubes in radios, televisions, computers and many other devices.

In 1951 there were only four companies in the United States that were commercially producing transistors.

By 1956 there were twenty six companies making transistors.


Raytheon, one of the largest vacuum tube manufacturers, entered the transistor marketplace and took a lead role by 1951. By 1953, Raytheon was producing 10,000 transistors a month at a cost of about $9.00 each. These were being manufactured almost exclusively for hearing aids, since Bell Labs did not require royalties on its transistor patent for those being used in hearing aids. This was in honor of Alexander Graham Bell and his research into aids for the deaf.


In 1956, John Bardeen, Walter Brattain and William Shockley received the Nobel Prize for their invention.


Related Links

Transistorized Computers

Transistors: Early Examples

Transistorized Computers: MIT TX-0

Transistorized Computers: NCR 304


Transistors: A Milestone in Computing

Transistors: Vacuum Tubes and Transistors


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