The History of the Transistor, from Fairchild, National, to On.

The transistor was successfully demonstrated on December 23, 1947 at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey. Bell Labs is the research arm of the American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T).

William Shockley, John Bardeen, and Walter Brattain.

The three individuals credited with the invention of the transistor were William Shockley, John Bardeen, and Walter Brattain.

William Shockley played a quite different role in the invention than the other two. Shockley had been working on the theory of such a device for more than ten years. While he could work out the theory successfully but after eight years of trying he could not build a working model. Bardeen and Brattain were called in to handle the engineering and development, which they did in the relatively short time of two years, to the consternation of Shockley. Shockley, as their supervisor, shared in the glory.

William Shockley Created the Transistor

What Bardeen and Brattain had created was the “point-contact” transistor. Shockley subsequently designed a new type of transistor called the “bipolar” transistor which was superior to the point-contact type and replaced it. Thus the transistor was, in large part, Shockley’s creation.

William Shockley was raised in Palo Alto and did his undergraduate work at the California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech) in Pasadena and went on for his Ph.D. in physics at M.I.T. When he completed his doctorate, specializing in quantum physics, he went to work for Bell Labs.

Shockley had started working in 1936 on the solid-state physics theory that was the basis for the transistor. There was precedent for this type of device.

Shockley’s design, the bipolar transistor, eliminated the delicate, troublesome point contacts.

The early radios had signal detectors which consisted of a fine wire, called a cat’s whisker, impinging upon a galena (lead sulfide) crystal. The radio user had to move the cat’s whisker around upon the germanium crystal to find a suitable point of contact where a radio signal could be picked up. These early radios worked but only imperfectly. Nevertheless, the principle upon which the crystal detector worked was the basis for the “point-contact” transistor. Bardeen and Brattain used germanium instead of galena in that first transistor. They also used the equivalent of cat’s whiskers, but two rather than one. Shockley’s design, the bipolar transistor, eliminated the delicate, troublesome point contacts. Later transistors were made from silicon, a much more common element and one that was protected from corrosion by a thin layer of silicon dioxide.

In 1956 Shockley returned to Palo Alto to found his own company. He brought talented engineers and scientists to his company but he was a very difficult person to work with and ultimately the top staff joined together in leaving the company. Steven Fairchild of Fairchild Camera was induced to create Fairchild Semiconductor for the group.

Fairchild Semiconductor was formed

Fairchild Semiconductor International, Inc. was an American semiconductor company based in San Jose, California. Founded in 1957 as a division of Fairchild Camera and Instrument, it became a pioneer in the manufacturing of transistors and of integrated circuits.

Fairchild sold to National Semiconductor, finally to On

Schlumberger bought the firm in 1979 and sold it to National Semiconductor in 1987;

Fairchild was spun off as an independent company again in 1997.

In September 2016, Fairchild was acquired by ON Semiconductor.


Those were the days when large American corporations like Texas Instruments, Fairchild, Motorola, and National Semiconductor competing on the transistor and diode market.

Now, It was just sad to see the changing hands and consolidation of these corporations.

Nowadays, transistors are made mostly from China now.

The author was the global business manager of the Discrete division of National Semiconductor in Silicon Valley in the late ’80s.

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