Shockley Semiconductor

Shockley Semiconductor and Fairchild

In 1955, William Shockley, co-inventor of the transistor, decided to found Shockley Semiconductor to build transistors, after leaving the Bell Labs. The new firm was seated in Palo Alto in Santa Clara County, California, where he had grown up. Shockley man aged to hire eight of the best scientists from the East Coast, who were attracted by his scientific reputation. These talented young men - "the cream of electronics research" -represented the "greatest collection of electronics genius ever assembled". Thei r names were: Julius Blank, Victor Grinich, Eugene Kleiner, Jean Hoerni, Jay Last, Gordon Moore, Robert Noyce and Sheldon Roberts.)

But however brilliant Shockley was, who was called a "marvellous intuitive problem solver" and a "tremendous generator of ideas" by Robert Noyce, it soon turned out that he was "hard as hell to work with", as his style was "oppressive" and he "didn't have trust and faith in other individuals.")

When Shockley refused the suggestions of his eight engineers who wanted to concentrate on silicon transistors, while their boss pursued research on four-layer diodes, they decided to quit and start their own firm in 1957.

Within several months Shockley had to shut down his firm, since he had lost his engineers, whom he called traitors and they are now known as "the Traitorous Eight".

Although Shockley was not very successful with his firm in Palo Alto, he "deserves credit for starting the entrepreneurial chain-reaction that launched the semiconductor industry in Silicon Valley,") since he had brought together excellent scientists ther e like Robert Noyce without whom there might never have been a Silicon Valley on the San Francisco Peninsula at all. Or as M.Malone calls it, "Shockley put the last stone in place in the construction of Silicon Valley.")

The father of one of those young men who left Shockley had contacts to a New York investment firm, which sent a young executive named Arthur Rock to secure financing for their new enterprise. Rock asked a lot of companies, if they were interested in backin g this project, but has not been successful so far. The concept of investing money in new technology ventures was largely unknown then, and indeed the term "venture capital" itself wouldn't be coined until 1965") - by Arthur Rock, who should become Silico n Valley's first and most famous venture capitalist later on.

Finally, due to Rock's efforts, the "Traitorous Eight" managed to obtain financial support from industrialist Sherman Fairchild to start Fairchild Semiconductor in 1957.

Fairchild Semiconductor was spinned off by Shockley's firm, and as the "still existing granddaddy of them all") has itself spawned scores of other companies in Silicon Valley: Most semiconductor firms' roots can be traced back to Fairchild. The most famo us ones of them are National Semiconductor, Intel, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD); and many well-known Valley leaders have worked at Fairchild, e.g. Charlie Sporck (National Semiconductor), Jerry Sanders (AMD's founder), Jean Hoerni, and last but not least R obert Noyce, who is considered the "Mayor of Silicon Valley") due to his overwhelming success.

Robert Noyce was born in southwestern Iowa in 1927. His father was a preacher in the Congregational Church and thus was "perpetually on the move to new congregations, his family in tow.") When the Noyces decided to stay at the college town of Grinnell, Io wa, for a longer period of time after many years of moving, this place meant stability in young Bob's life and thus would become his first and only real home, which he would later regard as important for his eventual success.

After high school, Robert studied at Grinnell College. His physics professor had been in contact with John Bardeen (one of the three inventors of the transistor) and obtained two of the first transistors in 1948, which he presented his students, including Bob Noyce. This aroused young Robert's interest in semiconductors and transistors, which made him try to learn everything he could get about this fascinating field of solid state physics.

Having graduated from Grinnell College he continued his studies at "the premier school of science on the East Coast, MIT,") where he met famous scientists like Shockley. He received his doctorate, and decided to work at Philco until 1955, when he was invi ted by William Shockley to join a new firm named "Shockley Semiconductor" in Santa Clara County - together with seven other splendid scientists.

When the so-called "Shockley Eight" started a new venture with Fairchild Semiconductor, Robert Noyce began "his own transformation from engineer to business manager:") He was chosen to lead the new company as he seemed the best to do this job.

Fairchild Semiconductor focused on building a marketable silicon transistor applying a new manufacturing process called "mesa". Despite being the smallest company in electronics business then, it attracted public attention, particularly in 1958, when "Big Blue" - as dominant IBM is nicknamed - ordered the "first-ever mesa silicon transistors") for memory drivers in its computers.

This order contributed to the early success of Fairchild Semiconductor, and indicated the beginning of a long relationship between IBM and Silicon Valley.

Martin Groeger
Last modified: Mon Jul 8 05:17:30 PDT