Unexplainable.Net

The First Silicon Transistor

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It was late afternoon at a conference for the Institute of Radio Engineers.
Many people giving talks had complained about the current germanium transistors
— they had a bad habit of not working at high temperatures. Silicon, since it’s
right above germanium on the periodic table and has similar properties, might
make a better gadget. But, they said, no one should expect a silicon transistor
for years.

Then Gordon Teal of Texas Instruments stood up to give his talk. He pulled three
small objects out of his pocket and announced: “Contrary to what my colleagues
have told you about the bleak prospects for silicon transistors, I happen to
have a few of them here in my pocket.”

That moment catapulted TI from a small start-up electronics company into a major
player. They were the first company to produce silicon transistors — and
consequently the first company to produce a truly consistent mass-produced
transistor.

Scientists knew about the problems with germanium transistors. Germanium worked,
but it had its mood swings. When the germanium heated up — a natural outcome of
being part of an electrical circuit — the transistor would have too many free
electrons. Since a transistor only works because it has a specific, limited
amount of electrons running around, high heat could stop a transistor from
working altogether.

While still working at Bell Labs in 1950, Teal began growing silicon crystals to
see if they might work better. But just as it had taken years to produce pure
enough germanium, it took several years to produce pure enough silicon. By the
time he succeeded, Teal was working at Texas Instruments. Luring someone as
knowledgeable about crystals as Teal away from Bell proved to be one of the most
important things TI ever did.

On April 14, 1954, Gordon Teal showed TI’s Vice President, Pat Haggerty, a
working silicon transistor. Haggerty knew if they could be the first to sell
these new transistors, they’d have it made. The company jumped into action —
four weeks later when Teal told his colleagues about the silicon transistors in
his pocket, TI had already started production.