back to article Happy birthday, transistor

The transistor, the ubiquitous building block of all electronic circuits, will be 65 years old on Sunday. The device is jointly credited to William Shockley (1910-1989), John Bardeen (1908-1991) and Walter Brattain (1902-1987), and it was Bardeen and Brattain who operated the first working point-contact transistor during an …


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  1. ravenviz Silver badge

    Technology advances

    I'm always fascinated by this "right time" for technology advances when so many can have worked on the same problem at the same time, often independently and release their findings within months.

    As it says on the edge of a £2 coin: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

    1. ian 22

      Re: Technology advances

      I've heard it called 'steam engine time'. Another example is radar, which was invented in 8 different countries prior to WWII, but kept secret by the military.

      Great minds, etc.

      1. Mike Brown

        Re: Technology advances

        Its not that surprising. Everyone is coming from the same starting place, and there is only so many paths to take. Im surprised, especially know with so many people on our planet, that this dosnet cop uo more often

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Technology advances

      Or they all have a look at the same flying saucer wreckage from Roswell.

    3. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. John 62

        Re: Technology advances

        Indeed, it probably was meant as a derogatory comment about Hooke. But like many initially derogatory things, it has come to be used positively, in this case to recognise the work of others.

  2. Efros

    When Patents were meaningful

    For something novel, useful and non obvious to one skilled in the art, the US patent office lost its way.

    1. Fatman

      Re: When Patents were meaningful...the US patent office lost its way.

      What if Apple were to have patented the transistor instead?

      Can you imagine the 'climate' surrounding subsequent developments (CMOS, FETs, integrated circuits, etc) if that were the case???

      I shudder to even contemplate that one! Their battles with Sammy that now encircle the globe would be child's play, compared to the potential fallout from decades of litigation over improvements in technology.

      Thank $DEITY that did not happen!

  3. frank ly

    I remember spreading the legs of a BC107 .....

    ... and getting it to do amazing things for me. Ah, the early '70s, wonderful times.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I remember spreading the legs of a BC107 .....

      In the early 1960s opto-transistors were very expensive. We used to cut the end off the metal cased GET103/104/105 transistors - and cover the hole with clear sticky tape. Mullard OC44/45/71 transistors were solid plastic - but it was possible to clean off the black paint to reveal the translucent body. Then Mullard changed the body material to solid black plastic. Some rectangular transistors had a metal case that had a translucent area round the connecting leads. Used in do-it-youself radios their amplification capability varied when exposed to sunlight.

      Such a DIY AM radio kit in 1960 was advertised in a Sunday newspaper for 25 (?) shillings - and claimed it needed no soldering. There was no circuit board - the "no soldering" was achieved using tiny nuts & bolts to connect the wires together. My father built it - and it failed to work. So instead he proved the advert's claim that "a child could do it" - by giving it to me aged 12. The wonder of the family and neighbours at the sound coming from the small speaker must have been similar to their childhood reaction to the "cat's whisker" crystal sets. So began my life of electronics and problem solving.

      In the late 1960's my pal could knock up a low noise 432mhz converter without any antistatic precautions. Mine were treated with great respect - but rarely survived once the metal "antistatic" shorting clip was removed from the FET's wires. They weren't cheap either.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I remember spreading the legs of a BC107 .....

        "In the late 1960's my pal could knock up a low noise 432mhz converter without any antistatic precautions. "

        Erratum. 432 mhz might have been 144mhz with those early RF four wire FETs. We used germanium GM0290 in the late 1960s for 432mhz - along with pumped varactor diodes for the transmitter.

        1. Anonymous Coward

          Re: I remember spreading the legs of a BC107 .....

          "432 mhz might have been 144mhz with those early RF four wire FETs."

          Actually, I doubt it was either 432mhz or 144mhz - those old parts weren't stable enough to hold an oscillation at a half hertz. It was likely 432MHz or 144MHz.

          (Yes, pedantic, but "m" is the abbreviation for milli, and M is the abbreviation for Mega, and it's Hz, not hz, as it is a proper name.)

      2. Stoneshop Silver badge

        Re: I remember spreading the legs of a BC107 .....

        Mullard OC44/45/71 transistors were solid plastic

        At least one other manufacturer used glass, not unlike a miniature vacuum tube. I remember gingerly cracking one of those, and ending up with a freestanding junction transistor, and a glass tube with a bit of silicone grease in it. I think I made a photo of it, even.

      3. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: I remember spreading the legs of a BC107 .....

        Such a DIY AM radio kit in 1960 was advertised in a Sunday newspaper for 25 (?) shillings - and claimed it needed no soldering. There was no circuit board - the "no soldering" was achieved using tiny nuts & bolts to connect the wires together.

        Fond memories of the various plugboard and spring-board electronics kits I had as a child in the '70s and early '80s. All sorts of things to make out of discrete components and lengths of wire - radios, sound-effect generators, and so on. I remember opening one kit Christmas morning and listening to a "crystal" (unamplified) radio built with it before dinner.

        Ah, well, in a decade or so I'll be getting the granddaughter that year's equivalent of the Raspberry Pi.

  4. Tom 7 Silver badge

    I hate to be picky

    but Invention makes it seem like they knew what they were doing. It was more of a discovery - the bit they invented didn't work but something unforeseen happened.

    A bit like viagra but actually works better in miniature!

    1. Richard 22

      Re: I hate to be picky

      As I understand it they understood what they were doing, it's more that they didn't have the capability to manufacture what they needed in order for it to work reliably.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Didn't the 1928 FET patent implementation have to wait until materials technology had evolved enough to produce the layers?

  6. The last doughnut


    Yeah well I had an idea for a world-wide-web back in the early '90's. But I soon realized that it would only turn out to be a bad thing, what with it being an ideal means to distribute filth. So I quickly canned the idea.

    1. Fungi Legume

      Re: www

      >Yeah well I had an idea for a world-wide-web back in the early '90's

      Yeah well someone else had the same idea in the late 80s, so beat you to that.

      1. bugalugs

        Re: www

        and I booted around the footy oval at Niddrie High School in 1968 addressing the problem of referenda debate and voting, proposing the connection of a keyboard (input) and television (GUI) combination in people's homes to a central computer via the domestic telephone network. I'm sure I'm no orphan in this.

        I decided against pursuing it when further imagineering yielded something not unlike Twitter !

  7. Nigel 11
    IT Angle

    Don't forget Neville Mott

    I've always thiought that the real father of the Field-Effect transistor was Neville Mott (much later Nobel laureate Professor Sir Neville Mott), who sorted out all the theory back in the 1930s. It's a shame that no-one at that time thought to try to make a solid-state valve based on that theory. I think it would have been within the technology of the day.

    Instead technology went a very long way up what turned out to be a blind alley, using current flows through bipolar junction transistors to represent bits, rather than packets of stationary charge on the gates of field-effect transistors. Although it's not impossible that this too will come to be seen as a blind alley once Moore's law has finally hit the limits. The long-term future may be spintronic (ie, the bits stored as the spin states of electrons).

  8. Stevie


    Blind alley, Nigel11? Only if your vision of the transistor is as a switch to be used in a computer.

    Bipolar transistors, and furthermore *Germanium* bipolar transistors are used to this day in high-quality audio amplifiers because they can handle large current excursions without venting Magic Smoke.

    Come to that, there is a burgeoning market in valve (vacuum tube) amps by guitarists who can overdrive the output stages by turning the knobs to 11 to get "appealing" distortion with no fear of cooking off the amplification components - the electron beams just miss the anode if you make 'em bend too far or push 'em back too hard.

    Your world may begin and end with the computer, but for all the talk of "point, click and ship" the world's electronic needs are a bit more involved if it's all going to work.

    Next up: Why dismantling the US Post Office won't be a Good Thing, because even though you shop online using an iPhone the cheapest way to get what you bought in your living room from the warehouse in Goshnoze, Ware to your front door is ... the US Post Office. (Insert appropriate equivalents for UK etc).

    Now, back to my Raspberry Pi for some quality time with subminiature FETs.

    1. Fatman

      Re: venting Magic Smoke

      I had an old Dynaco 120 power amplifier (60w rms X2) that one day released the magic smoke through its perforated metal cover. It was really depressing as I was trying to impress a female with some R&B 'bump and grind' music. She just happened to be looking over at the disc on the turntable (yes, it was THAT long ago), and spotted the dark cloud rising from the amp chassis. Dammed thing kept on working for another 5 minutes, before the power resistor finally split[1], and killed it. Repair guy said that the flaky power transistor used to regulate the 70 volts that went to the finals caused the sacrifice resistor do do its job - burn up, and protect the finals from also giving up the magic smoke.

      [1] The power regulator had a 10 watt resistor that, in the event of a regulator failure (excessive current), would get hot, and break in half, cutting the power to the final power transistors. The alternative was to watch all 4 power transistors 'go up in smoke'TM; which, as compared to a cheap resistor, was an expensive repair. Don't make them like they used to.

  9. Gene Cash Silver badge


    Why does the plaque in the picture say December 23, instead of December 16?

  10. Herby

    Ah, yes point contact transistors...

    Back in my single digit age youth, I put together a single CK722 transistor driven code practice oscillator. It was a wonder to behold. My dad helped me assemble it on a 4" by 4" wood plank, and I plugged in headphones with glee. It wasn't until about 16 years later that I got my license, but I did electronics the entire time.

    The CK722 was produced by Raytheon and was in a little blue package. Mid 50's.

    1. Dishman

      Re: Ah, yes point contact transistors...

      Back in the mid fifties, Mullard made point contact Ge transistors OC50 and OC51. I bought an OC51 for I think about 45 shillings, a lot of money. With a simple circuit it would oscillate and produce a little power in the 1.8 Mc/s Ham band. I used it to contact, using Morse code, quite a few other amateurs.

      A little later, someone from STL gave me some devices with similar characteristics, marked I think LS737.

      Their gain was measured in a common base circuit and called alpha I recall.

  11. Andus McCoatover

    Memory lane again...

    Bloody hell. Remember getiing a ?4763 dual-gate IGFET. came wrapped in tinfoil, with a wire wrapped around its 4 legs. Solder it in, then remove the shorting wire and hope. Expensive. If one measured it in pocket-money weeks, it was a lot! Never blew one, but used a 3N918 FET to demonstrate how sensitive they were. Connected an analogue multimeter to the source and drain, then combed my hair about 1 metre away. my mate was astounded how the needle on it meter thrashed about, like a man posessed!

  12. Framitz
    Thumb Up

    Alien tech?

    I don't think so, but a friend still swears that the transistor is reverse engineered alien technology.

    What he doesn't seem to realize is that the vacuum tube is far crazier when you understand the theory.

  13. Alan Brown Silver badge

    I always wondered

    Why it was called "Base"

  14. Anonymous Coward

    Dangerous heat

    In the early 70's I tried to build a Theremin from a design out of an electronics magazine. I etched and drilled a circut board like they indicated, got all the required parts, and proceeded to cook half the transistors with my clumsy soldering. It would have helped if someone had mentioned something about heat sinks. This was in an actual electronics class at school, and right then I first realized the level of incompetence/indifference that exists in schools.

  15. Mr Young

    I'm meant to be on holiday...

    and you guys are giving it transistor porn!

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