Flashback 1950: Transistor Receives U.S. Patent

Sixty-six years ago this week AT&T Bell Laboratories researchers John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley were granted a U.S. Patent for a device that would become a fundamental building block of modern electronics for decades to come—the transistor.

Looking for a way to improve clunky electromechanical relays and vacuum tubes in telephone switching equipment—work that had started 11 years earlier—the inventors amplified an electrical signal with a solid-state device—the point-contact transistor—for the first in December 1947 at AT&T Bell Telephone Laboratories in Murray Hill, NJ.

Six months later, the team held a press conference and demonstration in New York City to introduce the transistor. The event was celebrated on the September 1948 cover of Electronics magazine (see above) with the caption “Revolutionary Amplifier: The Crystal Triode.”

You can read an account of the events leading up to the historic demonstration here.

The transistor was the most significant advance in electronics technology at the time as it would replace bulky vacuum tubes, which made possible portable products like the Regency transistor radio shown here.

The use of transistors set the stage for development of the integrated circuits and microchips that led to rapid advances in electronic and computer technology.

As This Day in Tech History’s Marcel Brown put it: “Every industry that utilizes technology, from communications to computers to space travel to video games to media, owes a great deal to the development of the transistor.”

Share your thoughts and remembrances about this landmark accomplishment and the many products it spawned. Pictures of vintage transistor radios encouraged!