Vacuum tubes and electromechanical switches were used to complete electrical circuits before the invention of transistors. The tubes were far from perfect and had to warm up before they worked and overheated occasionally (Riordan). They were unreliable, bulky, and a waste of energy. After World War II, scientists began searching for an alternate piece to use in place of the vacuum tubes. Ironically, they found their answer in work that was done decades earlier. The research was first developed by a Polish American physicist named Julius Liniefeld in the late 1920’s (Riordan). This physicist created a three electrode device out of copper sulfide (Riordan). This research helped to develop the modern field effect transistor which is the main component in silicon chips.
The Bell Telephone System needed a better component to replace the vacuum tubes to keep its communications systems working. A man named William Shockley was the director of transistor research in 1947 at Bell Telephone Labs. The team chose to use the element germanium to create a amplifying circuit which is also called a point-contact transistor (Riordan). Shockley improved on the idea by developing the junction transistor. Junction transistors use the contact of two types of semiconductor for its operation (Riordan). One year later Bell Labs announced that they had invented working transistors. This advancement in technology allowed other scientists and product engineers to have far greater control over the flow of electricity (Riordan).
The Bell Lab team had not yet created a name for it’s new invention and was struggling to think of one. The first name used when the invention was announced to the world was the Semiconductor amplifier; three electrode circuit element utilizing semi conductive materials. Obviously this name needed to be replaced and a generic name for the invention needed to be created. Suggestions for this name included Semiconductor Triode, Crystal Triode, and Lotatron. The term “transistor” was thought of by a man named John Pierce and is now what the device is most commonly referred to as.
The transistor radio was one of the first instruments to use the power of the new transistors. The use of transistors instead of vacuum tubes as the amplifier allowed for the device to be much smaller and also require much less power to run than a tube radio (Pies). The first transistor radios were produced by Texas Instruments but the transistor radios made by this company were not a practical substitute in quality to a regular battery tube model (Pies). The first commercially successful transistor radios were produced by Regency TR-1 and Sony (Schmittroth). Transistors work primarily as switches and amplifiers so their main use was in sound related devices. In 1952 hearing aids with transistors in them hit the market and were very successful.
The first ever transistor computer was built by Dick Grimsdale at the University of Manchester in 1953. Once hearing aids and transistor radios became popular engineers realized that transistors could replace the vacuum tubes in computers as well. Transistors are the reason why we now have laptops instead of room sized stationary computers. One of the first non transistor computers weighed close to thirty tons thanks to the vast amount of vacuum tubes necessary for it to run. Transistors would completely change computer engineering and result in smaller machines. While