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Point C. 1967: First integrated circuit

Jack Kilby of Texas Instruments developed the first integrated circuit, which became commercial in Texas Instruments hand held IC calculator.

Although the transistor completely revolutionized electronics, but they introduced new problems to be overcome. These small transistors and their low voltages allowed for more complex circuits be be built, except for a problem called the “tyranny of numbers.” There were two parts to this problem:

First, when building a circuit it is very important that all connections are good. If a connection is broken, current won’t flow and the circuit fails. Soldering all the many tiny components by hand made it virtually impossible to get them all correct.

Second, complex circuits such as those for computers are very dependent on speed. But too many components and too many wires joining them slow the electrical signals down too much to be effective.

Then in 1958, Jack Kilby, who had been newly hired by Texas Instruments, found himself alone in the lab because everyone else had vacations, but as a new hire, he didn’t. So he set about trying to solve the tyranny of numbers problem.

The results, he developed the first integrated circuit, where he put all the components of a complex circuit on a single block of semiconductor material. In September of 1958 he was allowed to build the first integrated circuit (IC), and it worked perfectly.

Kilby’s integrated circuit first was used by the US military with projects like the Minuteman Missile in 1962. However, TI recognizing they needed to demonstrate how valuable these were in a bigger market. So Patrick Haggerty, a former TI chairman, challenged Kilby to design a calculator as powerful as the large, electro-mechanical desktop models of the day, but small enough to fit in a coat pocket.

The result was that in 1967 TI produced the first IC electronic hand-held calculator. It was battery-powered, could handle six-digit numbers, and performed the four basic arithmetic functions +, –, x, and /.

The IC overcame the tyranny of numbers that prevented practical use of transistors for computers, so now these could be our devices.

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Last updated: February 19, 2014
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