The Greatest Milestones In Electronics History

Silicon - Its All Sand!

Silicon – “It’s All Sand!”

Before you begin reading..

This is not about

  • People trying out stuff they made in their basements.
  • People fighting over patents.
  • Inventions of gadgets like the Toshiba Satellite Pro S300.
  • Time, Dates and Weather Reports of days in electronics history.

This is about

  • Inventions that changed the electronics industry forever.
  • Inventions that form the very basics of modern electronics.
  • Inventions that every electronics engineer should know.

J.J. Thomson


Electronics is the ability to control electron flow. It is nothing without the electron. The discovery of the electron marks the birth of electronics itself. If we waive off the Greeks, the Latin & the German, then its safe to say that the electron was discovered by J.J. Thomson when he was playing around in the interiors of the atom. He first discovered the cathode rays. He conceptualized them to be made up of particles smaller than the atom-which were then called the electrons.


The First Thermionic Valve was invented in 1904 by John Fleming. The thermionic diode is slightly different from the semiconductor diode. Though both perform the same function-allowing current to pass through in one direction-The thermionic diode has a cathode and an anode just like the semiconductor diodes have the p and the n junctions. Even before the invention(since 1874), certain crystals were known to have rectifying abilities. Diodes were initially just referred to as rectifiers.

Rectifier Valves

Rectifier Valves

Lee De Forest

Lee De Forest


The diode valve and the triode valve are both thermionic valves-the diode valve has two electrodes and the triode vale has three. The first triode valve was invented by Lee De Forest in 1906. These valves were the major components of radios for many years(were later replaced by transistors). For this reason, the guy is called ‘The Father Of Radio’. As a matter of fact, he gave himself the title but was never really recognized by the people as ‘The Father Of Radio’. This was largely due to the controversies surround him.

The 3 element vacuum tube was made by adding a control grid to Fleming’s valve. The device was called ‘The Audion’ with which we could control the electron flow. The Audion however, could not provide electronic amplification. However, it formed the basis of the electronic amplifying triode.

The Electrical Experimenter, August 1916. Volume 4.


In 1947, the first transistor was made. It was a  point contact transistor which could amplify electric signals. It was invented at Bell Labs by William Shockley(“the father of the transistor”) along with John Bardeen and Walter Brattain. The term transistor was coined by John R. Pierce.

The way I provided the name, was to think of what the device did. And at that time, it was supposed to be the dual of the vacuum tube. The vacuum tube had transconductance, so the transistor would have ‘transresistance.’ And the name should fit in with the names of other devices, such as varistor and thermistor. And. . . I suggested the name ‘transistor.’

-John R. Pierce, interviewed for PBS show “Transistorized!”


It was in 1954 when Gordon Teal at Texas Instruments created the first Commercial Silicon Transistor. He announced the production of the first Silicon Transistors at a presentation. He started the presentation like usual technical paper presentations without disclosing the achievement. He then amazed the crowd by playing Artie Shaw’s “Summit Ridge Drive.” on a Silicon Transistor. He first played the same music on a Germanium Transistor to bring out the difference. Gordon Teal began his research at Texas Instruments after leaving Bell Labs. Previous studies and inventions were already booming at Bell labs. But perhaps, Bell Labs did not consider it a device too fancy for commercial production.


Jack Kibly was da man of 58′. He invented the first Integrated Circuit(IC) while working for Texas Instruments. He is also the daddy of the first handheld calculator & the first thermal printer. There were transistors already, and transistors needed connecting wires. To reduce the sizes further, they needed to integrate the transistor, the wires and everything else together. Jack Kibly got the idea to make all the components like the resistor, capacitor and the transistor from a single Silicon crystal. This increased performance and reduced costs. The components were close to each other and hence-required much less power supply & showed high switching speeds.


In 1971, Intel introduces the first CPU on a chip-the first Microprocessor. Named The Intel 4004, it was a 4-bit CPU and was the first commercially available microprocessor. A microprocessor is a single Integrated Circuit that performs all the functions of the CPU. The invention further reduced the chip size leading to better performance and reduced costs. Microprocessors are now  apart of almost every electronic device. From small embedded systems to supercomputers-they are an essential component-the heart of all devices.

(The Intel 4004-Image Credit)


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Founder at Durofy. Blogs on technology & startups, runs a full service digital agency, teaches AP Calculus.