Fairchild Semiconductor

From Computer History Wiki
Jump to: navigation, search

Fairchild Semiconductor was an important semiconductor company in the creation of the IC industry (with all its consequences), and of Silicon Valley.

It was founded in October, 1957 by a group of 8 engineers (led by Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore) who had been working at Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory. Becoming dissatisfied by William Shockley's focus on research, rather than products, they decided to leave; but since they enjoyed working with each other, they decided to offer themselves as a team. No existing company was interested, but contact with Sherman Fairchild, of Fairchild Camera and Instrument, led to the latter agreeing to set up a new subsidiary for them.

Initially, starting in March, 1958, they produced analog devices, using a photolithographic manufacturing process; their first product was a silicon transistor (first sold to IBM). Later, diodes were added to their product line. In March, 1959, they switched to a planar approach for their products' internal structure - a switch that would soon stand them in good stead.

In the late 1950's, a number of organizations became interested in micro-electronics; that is, creating multiple semiconductor devices in a single block of silicon. These promised to be cheaper and more reliable, since limited or no (depending on the method used to connect the internal devices) manual assembly would be required. Noyce realized that the planar process would be good for such devices, and in July, 1959 he filed several patents on parts of his conceived technique. At the end of 1959, they started work on producing devices along these lines, and the first working one was produced in May, 1960. It was physically brittle, and therefore not robust; but a different, better approach produced usable chips in December, 1960.

Internal dissension arose between people on the production side, who wanted the engineers to focus on improving the existing product lines, and the engineers, who could see the promise of micro-electronics. The takeover of the semiconductor firm by the Fairchild parent led to increased unhappiness; starting in January, 1961, Fairchild engineers started to leave for other companies. Eventually, hundreds of companies in Silicon Valley (nicknamed 'the Fairchildren') could trace their lineage to Fairchild Semiconductor; most notably, perhaps, Intel.

Further reading

  • Christophe Lecuyer, David C. Brock, Makers of the Microchip: A Documentary History of Fairchild Semiconductor, MIT Press, Cambridge, 2010 - a detailed technical history with many reproductions of original documents

External links