“Foundations of the Information Age: Invention of the Transistor” was part of a series of short films produced by Bell Labs in the 1980s, on developments in tech that led to the information age.
December 16, 1947, was a milestone at Bell Labs never to be repeated. The invention of the transistor in the laboratory of John Bardeen and Walter Brattain under team leader William Shockley, it’s a tale often told in minutiae. But what happened after the transistor’s invention? How does a significant technological advance get developed, re-researched, marketed, and prepared for mass production? This timeline shows some of the pacing, publishing, patenting, and other advances that would take place at Bell Labs after that important date. (Part II of the timeline)
Dec. 16, 1947
John Bardeen and Walter Brattain’s research as part of the team headed by William Shockley culminated in the creation of the first successful semiconductor amplifier, later called the point-contact transistor. On this date, they first achieved any kind of amplification with their transistor prototype. See Brattain’s notebook pages from this date.
Dec 23, 1947
Demonstration of the point-contact transistor to select Bell Labs executives and staff. More notes on the invention were taken on/around this day.
January 23, 1948
Shockley noted in his notebook the conception of a different type of transistor, one based on the p-n junction discovered earlier in semiconducting materials by Bell Labs scientist Russell Ohl in 1940.
January 30, 1948
Scientist John N. Shive, on the semiconductor research team, discovered he could get the same triode effect with a thin layer of germanium in the assembly. This proved that the electrons passed through the germanium, not around the surface or edge as previously posited.
Bell Labs scientist Richard Haynes did an experiment on germanium, showing that current could flow through the semiconductor.
February 18, 1948
In an internal meeting at Bell Labs, physicists John Shive and Joseph A. Becker revealed that they had tested a successful transistor design using a thin wedge of germanium. This was the impetus William Shockley needed to reveal the junction transistor concept he had been working on, which he promptly did.
February 26, 1948
AT&T filed four preliminary patents on semiconductor amplifiers. Three of the patents were William Shockley’s; one was the work of Bardeen and Brattain.
May 28, 1948
Committee ballot for naming of transistor circulated within Bell Labs. John Robinson Pierce’s suggestion is the one that is voted in.
June 17, 1948
Brattain and Bardeen’s point-contact transistor patent applied for.
June 26, 1948
Shockley’s P/N Junction transistor patent(s) filed for. Two were rejected.
June 30, 1948
Bell Labs publicly announced the revolutionary solid-state device at a press conference in New York on June 30, 1948. Bell Labs research director Ralph Bown gave the announcement.
July 1, 1948
Press release in conjunction with press conference transmitted to newspapers and magazines.
July 15, 1948
John Bardeen and Walter Brattain publish "The Transistor, a Semi-Conductor Triode" in Physical Review 74.
July 15, 1948
John Bardeen and Walter Brattain publish "Nature of the Forward Current in Germanium point Contacts " in Physical Review 74.
July 15, 1948
William Shockley and G.L. Pearson publish " Modulation of Conductance of Thin Films of Semiconductors by Surface Charges" in Physical Review 74.
Footage courtesy of AT&T Archives and History Center, Warren, NJ