Fairchild Semiconductor

Fairchild Semiconductor introduced the first commercially available integrated circuit (although at almost the same time as one from Texas Instruments), and would go on to become one of the major players in the evolution of Silicon Valley in the 1960s. In the 1970s Fairchild increasingly turned to "high end" customers, and thereby lost out in the developing microprocessor market. By the late 1980s the company was in a relatively-weak competitive position, and was purchased by National Semiconductor. In 1997 Fairchild Semiconductor was reborn as an independent company, based in South Portland, Maine. In 1999 Fairchild Semiconductor again became a publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange with the ticker symbol FCS. Fairchild's South Portland, Maine location is the longest continuously operating semiconductor manufacturing facility in the world.


In 1956 William Shockley opened Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory as a division of Beckman Instruments in Mountain View; his plan was to develop a new type of "4-layer diode" that would work faster and have more uses than current transisors. At first he attempted to hire some of his former colleagues from Bell Labs, but none were willing to move to the west coast, or more likely, work with Shockley any more. Instead he found the core of a new company in the best and brightest new graduates coming out of the engineering schools.

Only a year later the staff was already fed up with Shockley's increasingly bizarre management style. In one famous incident Shockley's secretary cut her finger and he became convinced it was a plot to injure him; he ordered everyone in the company to take a lie detector test to track down the culprit. It was later demonstrated she had cut herself on a broken thumbtack and Shockley calmed down, but the damage was already done: this had proven to be a decisive example to several key personnel of Shockley's increasing paranoia, and a group of engineers decided they had had enough.

Arnold Beckman, who had put up the money for Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory, decided that Shockley should be removed from the day-to-day operations and started looking for a office manager. This simply served to anger Shockley, who felt he was being sold out by the very person that he was working for. Two months later Beckman changed his mind and backed Shockley as the director once again.

The group later known widely as the Traitorous Eight decided that was all of the reason that they needed to resign, and all did so. The eight men were Julius Blank, Victor Grinich, Jean Hoerni, Eugene Kleiner, Jay Last, Gordon Moore, Robert Noyce, and Sheldon Roberts. Looking for funding on their own project, they turned to Fairchild Camera and Instrument, an Eastern U.S. company with considerable military contracts. In 1957 Fairchild Semiconductor was started with plans on making silicon transistors — at the time germanium was still a common material for semiconductor use.

Their first transistors were soon on the market, and the first batch of 100 was sold to IBM for $150 a piece. However only two years later they had managed to build a circuit with four transistors on a single wafer of silicon, thereby creating the first silicon integrated circuit (TI's Jack S. Kilby had developed an integrated circuit made of germanium on September 12, 1958, and was awarded a U.S. patent). The company grew from twelve to twelve thousand employees, and was soon making $130 million a year.

During the 1960s many of the original founders would leave Fairchild to strike out on their own. Known as the "fairchildren", they formed many of the companies that grew to prominence in the 1970s. Among the last of the original founders to leave were Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore, who left in 1968 to form Intel. At this point much of the brainpower of the company was gone.

Intel would soon introduce its microprocessor, which Fairchild only copied, poorly, after a few years as the Fairchild F8. Their original huge lead was now squandered. By the end of the 1970s they had no new products in the pipeline, and increasingly turned to niche markets with their existing product line, notably "hardened" integrated circuits for military and space applications.

For a time, the company played a leading role in the development of integrated circuits using bipolar technology. These circuits were used worldwide, for example, in the Cray supercomputers.

In 1976 the company released the first video game system to use ROM cartridges, the Channel F.

More recently, Fairchild has expanded its semiconductor Manufacturing to include a foundry service for advanced MEMS devices and products.

[Schlumberger purchased some divisions]

[Lawsuit with Data General? ]

[2005 Fairchild Chronicles released on DVD]


Robert Noyce -- Gordon Moore -- Jean Hoerni -- Jim Early -- Lester Hogan -- Eugene Kleiner -- Jerry Sanders -- Frank Wanlass --de:Fairchild Semiconductor


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