We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

To the Digital Age

Research Labs, Start-up Companies, and the Rise of MOS Technology

Ross Knox Bassett

Publication Year: 2002

The metal-oxide-semiconductor (MOS) transistor is the fundamental element of digital electronics. The tens of millions of transistors in a typical home—in personal computers, automobiles, appliances, and toys—are almost all derive from MOS transistors. To the Digital Age examines for the first time the history of this remarkable device, which overthrew the previously dominant bipolar transistor and made digital electronics ubiquitous. Combining technological with corporate history, To the Digital Age examines the breakthroughs of individual innovators as well as the research and development power (and problems) of large companies such as IBM, Intel, and Fairchild. Bassett discusses how the MOS transistor was invented but spurned at Bell Labs, and then how, in the early 1960s, spurred on by the possibilities of integrated circuits, RCA, Fairchild, and IBM all launched substantial MOS R & D programs. The development of the MOS transistor involved an industry-wide effort, and Bassett emphasizes how communication among researchers from different firms played a critical role in advancing the new technology. Bassett sheds substantial new light on the development of the integrated circuit, Moore's Law, the success of Silicon Valley start-ups as compared to vertically integrated East Coast firms, the development of the microprocessor, and IBM's multi-billion-dollar losses in the early 1990s. To the Digital Age offers a captivating account of the intricate R & D process behind a technological device that transformed modern society.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Series: Johns Hopkins Studies in the History of Technology

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (84.1 KB)
pp. ix-xii

As I pen the last words of a project that has been on my mind for the better part of two decades, I take great joy in acknowledging the many people and institutions that have enabled me to reach this point. This book had its formal origins as a doctoral dissertation in the Program in History of Science at Princeton University. My advisor, Michael Mahoney, has been a strong supporter of this ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (95.9 KB)
pp. 1-11

The MOS (metal-oxide-semiconductor) transistor, the fundamental element in digital electronics, is the base technology of late-twentieth-century and early-twenty-first-century America. Through it digital electronics have entered almost every area of American life, first through the calculator, then through the digital watch, and finally through the microprocessor. The rise of the MOS ...

read more

1. How a Bad Idea Became Good (to Some): THE EMERGENCE OF THE MOS TRANSISTOR, 1945 – 1963

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.1 MB)
pp. 12-56

The story of the origins of the MOS transistor is the story of how a bad idea became good (to some). Even though the MOS transistor showed striking resemblances to structures Bell Labs scientists had proposed in their investigations that led to the invention of the transistor in 1947, the formal announcement of the MOS transistor’s existence as a potentially useful technology did ...

read more

2. Back from the Frontier: IBM RESEARCH AND THE FORMATION OF THE LSI PROGRAM, 1951 – 1965

pdf iconDownload PDF (192.9 KB)
pp. 57-78

RCA and Fairchild did not have the MOS transistor to themselves for long; they were soon joined by others, most notably IBM Research. The MOS transistor’s attractiveness to IBM Research had much to do with the history of this large but relatively new research lab. Between 1945 and 1963, IBM’s research capabilities underwent a profound transformation. What had been a modest group, with ...

read more

3. Development at Research: THE RESEARCH PHASE OF IBM’S MOS PROGRAM, 1963 – 1967

pdf iconDownload PDF (217.1 KB)
pp. 94-121

IBM Research’s managers had argued for conducting an MOS program that blurred the distinction between research and development, which was how the program was carried out at the working level. Research’s most important contribution was not its scientific skills but its role as an incubator for the nascent MOS technology. At a time when the immature MOS technology was ...

read more

4. MOS in a Bipolar Company: FAIRCHILD AND THE MOS TRANSISTOR, 1963 – 1968

pdf iconDownload PDF (334.3 KB)
pp. 107-138

From 1963 to 1968 Fairchild succeeded in developing a scientific understanding of MOS structures but utterly failed in developing an MOS business. Fairchild’s MOS program faced difficulties common throughout the industry, such as the challenge of finding a role for the new technology and the difficulties of making stable MOS transistors. But the crucial problem in Fairchild’s MOS ...

read more

5. It Takes an Industry: THE MOS COMMUNITY

pdf iconDownload PDF (343.5 KB)
pp. 139-166

Although the fate of the MOS transistor ultimately hinged on its success or failure at specific companies, its development was a cooperative effort, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not, between companies who were nominally competitors. This industrywide effort had the potential to benefit all who were working on MOS, both through transfers of information and through the cre- ...

read more

6. The End of Research: INTEL AND THE MOS TRANSISTOR, 1968 – 1975

pdf iconDownload PDF (402.1 KB)
pp. 167-209

The year 1968 was pivotal in American history. The country was in almost constant turmoil for the first eight months of the year, from the Tet offensive beginning in January, to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in April, to the assassination of Robert Kennedy in June, to the riots at the Democratic convention in August. The election of Richard Nixon marked the end of a ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (377.5 KB)
pp. 210-250

Intel, a small start-up, had a very tight organization with very few technology transfer problems. Its MOS process was developed in the same run-down Mountain View building where it would be manufactured. At IBM, the establishment of MOS memory technology involved at least five different sites and the transfer of people and technologies across thousands of miles. IBM’s MOS ...

read more

8. The Logic of MOS: INTEL AND THE MICROPROCESSOR, 1968 – 1975

pdf iconDownload PDF (361.8 KB)
pp. 251-281

Like IBM, Intel had problems developing MOS logic products. Intel finally circumvented those problems, and the emergence of what is now known as the microprocessor stands as one of the milestones in the history of the MOS transistor. While memory was the largest early market for MOS technology, here it replaced magnetic core memories in established computer families. The micro- ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (289.8 KB)
pp. 282-308

Although the semiconductor industry had clearly established MOS technology by 1975, one could assess its impact in two different ways. If one were to focus on its present accomplishments, one would see a niche technology that had made some new things possible but that had had little effect on either these miconductor or the computer industries. On the other hand, if one were to ...

Appendix 1: Organizational Charts

pdf iconDownload PDF (509.5 KB)
pp. 309-316

Appendix 2: Sources for Tables

pdf iconDownload PDF (50.8 KB)
pp. 317-318


pdf iconDownload PDF (660.6 KB)
pp. 319-398

read more

Essay on Sources

pdf iconDownload PDF (135.0 KB)
pp. 399-412

A large body of work exists on the history of semiconductor technology, but it is uneven, reflecting the writers’ diverse backgrounds as historians, journalists, participants, and economists. This is reflected in the only two works that deal with the history of the MOS transistor at any length. George Gilder’s Microcosm: The Quantum Revolution in Economics and Technology (New York: Simon and ...


pdf iconDownload PDF (765.2 KB)
pp. 413-421

E-ISBN-13: 9780801873492
E-ISBN-10: 0801873495
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801886393
Print-ISBN-10: 0801886392

Page Count: 440
Illustrations: 4 halftones, 26 line drawings
Publication Year: 2002

Series Title: Johns Hopkins Studies in the History of Technology