Chance, Courage, or Treason? – “The Traitorous Eight” and The Rise of the Semiconductor Industry

In the 1950’s, in Mountain View, California, the area that one day would become the heart of the Silicon Valley, the brilliant scientist William B. Shockley, put together a team of young developers to realize the idea of a transistor for the first time. A milestone in the development of the computer chip. In 1956, William B. Shockley won the Nobel Prize in Physics and founded Shockley Semiconductors. Shockley and the young engineers and scientists who joined him to work in his company had a vision to accelerate the developing semiconductor industry.

In a way, they succeeded, but not in the way William B. Shockley had imagined. Just a year after founding his company, in 1957, eight of the engineers left Shockley in an argument because they had disagreed with his management style. Even if the physicist William Shockley, was a brilliant scientist who brought the semiconductor and transistor to mankind, his brilliance ended in guiding people.

The eight engineers, whom their former boss referred to as “The Traitorous Eight”, founded Fairchild Semiconductors, which itself became an early success story in computer history and laid the foundation for today’s Silicon Valley. At Fairchild Semiconductor, they managed to combine integrated circuits with multiple transistors, resistors and diodes on one chip. The company quickly gained reputation. In 1960 the company’s sales were over $ 20 million and Fairchild Semiconductor Corporation was recognized as a leader in the field of transistors. The company’s founders kept up their pace of innovation.[1]

It was Jean Hoerni – one of the founders of the Fairchild Semiconductor Corporation – who discovered that a silicon oxide layer on the silicon wafers reduced impurities in the manufacturing process. The transistors were cut from the silicon wafers. Robert Noyce, another founder of Fairchild, drove the development of Hoerni even further. He realized that it is not necessary to cut the silicon wafers: the individual components can be placed on the wafers and connected by conductive material. Noyce used this idea to develop a process for the production of the early integrated circuits – or chips.[2]

Starting in 1961, the Fairchild Semiconductor Corporation sold integrated circuit chips for $ 120 each. Thanks to the Apollo program, sales were also good: a million integrated circuits were purchased for the moon landing project, the majority of them from Fairchild Semiconductor Corporation.[3]

The eight founders also included Gordon Moore, known for his “Moore’s Law”, which called for the number of transistors to double every two years.

In just a few years, one company had grown to 65 companies, without which computer history would have been inconceivable. In total, at least 2,000 companies can be traced back to Fairchild Semiconductors so far.[4]

Who would have thought that the founding of the company Fairchild Semiconductor, the courage, resistance, and the collaboration of the “treacherous eight” would change the world in such a way?

Did you know about the history of the semiconductor industry? Comment and share your perspective on this story. We would appreciate it.


[1] Nenni, Daniel & McLellan, Paul (2019) The Transformation of The Semiconductor Industry.
Retrieved from: https://semiwiki.com/books/Fabless%202019%20Version%20PDF.pdf
[2] Slome, Wade W. (2016 March 13) The Traitorous 8 and Birth of Silicon Valley. Retrieved from:
https://investingcaffeine.com/2016/03/13/the-traitorous-8-and-birth-of-silicon-valley/
[3] Laws, David (2019 July 17) Silicon Chips Take The Man To The Moon. Retrieved from: https://computerhistory.org/blog/silicon-chips-take-man-to-the-moon/
[4]Nuttall, Chris (2007 October 30) Silicon Valley’s founding fathers. Retrieved from:
https://www.ft.com/content/fda6ced0-8706-11dc-a3ff-0000779fd2ac

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