Remembering the Transistor

Where there was one, there is now a billion, and they’re called Chips.

And Soon Our Survival Could Depend On Them!

by Wil Wainwright


I always considered myself lucky on being a teenager at the dawn of Rock & Roll. More importantly at the same time the Transistor came along, That was in the mid 50’s. Until then, the work horse of all things electronics was the Vacuum tube. In the beginning they were fist size eventually becoming thumb size like the popular 6AU6 used in just about all table top radios. They were made of glass and had a light bulb type filament inside to excite the electrons within. And they did get hot. They needed both low ac voltage for the filament and high DC voltage to function.

Also during the mid 50’s, having been developed by Bell Labs, the first transistors arrived on the scene at a fraction of the size of a vacuum tube - about the size of an eraser on a pencil. They required no AC,  just low voltage DC - a flash light battery would do, and produced no heat. Do you Remember your first Transistor Radio? It often would say "Six Transistors",  and if you were really cool, it could have even been an Eight Transistor. The first transistor radio was the Regency TR1 (left). It was dubbed as the WORLDS FIRST POCKET RADIO. You may have had the one shown here. It even came in over a half a dozen colors. Its price - $49.95 

About the same time, the first transistors became available for hobbyists. It was the Raytheon CK722, followed by the GE 2N107. An ad in the July 1955 Popular Electronics lists them for $2.50 about the price of a vacuum tube. 

Now think about this. It’s hard to comprehend. If you were to buy a billion of them that would be $2,500,000,000.00. Even with a quantity discount of 75% that would come to $625 Million Dollars! As for the size, of a billion CK722's, I wouldn't even want to calculate.

Why a billion you ask? Just look above right at the 1 Gig Transistor photo chip. It's also called flash memory that can retain data in the absence of power and used in most cameras. It has 1 billion transistors inside! And it cost $8.00. Or another way of looking at it would be 0.0000008 cents for what was $2.50 back in 1955. This confirms electronics get less expensive over time. They also get smaller and less power hungry. 

Common usage of the word Transistor was often used as, and referred to, the transistor radio itself. Now-a-days, you seldom hear the word transistor, it has been replaced by “Chip” for their flat look and multitude of transistors it containes (512 K, 1 Gig etc). 

Lastly, what prompted this dissertation was an article on Apple’s bypassing Intel and making their own Computer chips for iPhones and computers. Their current cutting  edge M1 Max processor chip contains 57 Billion Transistors. Just think of all those electrons, at our instructions, zipping around within a postage stamp size device and calculating all sorts of stuff and streaming us movies in a couple nano seconds. Here we’ve really entered the quantum world.

Soon Our Survival Will Depend On The Chip!

I say this because the Chip has become the catalyst that connects and controls our devices to its electrical source. This was not the case a few decades ago. For instance your car or an elevator in a NY skyscraper, even a pinball machine used electricity but no transistors / chips. Relays did all the work of switching..

The transistor was about 20 year years old when the first practical integrated circuits - chips started to appear.They have given us so much, yet without our knowing, has made us dependent on them and electricity.

Today that lowly transistor is in every chip, aka semi conductor, that are in every computer that is in every new auto and electronic device. Computers run everything, from street lights to dialysis machines. From your appliances down to your electric toothbrush. You may have noticed we haven’t mentioned your iPhone or Tablet /Computer. How would you get through your everyday life without them?

Presently there is a world wide shortage of computer chips. For us in North America, it is especially concerning as most come from Taiwan, South Korea and not so friendly China. You may know that there is a back log of many automobiles as the manufacturers cant get the chips for the computers that are in every car, whether it can drive you or not - whether it is electric or gas.

In an article I’ve written, I describe about how human evolution has evolved, beyond the point where we needed only food & fire, water, shelter and the air we breathe to survive. That wasn’t too long ago. Today you can add electricity to the list. We need it for every little thing, from our recliner and can opener even hearing aids, yet we seldom give all those electrons a second thought except during a power outage or worse, a hurricane. Remember, the bulk of our electric devices, weather practical or recreational are controlled by Chips.

In my article, I’ve written about the many ways the loss of electricity could come about, the least of which is a hurricane, and what you could do to prepare your self for such an eventuality - which is inevitable. Its all here.