Fairchild Semiconductor was a division of Fairchild Camera and Instrument, formed in 1957, that 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 they were a shell of their former selves, and now exists in name only for a fab on the US east coast.


In 1956 William Shockley opened Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory in Palo Alto; his plan was to introduce 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 perhaps 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; and ordered everyone in the company to take a lie detector test. It was later demonstrated she had cut herself on a broken thumbtack, but this proved to be the straw that broke the camel's back, 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. But this simply served to anger Shockley, who felt he was being sold out. 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 that, and all quit. The eight men were Julius Blank, Victor Grinich, Jean Hoerni, Eugene Kleiner, Jay Last, Gordon Moore, Robert Noyce, and Sheldon Roberts. Given funding by Fairchild, an eastern-US company with considerable military contracts, they formed Fairchild Semiconductor 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. 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 the microprocessor, which Fairchild only copied, poorly, after a few years as the Fairchild F8. Their original lead was now squandered, and 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 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.

[Schlumberger purchased some divisions]

[Lawsuit with Data General? ]


Robert Noyce -- Gordon Moore -- Jean Hoerni -- Jim Early -- Lester Hogan -- Eugene Kleiner -- Jerry Sanders --