A transistor is a suitably arranged and connected piece of semi-conductor,
which can amplify an electric signal; it can also be used for switching
and for signal detection. It can therefore perform the same functions
as a vacuum tube or an electronic valve, as the British called it.
It is, however, much smaller, lighter and robust, and consumes considerably
less power than a vacuum tube.
The invention of the transistor has made the chip possible, and
with it, the construction of ever smaller and more reliable devices
such as computers. It opened the field of information processing
by orders of magnitude and truly ushered in the "information
The conception of the Transistor depended on the close collaboration
of three people working together at Bell Telephone Laboratories.
They shared the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1956 for its invention.
born May 23, 1908 in Madison, Wisconsin, joined Bell Research
after World War II to carry out research on the electron-conducting
properties of semiconductors.
William Bradford Shockley, born Feb.
13, 1910 in London, joined Bell in 1936 and was its director of
transistor physics research after World War II.
Walter H. Brattain, born
in China in 1902, was a research physicist for Bell Telephone Laboratory
since 1929. His chief field of research involved the surface properties
of solids, particularly in terms of atomic structure.
Shoot for the stars! is the advice given to ambitious young people.
Goddard heeded it, literally, and we succeeded!
It took time though, and effort at overcoming that kind of prejudice
so often classified as "common sense." The New York Times
commented thus on his work in its editorial of January 13, 1920:
"That Professor Goddard ... does not know the relation
of action to reaction, and of the need to have something better
than a vacuum against which to react–to say that would be
absurd. Of course, he only seems to lack the knowledge ladled
daily in high schools."
49 Years later - it obviously takes time for leeching out the "knowledge"
ladled out in High School to the New York Times Editors–on
July 17, 1969, the day Apollo 11 took off for the moon, the Times
"Further investigation and experimentation have confirmed
the findings of Isaac Newton in the 17th Century, and it is now
definitely established that a rocket can function in a vacuum
as well as in an atmosphere. The Times regrets the error."
In retrospect, the incident is amusing but illustrates quite well
the kind of "educated ignorance" innovators have to face
over and over again.
The principle of operation of a rocket is in fact simplicity itself.
It is the strict application of Newton's third principle: Action
equals reaction, or, more specifically: If a mass of gases is forced
by rapid heating or combustion out of the body of the rocket, the
reaction to the force exerted on the expelled gases is a forward
thrust exerted by the gases on the rocket body.
Hutchings Goddard, The Edison of Rocketry–he held
214 patents on rockets–was born in Worcester, Mass. On
Oct. 25, 1882 and died in Baltimore in 1945. His interest in
rockets began when he was a 17-year-old student at Worcester
Polytechnic. His technical contribution made the space age possible,
truly a turning point in the history of mankind.
Patents # 395,781; # 395,782; # 395,783
Drawing the idea of storing information on punch cards from the
Jacquard loom, Hollerith's proposal for a punch card tabulation
machine system revolutionized statistical computation, and became
a model for data processing systems. The early computers in the
'50 made use of cards to store information and process it. It is
now done electronically, but the concepts remain the same.
Herman Hollerith was born in Buffalo
on February 29,1860. At 15, he enrolled at City College in New York
and graduated at 19 from Columbia University in Mechanical Engineering.
His first job was with the U.S. Census of 1880. At the suggestion
of Dr. John Billings, Director of the Census Office of Vital statistics,
he considered the possibility of using mechanical means to tabulate
the vast amount of the census raw data. He filed for his first patent
in 1884. His system, including punch, tabulation, and sorter, was
used for the 1890 census and allowed a savings of more than $5 million
and 2 years of work.
Hollerith founded the Tabulating Machine Company in 1896, the forerunner
of Computer Tabulating Recording Company, which in turn merged in
1924 with three other companies to form IBM.
George Washington Carver
The intensive cultivation of cotton in the South depleted the soil
of its nutrients. Carver thought of alternating cotton with nitrate-producing
legumes such as peanuts and peas to replenish the soil. But if your
goal is cotton, what do you do with a peanut side-effect? Here is
the extraordinary: He developed 325 different uses for these extra
peanuts - from cooking oil to printers ink - and helped create new
markets for local farmers.
Then, he discovered that sweet potatoes and pecans enrich depleted
soils as well. Soon, he had 200 uses for the crops, from synthetic
rubber to material for paving highways. His innovations transformed
Born of slave parents in 1864 in Diamond Grove, Missouri, George
Washington Carver began life as a farm hand. Deeply interested in
science and intent on a career in it, he attended the Iowa Agricultural
college from 1891 to 1894, graduating with a B.S., and in 1897 obtained
his M.S. in Agriculture. At the invitation of Booker T. Washington,
founder of the Tuskegee Institute, he became the first director
of agriculture at the Institute in 1897. He died in 1943. He received
several patents and numerous awards.
A man of science and a man of faith, he would begin each day with
a simple prayer:
"What Would God Have Me Do Today?"
Apparently he was a good and subtle listener.
like Peter Cooper, informed by a generous vision put their profits
to work for elevating the working class, making education "as
free as air and water".
The contributions of this famous inventor, philanthropist,
and entrepreneur include the Tom Thumb (the first practical steam
locomotive built on the American continent), the egg desicator (for
making powdered eggs out of whole ones), and gelatin (a generic
substance often called, like "xerox" by the trade name
In addition to Cooper's successful inventions,
he had many fanciful ones, including the torpedo ship, which was
supposed to carry a bomb to its naval target while being directed
from the shore by wires that could stretch up to ten miles! It could,
moreover, return intact: "When the explosion would take place,
it would bend the iron holding the torpedo, and this would reverse
the action of the steam engine, and cause it to go right back to
the place from which it started."
Alas, on her maiden voyage another ship crossed
her path and snapped the wire.
Thomas Alva Edison held over 1000 patents during
his lifetime. Most were not his unique invention, but the collaborative
efforts of the men working in his lab. In his time, Edison was enormously
popular: America's Engineer hero. While working on the development
of the electric light, Edison wrote:
"I have the right principle and am on
the right track, but time, hard work and some good luck are necessary,
too. It has been just so in all of my inventions. The first step
is an intuition, and comes with a burst, then difficulties arise-this
thing gives out and [it is] then that 'Bugs'–as such little
faults and difficulties are called–show themselves and months
of intense watching, study and labor are requisite before commercial
success or failure is certainly reached."
in the transcontinental telephone line, 1914.
On April 4,1939, Chester Carlson, a patent lawyer
from Queens, received a patent for his invention of electrophotography,
It wasn't until 1959, however, that he found a company willing to
risk the investment. Now the xerox machine has become a vital part
of our lives. The punch card system and the transistor may have
made the information age possible, but the xerox machine became
The technology has improved dramatically. This showcase
features laser color photocopies; compare their quality to the first
copy of Carlson's address, also reproduced here.
||Nikola Tesla, the
father of alternating current, was an incredible character.
He liked to read while sitting in his lightning room; to demonstrate
his invention he would hold a light bulb in his hand while assistants
ran high amounts of electricity through his body. His mystery
and eccentricity won him the pocketbooks of many private investors,
including J.P. Morgan.
Tesla believed that machines would eventually be powered
"the very wheelwork of nature. I expect to
live to be able to set a machine in the middle of this room and
move it by no other agency than the energy medium in motion around