Hall of Fame

Bardeen/ Shockley/Brattain
The Transistor

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 age."

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.

John Bardeen, 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 recognized that.

"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.

Robert 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.


Compiling Statistics
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
"Agricultural Chemistry"

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 southern economy.

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.


Peter Cooper

Some industrialists 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 Jell-o).

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 Edison

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."

Final Pole in the transcontinental telephone line, 1914.


Chester Carlson

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 its symbol.

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

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 by:

"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 us."



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