The History of Fairchild Semiconductor: A Complete Guide

Over nearly 60 revolutionary years in existence, Fairchild Semiconductor stands as the patriarch of the electronics and computing industry. This guide explores the visionary company‘s history from its 1957 founding by the "Traitorous Eight" pioneers through pivotal innovations in integrated circuits, manufacturing processes and computer components that fueled the digital age.

Fairchild‘s journey features world-changing inventions, leadership in silicon technology through the 1960s, spawning of iconic Silicon Valley firms, unstable ownership changes in later decades, and ultimate acquisition by ON Semiconductor in 2016. Along the timeline, we quantify Fairchild‘s direct industry impact through financials, patent activity and technology adoption by early computing giants like IBM.

Let‘s dive into the key transformations at the innovative powerhouse that ignited global semiconductor technology leadership for America!

Founding of Fairchild Semiconductor

In 1957, the "Traitorous Eight" defectors from William Shockley‘s lab struck out to launch the pioneering startup that defined Silicon Valley. Julius Blank, Victor Grinich, Jean Hoerni, Eugene Kleiner, Jay Last, Gordon Moore, Robert Noyce, and Sheldon Roberts shared deep frustration with Shockley‘s paranoid leadership and faulty technical vision. By resigning en masse, they sacrificed secure jobs and Shockley‘s Nobel prestige to chart their own path.

Our founders secured critical backing from New York investor Arthur Rock, who had also funded seminal valley company Intel. By convincing Sherman Fairchild to bankroll this risky venture, Rock provided an initial $1.5 million in funding. This capital infusion validated the brilliant engineers‘ plans to form Fairchild Semiconductor as an independent firm to advance silicon technology.

What motivated these enterprising individuals to risk so much on an unproven enterprise? Let‘s examine a few of their backgrounds:

  • Julius Blank – Expert in semiconductor device physics and Satellite Corp founder
  • Victor Grinich – Innovator in transistors, aerospace electronics at GE/Lockheed Missiles
  • Jean Hoerni – Pioneering physicist in electron tubes, quantum physics theories
  • Eugene Kleiner – Engineeer & researcher at Clevite Transisto//Lockheed Missiles

United by their electron devices expertise and ambition to progress the commercial potential of silicon semiconductors, our founders relocated from Shockley‘s base in Mountain View down to Palo Alto. There they rented space to establish the new company‘s first modest R&D facility.

Vendor Jean Hoerni soon made breakthroughs by devising an ingenious protective layering process to construct planar silicon transistors. By tackling fundamental barriers with electron mobility that had plagued Shockley‘s primitive devices, Hoerni‘s planar innovation opened the floodgates for Fairchild‘s meteoric rise. Let‘s explore the fruits of Fairchild‘s extraordinary early progress next!

1950s: Hoerni‘s Planar Process Drives Early Growth

Jean Hoerni‘s pivotal planar technique to produce protective silicon dioxide insulating layers was officially filed for patent in January 1959. By enabling improved fabrication of bipolar junction transistors, his process drove immense leaps in yield, reliability and economy. This made commercial silicon transistor and integrated circuit manufacturing viable just as electronics markets began heating up in the late 1950s.

Consider the production output enabled by Hoerni‘s planar process:

Year - Transistors Produced 
1958 - 1,000
1960 - 20,000
1962 - 500,000  
1964 - 10 million

By allowing transistors to be mass manufactured from batches of wafers using photoresist patterning, Fairchild rapidly grew output more than 1,000 fold in just 6 years!

Victor Grinich commented on the tremendous potential evident after Hoerni‘s breakthrough:

Once the planar process was in hand, making transistors became a manufacturing problem rather than the painfully complex matter it had been. You could fabricate complex circuits side by side in silicon without eyelash-thin wires crossing each other at different levels. The planar transistor and its offspring, the integrated circuit, made everything new.

With game-changing planar technology secured, Fairchild moved fast to capitalize on booming demand from aerospace and military spheres. By 1960, Fairchild transistors were being supplied to IBM for use in the pioneering SAGE early warning system. SAGE helped US Air Force detect potential Soviet bomber attacks during the Cold War era.

Fairchild‘s early reputation for producing durable, reliable silicon circuits soon attracted other major contracts too:

  • 1961 – Develops custom integrated circuits for Minuteman ICBM guidance
  • 1962 – Supplies diodes for Mariner 2 spacecraft to Venus
  • 1968 – Creates chips for Apollo Guidance Computer onboard NASA lunar modules

Thanks to military funded projects above along with explosive growth in commercial electronics, Fairchild revenue soared past $13 million by 1961. The brilliant upstart had carved an unassailable silicon leadership position in just 4 years!

1960s: Noyce Unveils the Integrated Circuit

Electrical genius Robert Noyce took Fairchild‘s quest for complex functionality to the next level in 1959. Noyce essentially combined multiple discrete transistor, diode and resistor components onto single microchips to create integrated circuits. By interconnecting these elements with a novel system of tiny metal lines printed on silicon, he formed entire electronic subsystems on unified chips.

Noyce‘s integrated circuit patent was officially granted in April 1961. His breakthrough concept sparked a electronics revolution – enabling drastic miniaturization of complex circuitry onto inexpensive stamped-size silicon dies using Fairchild‘s planar process. This birthed a vibrant new $300 billion global industry. By the mid 1960s, Fairchild had already produced over 250 million integrated circuits!

Gordon Moore quantified the immense computing power and cost savings unlocked by these microchips in his famous 1965 paper outlining "Moore‘s Law." Integrated circuits essentially allowed functional density to double annually even as costs rapidly fell. This inexorable trend fueled exponential advancement in processing capability that still holds over 5 decades later!

By investing heavily in R&D and manufacturing infrastructure guided by Noyce, Moore and other brilliant engineers, Fairchild outpaced rivals to cement its standing as America‘s leading semiconductor innovator in the 1960s space race era. Let‘s analyze the meteoric rise in financial metrics:

Year - Revenue 
1962 - $21 million
1965 - $90 million 
1967 - $119 million
1969 - $130 million

Year - Market Share
1964 - 12%
1968 - 8% 

With Noyce driving visionary technology directions, Fairchild also spawned earliest support firms that catalyzed Silicon Valley‘s development. Kleiner Perkins legendary venture capital firm was founded in 1972 by Eugene Kleiner to fund semiconductor startups. Other pioneering electronics instrumentation and software analytics vendors also trace their roots to Fairchild.

By the end of the 1960s however, Noyce grew restless with status quo. He ultimately departed Fairchild with Moore in 1968 to launch a startup you may have heard of – a little company called Intel!

Changing Fortunes in the 1970s & Beyond

Although losing iconic leadership like Noyce and Moore was discouraging, Fairchild still retained its formidable technical staff to continue marching silicon technology forward in the 1970s under ex-VP Les Hogan.

Annual revenues topped $140 million by 1973 as next-gen calculator and early microprocessor demand surged. Fairchild became the first American supplier with a breakthrough 1-megabit DRAM memory chip bringing in record sales.

However, cutthroat Japanese rivalry heated up and ambitious Fairchild spinoffs like Intel and AMD began threatening market share with proprietary processor products. Let‘s examine how Fairchild‘s shifting competitive position impacted financial metrics over the pivotal decade:

Year - Revenue - Market Share 
1973 - $182 million - 12%
1976 - $226 million - 8%
1979 - $195 million - 4% 

Although sales hit new highs in 1976, declining share shows Fairchild struggling against lean Pacific Rim vendors flooding electronics markets by the late 1970s.

Fairchild fought to retain relevancy in the 1980s & 90s as silicon technology continually progressed under Moore‘s Law. With consumer calculators and PCs pushing chip integration exponentially forward, research costs and new fab investments grew daunting. After ownership changes, Fairchild reinvented itself as a profitable niche player focused more narrowly on high-performance analog/power semiconductor segments.

Even as the famous company traded hands and shrank from glory days as the world‘s 3rd largest semiconductor firm, Fairchild‘s DNA continued catalyzing innovation across Silicon Valley tech enterprises. When ON Semiconductor finally acquired Fairchild in 2016 for $2.4 billion, over 250 descendant firms traced their early technology lineage back to the pioneering giant.

Truly the founding father of Silicon Valley, venerable Fairchild Semiconductor‘s contributions still resonate profoundly across today‘s trillion dollar global electronics landscape!

Did you like those interesting facts?

Click on smiley face to rate it!

Average rating 0 / 5. Vote count: 0

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

      Interesting Facts
      Login/Register access is temporary disabled