The semiconductor industry with it's numerous spin-offs has been in existence
long enough that we now are trying to chronicle the history. A number of
articles document the technical progress. The advancement of the industry
was and is accomplished by people who are dedicated to invention, technology,
income, fame and a place in history. With all of those drives they yet
are humans and have the foibles as well as successes. This article will
help us recall the human side of the growth of this now very important
My viewpoint of the early days of the times around the introduction
of semiconductors as replacements for vacuum tubes into the electronics
industry is from RCA. The threat of some solid state thing taking the place
of vacuum tubes made RCA management sit up and take notice. The company
was in 1950 the dominant maker of vacuum tubes in the world. Add to that
the fact that General David Sarnoff, president, board chairman, and spiritual
leader was a technical visionary who could smell innovation and you will
find the climate for invention. Witness the fact that RCA was very much
present in global commercial record communications, sound on film for movies,
television, color television, scanning electron microscopy and business
oriented computers. It isn't too difficult to see that RCA had to get into
the semiconductor business.
The first effort from RCA was as a pimple on the tube business. Dr.
Alan Glover was assigned to head the development of the technical competence
as well as the business organization. The only proven semiconductor at
the time was the point contact transistor. The technical brains at RCA
decided to take an approach which was similar but an improvement. They
would use a vertically oriented plate of single crystal germanium which
would be the base and bring pointed wires from both sides into contact
with the base. These wires were made of material which would provide dopant
when fused to the base. My recollection was that the wires were phosphor-bronze.
The wire furnished the required n+ material for compensating the boron
(p) doping of the base material. The fusing of the wires was accomplished
by discharge of a capacitor between emitter and base then collector and
base. The machine which formed these junctions was then used to check DC
forward current gain (beta). While touring the operation one day I watched
the junction formation operators work. Beside each machine were two plastic
buckets. The reject container was much larger than that for good parts.
The potential transistors were encapsulated in clear plastic before junction
formation. Apparently, the importance of light as a carrier generator wasn't
of concern at that time. It wasn't long before RCA stopped making germanium
transistors that way.
RCA was good at promotion of it's products. When they were getting
some yield of transistors from the production line mentioned in the previous
paragraph they called a press conference at the RCA Princeton Research
Center. The press representatives knew that the conference was for announcing
the Corporation's entry into the semiconductor business. The basement auditorium
was filled to capacity with press representatives. After the formal announcement
there was a question and answer session.
When one journalist asked what was the selling price of the transistors
the room fell silent. That question was on everyone's mind. Before the RCA guy could answer someone's alarm wrist watch
went off. That almost broke up the meeting.
Sensing a need for a more in-depth commitment to the semiconductor
business the company erected a plant in Somerville, New Jersey dedicated
to building semiconductors. The building was one of the first designed
especially for the unique needs of this budding industry. As early as the
late 1950's it was known that dust was an enemy. The electrostatic precipitators
which handled the incoming air for the plant could be heard at the employees
entrance to the plant. New Jersey was always humid and the zapping sparks
could almost always be heard. I believe RCA chose Somerville because of
it's proximity to Princeton where the RCA Research Labs were located.
At the start of the semiconductor industry the government in the
form of the Defense Department heavily influenced the direction the industry
took. This was accomplished through research and development contracts
and orders from manufacturers of electronic equipment utilizing semiconductors
developed through government contracts. RCA obtained a contract for development
of an automated production line for germanium alloy transistors. Each segment
of the production line was well conceived and performed well. There was
hardly any output from the line because it was difficult to have all elements
of the line operable at the same time. That was the first time we realized
the need for buffer storage between processes. In the semiconductor industry
we learn often by our failures as well as our successes. The failures are
simply "no" answers.
One of the "no" answers which plagued RCA was whether to
convert production from germanium to silicon. The armed forces were demanding
silicon transistors because of their capability to operate at higher temperatures.
Bell Labs had made some transistors using silicon. One astute marketer
at RCA Semiconductor was asked to study and report his recommendations
as to whether RCA should obtain capability for silicon semiconductors.
His study showed that RCA should avoid the material because it would only
be useful for military purposes. The armed forces ultimately would be only
a small portion of the market. He was half right. That isn't good enough.
He soon found himself out of the semiconductor industry and into steel
fabrication such as that used for antenna towers. It could be argued that
belief in that report caused RCA's ultimate small portion of the industry
while Texas Instruments whole-heartedly embraced silicon and adapted itself
to the technology which followed the point contact transistor. For silicon
that was the grown junction transistor. It was a really difficult technology
to operate but did advance the industry into the high frequency realm.
One of the earliest if not the earliest transistor portable broadcast frequency
radio was made by the famous watchmaker, Bulova. The radio used transistors
from the 2N135 series which were all grown junction.
One advantage of the grown junction transistor was that the base
could theoretically be made only a few lattices thick allowing the bulk
of the minority carriers to transit the base before recombination occurred.
In practice it wasn't that easy. Scientists at Lansdale Transistor,
a division of Philco, including a young engineer named Clare Thornton found
another way of creating thin base sections. They electro-chemically etched
the slab of germanium which was to be the base. A jet of chemical etchant
with an electrical bias was aimed at both sides of the slab. When the plate
of single crystal germanium was thin enough (translucent to visible light)
the etching was stopped and emitter and collector wires were alloyed to
the slab. While this was also a difficult to control process it did produce
transistors which could operate with reasonable gains beyond 30 MHz. These
transistors were incorporated into the AN/PRC 25 back pack radio of Korean
War fame. Millions of these transistors were used even though Lansdale
faded from the scene to be replaced by a licensee, Sprague. Later, Motorola
with a somewhat more forgiving process, mesa construction, supplied the
bulk of the military and industrial needs. Dr. Thornton is presently with
the Army Electronics Research and Development Command heading the organization
which explores the latest concepts in future semiconductor uses.
RCA's role in development of color television was unique. When the
demand for color television developed, there were two protagonists. These
were CBS and RCA. The CBS system was under the direction of Dr. Peter Goldmark.
RCA's guru was Dr. Al Goldsmith. These two scientists were like a stray
cat and a bull dog. Dr. Goldsmith thought Dr. Goldmark intellectually dishonest
( I quote him) and Dr. Goldmark had similar thoughts about Al Goldsmith.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) after some demands by industry
proposed competitive demonstrations of all systems which would be demonstrated
in Washington, DC. The CBS system used a large (usually larger than three
feet in diameter ) spinning disk between the scene and the camera tube.
The normal camera tube at that time was the Image Orthicon. The disc contained
a spiral series of lenses and sequential color filters. The receiver and
to a lesser extent the disk at home duplicated the studio setup. Color
fields were sent sequentially and synchronizing between transmitter and
receiver were necessary to have the correct color filter over the picture
tube at the correct moment. The system had one great advantage. It was
compatible with existing black and white television receivers. Since they
didn't receive or need the color information they performed as they had
before. The major disadvantage was that at that time the sequential color
filters needed to be the same size as the picture tube. Imagine a disk
containing sequential red, green and blue filters of 14" diagonal
rotating so that the three colors were presented over the black and white
tube every 1/30th of a second. RCA demonstrated a large cabinet which contained
three separate picture tubes, dichroic filters and mirrors. The images
were superimposed to create a color picture. The system wasn't compatible
with anything. The FCC opted for the CBS system and that was the color
TV standard for a year or more.
When General Sarnoff heard the FCC decision he called Dr. Goldsmith
by telephone and said "invent color television". That story comes
from Dr. Goldsmith and is believable. As Al related the story, he spent
all day thinking of the ways to present color information and listed about
17. His concern was with the color picture tube.
After sleeping on the ideas he narrowed his choices to the four which in
his mind were the most viable. Those RCA filed as patent applications.
One of the four was the three gun shadow mask system which is still today
the dominant picture tube type.
The color tube was being perfected, first as a 15" metal to
glass tube and later 21" metal to glass. Despite careful selection
of materials there remained a difference of linear expansion coefficient
between the glass and the steel of the envelope. With the heat cycling
caused by turning the set on and off some tubes became leaky and would
no longer support the generation of the three electron beams. The first
rectangular all glass color picture tube was a marvel of technology. The
face plate with it's screened on triads of colors of phosphors and the
precision etched shadow mask was manufactured then mated to the guns and
accelerating portion of the envelope. Lancaster, Pennsylvania was the fountain
head of this development.
Most of the potential manufacturers of color television sets joined
in a voluntary cooperative organization called the National Television
Standards Committee (NTSC). They did a very careful job of specifying how
a color television system could function as an adjunct to the existing
US black and white television system. That system utilized 525 horizontal
lines per frame with half the lines in each field of one sixtieth (almost)
of a second. Alternating fields contained odd and even numbers of the 525
lines. Thus each 1/30th of a second contained a complete picture with interlaced
horizontal scanning. The transmission of the video signal by radio involved
truncating almost all of one side band (now called vestigial sideband transmission).
The bandwidth of the remaining sideband was 4.5 MHz wide. The NTSC members
found by analysis that there was little or no information transmitted near
the 4.5 MHz limit. They decided to place the color information on a subcarrier
between where information was transmitted near the limit of the band. That
subcarrier was placed 3.579 MHz (plus some further significant numbers)
above the carrier. The subcarrier was modulated with color information
in a very compact form. To technically describe a color requires knowledge
of luminance (brightness) and chrominance (color on an absolute scale).
Chrominance is further divided in to it's two attributes, hue (color temperature)
and saturation (intensity of color in gray). The NTSC members knew that
the CBS system would not survive the need for improvements and so petitioned
the FCC to reconsider it's decision to authorize the spinning wheel color
The FCC after many hearings reversed it's previous decision and opted
for the NTSC system. And color television started in earnest. One early
user of color television was to be the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology
(AFIP). This organization was to be the source of pathological information
for all of the armed services as well as the teaching organization for
military pathologists. Plans called for the ability to provide color television
views of pathology and pathological procedures in all class rooms as well
as the ability to transmit such information by normal cable and microwave
routes throughout the world. The building is located on the grounds of
the Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, DC. It was almost completed
when the time came for selection of a color television system.
Because the television was for the most part closed circuit the compatibility
issue was not paramount. The Colonel who was head of the AFIP decided to
hold a technical conference at the Institute to explore the uses of color
television in pathology and at the same time allow demonstrations of the
competing systems so that a system could be selected for installation in
the building. The schedule called for two days of presentations and demonstrations.
The first day was to be the big one. Dr. Al Goldsmith was to be the featured
speaker in the late morning followed by Dr. Peter Goldmark. Goldsmith was
naturally in favor of the NTSC System having been the inventor of the shadow
mask type of picture tube. Just as avid about the CBS system was Peter
Goldmark. Dr. Goldsmith on hearing the speaking order refused to appear.
After some behind the scenes consultation Dr. Goldsmith and I obtained
sandwiches and soft drink for me and milk for him. We found a closet almost
full of lumber and hid locking the door while we ate lunch. Sitting on
the unfinished splintery lumber was not exactly like a gourmet restaurant
but it did accomplish the purpose. Dr. Goldmark did give his presentation
before lunch. Dr. Goldsmith reappeared at 1 PM and gave his talk. Later
demonstrations by CBS and RCA were useful in allowing the AFIP to decide
which color TV system would be used. RCA went all out by presentation of
an operation for suspected breast cancer in Philadelphia. The nodule removed
from the breast was frozen, microtomed and stained. The stained sample
was shown in color through a microscope. Pathologists in Baltimore examined
the video picture sent by cable and decided the nodule indicated carcinoma.
We in Washington could see the operation and both sides of the discussion
between the surgeon and the pathologists. At the opposite end of the scale
of what can you do with color TV was a film about the necropsy of a young
elephant from the Washington zoo. Necropsy is the same for animals as autopsy
is for humans. The tools though instead of scalpels are butcher knives
and axes. The 28 year old elephant apparently died of a lung disease. The
doctors at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology did decide that the
NTSC system was likely to live longer than the CBS system and chose to
equip their facility with the compatible system.
These stories show that progress is created by humans who are dissatisfied
with the state of things. The Texans have an appropriate saying "Fat
dogs don't hunt." More of the human side of technological progress
will be related in future issues. -IRS
ABOUT IVAN R. SADDLER
Mr. Saddler is a noted expert in the field of microelectronics. He has
been active in the field since 1952. His experience includes several years
experience in a tube and semiconductor manufacturing organization; management
of a hybrid microcircuit company for several years; work in semiconductor
companies for 29 years and; presently assistant professor at Arizona State
BSEE degree University of Texas at El Paso 1950
George Washington University Law School 1951-1952
Motorola Executive Institute - 1974
Graduate Gemmologist-Gemmological Institute of America-1981
SERVICE IN BUSINESS
RCA Semiconductor 1952-1962 Various sales, marketing and contract
management primarily with U.S. government.
Microlectron, Inc. 1962-1964 V.P. and General Manager. Manufacture
of thick film hybrid microcircuits.
Motorola Semiconductor Products Sector 1964-1982 Management positions
relating to U. S. government research and development in the semiconductor
field; patent technology and; management of the Very High Speed Integrated
Circuit ( VHSIC ) program; a $37 m research and development program in
Three issued patents in the semiconductor field.
Membership in Arizona Electrostatic Discharge Society Membership
in Society of Manufacturing Engineers Member of International Society of
Numerous articles and papers including:
Microprocessors Vs. Custom ICs-Military Electronics Countermeasures
Can VLSI Growth Continue? Military Electronics Countermeasures Feb.
The Future of VLSI in Our Defense-with Chas. Meyer GOMAC Conf. Nov.
Engineers for VLSI-A Scarce Commodity-IEEE Transactions on Components,
Hybrids and Manufacturing Technology-Mar.'82
The Challenge of Education for VLSI-with W. G. Howard- VLSI Electronics
Microstructure Science Vol. 4-Apr. `81
The Challenge of Education for VLSI-with W. G. Howard- VLSI Electronics
Microstructure Science Vol. 4-Apr. `81
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