Someone INVENTED it: Transistor

You never think about transistors, but you’re surrounded by millions of them if not billions. There are several million in your computer, another million or so in the monitor, plus they’re in the remote, in your phone, possibly even in your charging cable.

The transistors surrounding you are almost too small to see and tend to hang around together on computer chips where hundreds of thousands fit on a square smaller than your phone’s home button. They form the basic building blocks of every single device you own with any sort of plug, acting as microscopic switches that, when combined together into the thousands and millions, react together almost as if by magic.

Oh, but it was not always so. The basic building block of early computers were relays and vacuum tubes, large delicate glass monstrosities the size of light bulbs. It would take a space the size of a city block for enough vacuum tubes to power your iPhone and they would likely break so quickly that you’d never even get to play Minecraft.

Credit for the transistor goes to John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley who, working together in AT&T’s Bell Laboratories, changed the world and won the Nobel Prize for doing it. Later improvements on the transistor made it possible to flat-mount them, creating the first integrated circuit “computer chips.” These three men set in motion a wave of miniaturization that makes it possible for you to drive through a desert at 70mph (the legal limit) and get a traffic report on your phone (using hands-free technology of course.) This was one of the most influential inventions of all time, and it’s so common today that we can’t even imagine being without it.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.