Liquid Crystal Display (LCD)

Liquid-Crystal Displays (LCD’s) enable flat-screens with relatively low-power usage.

In 1888, Friedrich Reinitzer discovered liquid crystals in Germany. However, there was no use and the technology lay dormant for about 80 years.

In 1968, RCA’s George Hailmeir presented the first working LCD display. However, it only worked at 80°C (176°F) leaving it impractical for anything except Bikram Yoga. Accordingly, even with this constraint, a flat television that hangs on a wall became a real possibility.

By the mid 1970s, calculator and clocks featured early LCD displays that operated at room temperature. Japan displayed the first LCD television a decade later, in 1984. To and through the 1990s the displays gain, especially in use as high-resolution computer monitors featuring In-Plane Switching (IPS) for wide viewing angles. The enormous televisions came next, ever-larger flat-screens at ever-lower prices.

No sooner did prices fall than every person who could possibly want a screen owned one. LCD screens hung on walls and sat in pockets, powering everything from phones to enormous displays.

Eventually, Heilmeier left to lead DARPA then, later, worked as a Vice President of Texas Instruments. He was briefly CEO of Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC).

Integrated Circuits (Microchips)

In early electronic computers, each circuit involved a vacuum tube. They were large, relatively slow, and consumed a lot of power.

Shockley, Brattain, and Bardeen created the semiconductor. Their circuits eliminated the need for vacuum tubes.

Kilby and Noyce discovered that semiconducting material held burned-in semiconductor circuits. Their printed circuits worked like the much larger metal counterparts. Furthermore, many circuits could be printed and tied together with a single piece of silicon.

These collections of circuits integrated on one chip are what we today refer to as microchips. You are reading this thanks to Kilby and Noyce’s invention.

Kilby worked for Texas Instruments. Noyce was one of the Traitorous Eight, the group who left the abusive, managerially incompetent Shockley. He was working at Fairchild Semiconductor, the firm funded by Doriot student Arthur Rock.

Kilby and Noyce never worked together but, at the same time, addressed the same problem. Kilby, tasked with shrinking the size of a semiconductor, thought of creating it from semiconducting material. He used geranium. Noyce realized that silicon worked better and that multiple circuits could be etched on one silicon wafer.

Their Integrated Circuit won the Nobel Prize in 2000 and went on to change the world. Noyce passed away in 1990 so only Kilby was eligible for the prize. Neither claimed sole credit nor disparaged the other.

Consequently, Kilby, a prolific innovator, was rewarded as an employee and led a comfortable life. Meanwhile, Noyce left Fairchild, co-founded Intel, and died a billionaire.

Transistor Radio

Developed in 1947 but commercialized in 1954, transistor radios are small. Battery-operated portable radios that fit in a pocket. They rely on transistors rather than vacuum tubes.

There were several attempts to build radios with transistors but none were optimal until 1954. Eventually, a Texas Instruments team invented the Regency TR-1, the first radio miniaturized with transistors.

The TR-1 was a hit. No sooner did the public start buying the expensive (the TR-1 cost $50, $465 in 2018 dollars) than copycats sprang up. Subsequently, within a decade, $10 Asian transistor radios were common.

Transistor radio sales number in the billions. Until smartphones, the transistor radio was the most popular electronic ever sold.

The transistor radio was a massively popular consumer product. Significantly, the radio proved the mass-market for miniaturized products based on transistors.