Great Moments in Microprocessor History

The evolution of the modern microprocessor is one of many surprising twists and turns. Who invented the first micro? Who had the first 32-bit single-chip design? You might be surprised at the answers. This article shows the defining decisions that brought the contemporary microprocessor to its present-day configuration.

At the dawn of the 19th century, Benjamin Franklin's discovery of the principles of electricity were still fairly new, and practical applications of his discoveries were few -- the most notable exception being the lightning rod, which was invented independently by two different people in two different places. Independent contemporaneous (and not so contemporaneous) discovery would remain a recurring theme in electronics.

So it was with the invention of the vacuum tube -- invented by Fleming, who was investigating the Effect named for and discovered by Edison; it was refined four years later by de Forest (but is now rumored to have been invented 20 years prior by Tesla). So it was with the transistor: Shockley, Brattain and Bardeen were awarded the Nobel Prize for turning de Forest's triode into a solid state device -- but they were not awarded a patent, because of 20-year-prior art by Lilienfeld. So it was with the integrated circuit (or IC) for which Jack Kilby was awarded a Nobel Prize, but which was contemporaneously developed by Robert Noyce of Fairchild Semiconductor (who got the patent). And so it was, indeed, with the microprocessor.

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