An Interview with Walter MacWilliams

 Developing the First “Working” Transistor Application


Curator’s Introduction



Interestingly, at first he had designed the Gun-to-p-computer Switch using vacuum tubes, using conventional design concepts.   However, the characteristics of the newly invented point contact transistors seemed suitable also. At that time, the preponderance of development effort involving transistors was to characterize the new transistors so that they could be included in the armoire of available components.   However, people were also looking for opportunities to use them as working circuit elements, and a limited number were available for this purpose.    Through the courtesy of Jean Felker, Walter was able to obtain prototype point contact transistors, and found their characteristics to be suitable for his application.   Accordingly the Gun-to-p-computer Switch used in the Gunnery System Simulator used point contact transistors, which performed satisfactorily for its several-year life. 




The following Oral History is based on an interview conducted in May 2005, and reflects Walter’s personal recollections of his pioneering work with the Type A transistor in 1949.   












Oral History – Walter MacWilliams


Before we discuss your early work with point contact transistors, I’d be interested in a summary of your career at Bell Labs.


I was at Bell Labs from January, 1946 to January 1982.  I started at Murray Hill, N.J., working on the Mark 65 program (this was the basis of the first transistor work, and will be discussed in detail later).  After this, I was transferred to head up a study of the control of interceptor aircraft when used to counter an air attack on a Naval Task Force.  I went on to work with the test of the newly-designed SAGE System, an array of radars and computers used to defend the United States against air attack.  This work led to the study of an extension to Canada, called the CAGE system, working for the Canadian Air Force.  Following this work, I did planning for UNICOM, a Universal Communication System for handling communications within the U.S. Army. From there I headed an Operations Research Department and conducted a study of Bell System Business Offices.  At the time of the Korean War, I was called back to work with AICBM (Anti Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) defense. Later I designed a computer-aided teaching system, and, at the time of my retirement, I had been working on BIS, a Business Information System. 

Go To MacWilliams Oral History, Pg 3


MacWilliams Historic Audio Recordings


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