An Interview with Walter MacWilliams

 Developing the First “Working” Transistor Application


Oral History – Walter MacWilliams



Why did you decide to use transistors in the Gating Matrix? 

The development was announced throughout the labs and there was considerable interest in it.  As I mentioned, it was decided that this was so new – nobody had an idea of how broadly it could be used – so a number of engineers, who were known to be active technically, were given the chance to get some samples, and either use them themselves, or make them available to some of their coworkers, and this was indeed the case with Jean Felker.  He had some and it seemed to me to be an ideal opportunity. It was not something that was a necessity, because I had already designed a vacuum tube circuit that would do the job, but it seemed important to get the new device into circulation, and find out more about it – so that’s why I did it.


You had designed the transistor circuitry for the matrix. Was there a technical group that put it together? 

I did it myself.  (Laughing). It was a 4 X 10 matrix. There were sockets available. These leads fitted down into clips and then the other end of the clip was a place where you could solder to make a connection.  And there was a certain amount of selection involved.  Some of them worked fine, and others, for some reason or another, didn’t.  I think the early pre-production was scattered, and precise control of the process had not yet been achieved.  But there was no problem in selecting the number of 40.   They were all checked out. 




Oral History – Walter MacWilliams



Around the Labs, was there much talk about the potential uses of the transistor? How about with Shockley, Bardeen and Brattain?

Yes, it was clear that the basic transistor advantages of small size, low power consumption, and rapid response would result in the transistor having a major applicability as a circuit element.  There was a general air of excitement about how far-reaching the effect of these advantages would be.   Work continued on extending the understanding created by Shockley. Bardeen and Brattain.  There was also extensive effort to characterize the transistor as a circuit element, so that it could be made an effective tool for designers.  However, as far as I was concerned, my focus was on seizing the opportunity to use the new device to accomplish a useful circuit function.


When did it became clear to you and others that your transistor application was unique and the first?

There was no coordinated effort to rush the transistor into circuit application.  Pre-production samples had been made available to a number of areas, and it just turned out that my application was the first. 


Go To MacWilliams Oral History, Pg 9


COPYRIGHT © 2005 by Jack Ward.  All Rights Reserved.  http://www.transistormuseum.com/