EARLY TRANSISTOR HISTORY AT RCA

Dr. Jerome Kurshan

 

Oral History – Jerome Kurshan

 

I felt that the timing of the announcement was to avoid having to respond to questions from their peers at the conference.  The conferences continued and were renamed the Electron Device Conference. I served as Program Chairman for the one held at Penn State University.    At RCA I had been working on developing an alternative to the electron tube by trying to develop an electrolitic amplifier.  On news of the transistor, I dropped that work and immediately switched to solid state  research. First step was to reproduce the Bell Labs results.  I mounted  pointed wires on germanium chip using micro-manipulators to hold and position the wires.  I believe I assembled RCA’s first transistor. 

 

The first transistors used germanium as the semiconductor.  Silicon, another element in the same column of the periodic table, could be expected to have similar properties.  At Herold’s suggestion, I did a mathematical analysis and wrote a company report that showed that silicon might be a preferred transistor material for higher temperature operation, in part because of it wider band gap.  Silicon has turned out to be the preponderant transistor material although a number of other materials have been utilized for their special properties. 

 

Early on it was recognized that there were two types of germanium, p and n, depending on the doping impurities they contained.  Transistors made with either type worked similarly, but circuit polarities would be reversed.  George Szilkai was an energetic research engineer working on television circuitry at RCA Labs

 

      

 

Oral History – Jerome Kurshan

 

  I called his attention to the two types of transistors that could be made and suggested that novel circuits might be developed taking advantage of this complementarity.  He proceeded to develop circuits based on this principle using the available point contact transistors.  Today the Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS) device, all solid state, dominates integrated circuit technology.

 

One of the earliest commercial applications was to hearing aids because they worked with low frequencies and benefited from the small size and low power requirements of transistors.  I believe Raytheon was the company first ran with this.  RCA Labs continued to work on applications of the transistor and held a symposium for potential licensees at which it was able to exhibit a compact TV set using no vacuum tubes except for the picture tube. 

 

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Curator’s Note: Use this link for a complete discussion of the compact transistor TV set referenced by Dr. Kurshan and exhibited at the 1952 RCA symposium.  

 

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