October 1952 Boys' Life
[Table of Contents]People old
and young enjoy waxing nostalgic about and learning some of the history of early
electronics. Boys' Life is the official publication of the Boy Scouts of America.
All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
The October 1952 issue of
Boys' Life magazine story entitled "Tiny
But Tremendous Transistors," contained the first mention of transistors I can
find in the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) flagship publication. Germanium was still
the primary element used for semiconductors at the time, although silicon would
soon replace it - and at a much lower cost. Whereas silicon is found on beaches
all over the world (and everywhere else for that matter) in the form of sand, germanium
at the time was obtained as a by-product of smelting zinc ore (which I didn't know
until reading this story). Today, of course, both elements are abundantly available.
Mr. Cavanaugh points out that although wonderful things are being done with
transistors in the way of improving performance, lowering power requirements, and
reducing product sizes and weights, consumers would likely not start seeing transistorized
goods on the store shelves for a couple more years. Until widespread adoption of
transistors became the industry norm, it was still cheaper to manufacture radios,
televisions, etc., with vacuum tubes.
Tiny But Tremendous Transistors
By J.O. Cavanaugh
This transistor and the vacuum tube beside it both do the same
Transistor is only half size of a pea, costs only fraction of vacuum
tube. (those are peas in a pod, in case you are not familiar with it)
One of the greatest developments in the history of science is going on right
now. Its military significance is second only to that of the atom bomb. And it will
allow a hundred-fold increase in the complexity of our industrial world.
The development is a tiny electronic device called a transistor. The transistor
is going to push vacuum tubes – radio tubes for instance – out of the limelight.
Without vacuum tubes there would be no electronics. Television, radar, bombsights,
computers, depend on the vacuum tube.
Compare this intricate device with the simple transistor – a tiny object, half
the size of a garden pea. The transistor does the same work but does it on one millionth
the amount of power. It requires no warm up. It generates no heat. It's easy and
cheap to make. It's vibration proof, shock proof, practically unbreakable.
Vacuum tubes act as valves controlling the flow of electrons as a faucet controls
the flow of water. They can take a weak electric signal – a radio signal, for example
– and amplify it many times. They can change alternating current to direct current,
oscillate, generate and control power. Yet the transistor outshadows it by far.
Transistors are the electrical equivalent of vacuum tubes – but there al similarity
ends. The transistor is composed of a solid substance – chemically treated germanium.
A fairly plentiful semi-metallic element, germanium is a by-product of smelting
Compactness and durability are but two points of transistors' superiority over
vacuum tubes. The tube uses about one watt to perform its work; the transistor does
the same work on about one millionth of a watt. "Dick Tracy" wrist watch size radios
and hearing aids complete with their power unit that will fit in the ear cavity,
are, of course, possible.
The Army Signal Corps had a device for converting radio teletype messages. The
unit weighed 100 pounds, plus a large generator. But the new transistor equipment
weighs only 10 pounds.
Transistors cost only a small fraction of what it costs to make vacuum tubes.
Back in 1948, two physicists, Dr. John Bardeen and Dr. Walter Brattain were doing
research. They discovered that germanium has unusual electronic properties. Working
from this discovery the two scientists developed the first transistor – an accomplishment
ranking in importance with those of De Forest, who invented the vacuum tube, and
Marconi, the father of wireless.
But this first transistor was limited in its application. Better ones have been
Although it is possible that a few transistors may be used during 1953 in television
sets and a few may appear in the open market, you're not likely to see much of them
for a year or two. Transistors are still in their infancy and production is limited.
Nobody can predict all the possibilities of this new development. But electronic
wonders far beyond our present comprehension are much nearer just because of this
tiny but tremendous transistor.
Posted December 8, 2020