Robert Norton Noyce (December 12, 1927 – June 3, 1990), nicknamed “the Mayor of Silicon Valley”, co-founded Fairchild Semiconductor in 1957 and Intel Corporation in 1968. He is also credited (along with Jack Kilby) with the invention of the integrated circuit or microchip which fueled the personal computer revolution and gave Silicon Valley its name.
Active all his life, Noyce enjoyed reading Hemingway, flying his own airplane, hang gliding, and scuba diving. Noyce believed that microelectronics would continue to advance in complexity and sophistication well beyond its current state, leading to the question of what use society would make of the technology. In his last interview, Noyce was asked what he would do if he were “emperor” of the United States. He said that he would, among other things, “…make sure we are preparing our next generation to flourish in a high-tech age. And that means education of the lowest and the poorest, as well as at the graduate school level.”
Noyce was born in Burlington, Iowa. His earliest childhood memory involved beating his father at ping pong and feeling absolutely shocked when his mother reacted to the thrilling news of his victory with a distracted “Wasn’t that nice of Daddy to let you win?” Even at the age of five, Noyce felt offended by the notion of intentionally losing at anything. “That’s not the game”, he sulked to his mother. “If you’re going to play, play to win!” In the summer of 1940, at the age of 12, he built a boy-sized aircraft with his brother, which they used to fly from the roof of the Grinnell College stables. Later he built a radio from scratch and motorized his sled by welding a propeller and an engine from an old washing machine to the back of it.
He grew up in Grinnell, Iowa, and attended the local schools. He exhibited a talent for mathematics and science while in high school and took the Grinnell College freshman physics course in his senior year. He graduated from Grinnell High School in 1945 and entered Grinnell College in the fall of that year. He was the star diver on the 1947 Midwest Conference Championship swim team. While at Grinnell College, Noyce sang, played the oboe and acted. In Noyce’s junior year, he got in trouble for stealing a 25 pound pig from the mayor of Grinnell’s farm and roasting it at a school luau. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a BA in physics and mathematics from Grinnell College in 1949. He also received a signal honor from his classmates: the Brown Derby Prize, which recognized “the senior man who earned the best grades with the least amount of work”. Noyce had a mind so quick that his graduate school friends called him “Rapid Robert.” He received his doctorate in physics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1953.
After graduating from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1953, he took his first job as a research engineer at the Philco Corporation in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He left in 1956 for the Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory in Mountain View, California. He joined William Shockley, a co-inventor of the transistor at the Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory, a division of Beckman Instruments. Noyce left with the “traitorous eight” in 1957, upon having issues with respect to the quality of its management, and co-founded the influential Fairchild Semiconductor corporation.
Noyce and Gordon Moore founded Intel in 1958 when they left Fairchild Semiconductor. Arthur Rock, the chairman of Intel’s board and a major investor in the company said that for Intel to succeed, Intel needed Noyce, Moore and Andrew Grove. And it needed them in that order. Noyce: the visionary, born to inspire; Moore: the virtuoso of technology; and Grove: the technologist turned management scientist. The relaxed culture that Noyce brought to Intel was a carry-over from his style at Fairchild Semiconductor. He treated employees as family, rewarding and encouraging teamwork. His follow-your-bliss management style set the tone for many Valley success stories. Noyce’s management style could be called a “roll up your sleeves” style. He shunned fancy corporate cars, reserved parking spaces, private jets, offices, and furnishings in favor of a less-structured, relaxed working environment in which everyone contributed and no one received lavish benefits. By declining the usual executive perks he stood as a model for future generations of Intel CEOs.
At Intel, he oversaw Ted Hoff’s invention of the microprocessor, which was his second revolution.
Noyce suffered a heart attack at home on June 3, 1990, and later died at the Seton Medical Center in Austin, Texas.
Noyce was granted 15 patents in the U.S. Following is the list of those:
- Method and apparatus for forming semiconductor structures, filed August 1954, issued February 1959, assigned to Philco Corporation
- Transistor structure and method, filed April 1957, issued March 1960, assigned to Beckmann Instruments
- Semiconductor scanning device, filed June 1959, issued November 1960, assigned to Fairchild Semiconductor
- Transistor structure and method of making the same, filed March 1957, issued January 1961, assigned to Clevite Corporation
- Semiconductor switching device, filed June 1959, issued February 1961, assigned to Fairchild Semiconductor
- Semiconductor Device and Lead Structure, filed July 1959, issued April 1961, assigned to Fairchild Semiconductor
- Field effect transistor, filed January 1958, issued November 1961, assigned to Clevite Corporation
- Field controlled avalanche semiconductive device, filed February 1958, issued July 1963, assigned to Clevite Corporation
- Method for fabricating transistors, filed June 1959, issued October 1963, assigned to Fairchild Camera and Instrument Corp.
- Transistor structure controlled by an avalanche barrier, filed June 1958, issued November 1963, assigned to Clevite Corporation
- Method of making a transistor structure (coinventor William Shockley), filed April 1957, issued July 1964, assigned to Clevite Corporation
- Semiconductor circuit complex having isolation means, filed September 1959, issued September 1964, assigned to Fairchild Camera and Instrument Corp.
- Method of forming a semiconductor, filed July 1963, issued May 1965, assigned to Fairchild Camera and Instrument Corp.
- Solid state circuit with crossing leads, filed April 1961, issued August 1965, assigned to Fairchild Camera and Instrument Corp.
- Trainable system, filed October 1964, issued June 1967, assigned to Fairchild Camera and Instrument Corp.
An integrated circuit or monolithic integrated circuit (also referred to as an IC, a chip, or a microchip) is a set of electronic circuitson one small plate (“chip”) of semiconductor material, normally silicon. This can be made much smaller than a discrete circuit made from independent components. Integrated circuits are used in virtually all electronic equipment today and have revolutionized the world of electronics. Computers, mobile phones, and other digital home appliances are now inextricable parts of the structure of modern societies, made possible by the low cost of producing integrated circuits.