Robert Noyce

Robert Noyce

Robert Norton Noyce (December 12, 1927 – June 3, 1990), nicknamed "the Mayor of Silicon Valley", co-founded Fairchild Semiconductor in 1957 and Intel in 1968. He is also credited (along with Jack Kilby) with the invention of the integrated circuit or microchip.[1] While Kilby's invention was six months earlier, neither man rejected the title of co-inventor.

Hailed as the Thomas Edison and Henry Ford of Silicon Valley, Robert Noyce was a brilliant inventor, a leading entrepreneur, and a daring risk taker who piloted his own jets and skied mountains accessible only by helicopter. Now, in The Man Behind the Microchip, Leslie Berlin captures not only this colourful individual but also the vibrant interplay of technology, business, money, politics, and culture that defines Silicon Valley.

While in college, Noyce's physics professor Grant Gale got hold of two of the very first transistors ever to come out of Bell Labs.  Gale showed them off to his class and Noyce was hooked.  The field was young, though, so when Noyce went to MIT in 1948 for his Ph.D., he found he knew more about transistors than many of his professors. 

After a brief stint making transistors for the electronics firm Philco, Noyce decided he wanted to work at Shockley Semiconductor.  In a single day, he flew with his wife and two kids to California, bought a house, and went to visit Shockley to ask for a job -- in that order. 

As it was, Shockley and Noyce's scientific vision -- and egos -- clashed.  When seven of the young researchers at Shockley semiconductor got together to consider leaving the company, they realized they needed a leader.  All seven thought Noyce, aged 29 but full of confidence, was the natural choice.  So Noyce became the eighth in the group that left Shockley in 1957 and founded Fairchild Semiconductor.

Noyce was the general manager of the company and while there invented the integrated chip -- a chip of silicon with many transistors all etched into it at once. Fairchild Semiconductor filed a patent for a semiconductor integrated circuit based on the planar process on July 30, 1959. That was the first time he revolutionized the semiconductor industry.  He stayed with Fairchild until 1968, when he left with Gordon Moore to found Intel.  At Intel he oversaw Ted Hoff's invention of the microprocessor -- that was his second revolution. 

At both companies, Noyce introduced a very casual working atmosphere, the kind of atmosphere that has become a cultural stereotype of how California companies work.  But along with that open atmosphere came responsibility.  Noyce learned from Shockley's mistakes and he gave his young, bright employees phenomenal room to accomplish what they wished, in many ways defining the Silicon Valley working style was his third revolution.

Noyce was working to prevent the acquisition of a Silicon Valley materials supplier by a Japanese concern when he died unexpectedly of a heart attack in July 1990 at his home in Austin, Texas. He was 62 years old.




Photograph of Robert Noyce Click for a larger version

Help support the museum by buying from the museum shop

View all items

Founding Sponsors
redgate Google ARM Real VNC Microsoft Research
Heritage Lottery Funded
Heritage Lottery Fund
Accredited Museum