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From Wikipedia's Article on the History of the Transistor:

The Bell Labs work on the transistor emerged from war-time efforts to produce extremely pure germanium "crystal" mixer diodes, used in radar units as a frequency mixer element in microwave radar receivers. A parallel project on germanium diodes at Purdue University succeeded in producing the good-quality germanium semiconducting crystals that were used at Bell Labs.[4] Early tube-based technology did not switch fast enough for this role, leading the Bell team to use solid state diodes instead.

...

The key to the development of the transistor was the further understanding of the process of the electron mobility in a semiconductor. It was realized that if there was some way to control the flow of the electrons from the emitter to the collector of this newly discovered diode (discovered 1874; patented 1906)

It seems that anyone experimenting with germanium diodes, would have ended up with the transistor, at some point...


My question is:

Who else, other than Purdue and Bell, had a high likelihood of being the first creator(s) of the transistor?

  • Your statement is a tad oversimplification. Technically speaking true: the people who ask to good questions, research the most important problems with the right tools will be (or not) the ones who discover or invent things. But his is only tautology: only retrospectively will people knew what was the righ approach and the right problem. – Greg May 25 '15 at 3:41
  • @Greg - Yeah... I know... should I change my phrasing, and if so, how? – Malady May 25 '15 at 10:50
  • As I said, it is kind of a tautology. ".. anyone experimenting with germanium diodes, would have ended up with the transistor, at some point..."Some people who who research a given topic will get some result at some point... But this is a comment on your statement, not on the question itself. Off course, if you are asking about prominent competing labs, possible alternative techniques, the question is totally valid. Also, it is a history question, but you may want to ask it in the physics SE, too. – Greg Jun 6 '15 at 5:46
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From following the references at Wikipedia, I found The Lost History of the Transistor. Which led me to How Europe Missed The Transistor, which, seems to suggest that France or Germany could have been the first creators of the transistor...

Two physicists from the German radar program, Herbert Mataré and Heinrich Welker ...

German Efforts:

Everything changed after February 1943, however, when a British Sterling bomber downed over Rotterdam in the Netherlands revealed how far behind the Allies Germany had fallen in radar technology.

[Mataré] intensified his previous R&D efforts on crystal rectifiers, particularly those made of silicon, which seemed best suited for microwave reception. [He managed] to build and study an intriguing new device, the crystal "duodiode," in which two closely spaced metal points contact the semiconductor surface, forming two adjacent crystal rectifiers. If they possess the same resistance and capacitance, these two rectifiers can be used in a special circuit to cancel out noise from the oscillator of a superheterodyne mixer.

Mataré worked with silicon samples provided by physicist Karl Seiler in Breslau and germanium samples from a Luftwaffe research team near Munich that included Welker, his future co-worker. Although silicon worked better for radar receivers ... germanium duodiodes exhibited intriguing behavior ... wartime urgencies kept him from pursuing this intriguing possibility much further.

Germany's eastern front collapsed in January 1945, and the Russian Army was swiftly approaching Breslau. The Telefunken lab in Leubus was hastily abandoned, and all of Mataré's lab books and records were burned to keep them out of enemy hands.

So, it appears that if Mataré had a little more time, he could have made transistors for Germany...

French Efforts:

Then in their mid-thirties, [Herbert Mataré and Heinrich Welker] met in Paris and began organizing their operation...

[Late] 1947, Mataré began to address the curious interference effects he had seen in germanium duodiodes during the war. When he put the two point contacts less than 100 mm apart, he again occasionally could get one of them to influence the other. ... Mataré... recognized this effect... (perhaps a month or two after Bardeen and Brattain's breakthrough at Bell Labs).

[Welker and] Mataré finally got consistent amplification in June 1948, six months after Bardeen and Brattain. Encouraged by this success, they phoned PTT Secretary Eugène Thomas and invited him over for a demonstration. But Thomas was apparently too busy--or perhaps not interested enough--to come by...

[Surprising] news arrived from across the Atlantic. In a 30 June press conference, Bell Labs suddenly lifted its six-month veil of secrecy and announced the invention of the transistor by Bardeen, Brattain, and Shockley.

After the Bell Labs revelations, Mataré and Welker had little difficulty getting the PTT minister to visit their lab. Thomas urged them to apply for a French patent...

On 13 August, the company submitted a patent application...

[The] May 1949 press conference... The French device "turns out...to be superior to its American counterpart,"

So... France made transistor-like things six months after Bell Labs... If they had gotten the PTT visit when they first asked... perhaps we would have 'transistron circuits' instead of 'transistor circuits'...


... Now I'm wonder about British efforts... they had that 'Sterling bomber' with its Allied radar tech... were they researching better radar too? Or just using the American efforts wholesale??

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