Jack S. Kilby: Inventor of the Microchip

Early Life

Kilby was born on November 8, 1823,and grew up in the city of Great Bend, Kansas. An intelligent young man, it seemed as though he was destined to work with electronics from the day he was born. Indeed, as a result of his father, who ran an electric company, he always had some interest in electrical devices.(Nobelprize.org). What ultimately sparked Kilby's passion and made him decide to become an electrical engineer was amateur radio.

After breezing through high school, Kilby went on to the University of Illinois, to major in electrical engineering.  He focused mainly on electrical power, though he also took vacuum tube engineering physics classes (Nobelprize.org). Unfortunately for him, the year after he graduated, Bell labs announced the invention of the transistor- causing the knowledge he gained from the vacuum tube classes to become obsolete. Kilby wasn't one to be discouraged, however- he simply saw this as an opportunity to apply his knowledge in a new way. 


Upon graduating in 1947, Kilby joined the Centralab division of Global Union Inc(part of a large electronics manufacturer) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (ideafinder). He obtained his M.S. in Electrical Engineering in 1950, while employed there- taking evening classes to acquire it.  It was hard work, but in his short autobiography on the Nobel Prize website, he concluded that it was worth every second. (Wikipedia)

In 1958, after moving to Dallas, Texas with his wife, Kilby began working for Texas instruments. As a new hire, he didn't exactly have a lot of leeway- the poor guy wasn't even allowed a summer vacation for the first period of his employment there.This is actually quite fortunate- during the period when he would have been on vacation, Kilby was instead working alongside Robert Noyce (Everything2) on solving a problem known as the Tyranny of Numbers. It was this work that would lead to Kilby's invention of the integrated circuit-also known as the microchip-and change the face of electronics forever. He obtained his first patent in 1959. 

I can't stress enough how revolutionary Kilby's invention was. Almost every piece of technology in our lives today utilizes the integrated circuit in one way or another. Of course, Kilby wasn't about to stop there. As if revolutionizing Western society wasn't enough, Kilby also went on to invent the thermal printer, the hand-held calculator....he held a grand total of somewhere between sixteen and sixty patents by the time of his death. The man was a genius,right up there with Edison. 

Old Age/Final Years

After taking a leave of absence from Texas Instruments in 1970 to do some "independent work" Kilby worked as a distinguished professor of electrical engineering at A&M University in Texas from 1978-84, and officially retired from Texas Instruments in 1980. Yeah, his "independent work" consisted of being one of the top professors at a university.

In 1970, Kilby received the National Medal of Science, and in 1982 he was inducted into the National Inventor's Hall of Fame(Ideafinder). In 2000, he received the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the integrated circuit.

A lot of people would let all of this go to their head. I mean, really could you have blamed the guy if it had? It's not every day you change the face of the world, after all. Kilby, though...he remained humble. If you read the autobiography he wrote for the Nobel Prize Committee, he notes that someone probably would have invented the integrated circuit eventually. He just happened to be the first man with the time, the resources, and the right idea. Not only that, he also credited Robert Noyce for the invention, and stated that Robert would certainly have received the same award as he, had he still been alive at the time it was issued. (Nobelprize.org).

Jack S. Kilby passed away in June 2005, after a losing battle with cancer. 

Final Thoughts

There's no way you can argue otherwise- this man changed the world. his inventions are still in use today, in one way or another. One can only imagine what might have happened if he'd gone on his vacation instead of working on the tyranny of numbers. True, it might be as he said, and someone may have come across his invention eventually.

But there's also a chance that the information age might never have happened. Computers, cell phones, video games...we mightn't have any of this, were it not for dear old Jack.  Hats off to you, Doctor Kilby. May you rest in peace. 





Aug 3, 2011
by Anonymous

Proofread much?

"Kilby was born on November 8, 1823,and grew up in the city of Great Bend, Kansas."

"Upon graduating in 1947" (uhh...at which point he was 124?!?)