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First-Hand:A Memorable Period

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Submitted by Jack Peterson

I spent over 50 years working in the electric/electronics industry before retiring in 2009. In retrospect the period from 1953 to approximately 1970 was the most interesting and stimulating period of my career. I attribute this to the fact that active electronic devices changed rapidly during that period. Circuit design was a constant challenge.

After graduating from the University of Conn. in 1951 with a degree in Electrical Engineering I became an officer in the Army Signal Corp. I was sent to Korea as a member of Signal Service Battalion and was involved with providing communications between between the various front line divisions and 8th Army headquarters in Seoul. All of the equipment I was involved with used vacuum tubes.

When the Korean war ended I returned to the United States and began working for the Hughes Aircraft Co. on design and testing of weapon fire control systems for military aircraft. The systems I worked on used miniature vacuum tubes. Transistors were not available that were suitable for the fire control systems. Some advanced designs used germanium transistors, but they proved to be unsuitable because of temperature sensitivity.

In 1956 I changed companies and was involved with the design of servo amplifiers using silicon transistors. These were made by Texas Instruments and were very expensive. Each power transistor cost hundreds of dollars.

In 1964 I joined Scientific Data Systems responsible for the technology development for the new Sigma Series computers One element of hardware for the computer were logic cards which used individual transistors. We worked closely with the engineers at Fairchild Semiconductors to develop a device which contained four transistors in a package thus reducing the number of logic cards required. This was my first hint of the potential of integrating circuits on a single semiconductor chip.

In 1968 I became acquainted with Robert Noyce, one of the founders of Intel. Bob was in the early stages of starting Intel and he visited us at SDS to discuss what products Intel should focus on. In particular integrated CPU's or memories. At the time we were using magnetic core memories in our products. They were expensive and required a lot of space. Our natural reaction was to advise Bob that Intel should focus on memories. Fortunately he didn't take our advice and Intel of course has become very successful producing integrated CPUs.

The transition from vacuum tubes to transistors and then integrated circuits occured in a relatively short period of time. It was an exciting time to be working in the electronics industry.