December 1983, pp. 346-374.
America is today in the midst of a great technological revolution.
With the advent of the silicon chip, information processing, communications,
and the national economy have been strikingly altered. The new technology
is changing how we live, how we work, how we think. The revolution didn't
just happen; it was engineered by a small number of people, principally
Middle Americans, whose horizons were as unlimited as the Iowa sky. collectively,
they engineered Tomorrow. Foremost among them is Robert Noyce.
The Tinkerings of Robert Noyce
How the Sun Rose on the Silicon
First published in Esquire Magazine, December 1983,
Copyright© by Tom Wolfe.
Reproduced by Permission of International Creative
Management. For academic use only.
In 1948 there were seven thousand people in Grinnell,
Iowa, including more than one who didn't dare take a drink in his own house
without pulling the shades down first. It was against the law to sell liquor
in Grinnell, but it was perfectly legal to drink it at home. So it wasn't
that. It wasn't even that someone might look in through the window and
disapprove. God knew Grinnell had more than its share of White Ribbon teetotalers,
but by 1948 alcohol was hardly the mark of Cain it had once been. No, those
timid souls with their fingers through the shade loops inside the white
frame houses on Main Street and Park Street were thinking of something
They happened to live on land originally owned by
the Congregational minister who had founded the town in 1854, Josiah Grinnell.
Josiah Grinnell had sold off lots with covenants, in perpetuity, stating
that anyone who allowed alcohol to be drunk on his property forfeited ownership.
perpetuity! In perpetuity was forever, and 1948 was not even a hundred
years later. In 1948 there were people walking around Grinnell who had
known Josiah Grinnell personally. They were getting old; Grinnell had died
in 1891; but they were still walking around. So... why take a chance!
The plain truth was, Grinnell had Middle West written
all over it. It was squarely in the middle of Iowa's Midland corn belt,
where people on the farms said "crawdad" instead of crayfish and "barn
lot" instead of barnyard. Grinnell had been one of many Protestant religious
communities established in the mid-nineteenth century after Iowa became
a state and settlers from the East headed for the farmlands. The streets
were lined with white clapboard houses and elm trees, like a New England
village. And today, in 1948, the hard-scrubbed Octagon Soap smell of nineteenth
century Protestantism still permeated the houses and Main Street as well.
That was no small part of what people in the East thought of when they
heard the term "Middle West. " For thirty years writers such as Sherwood
Anderson, Sinclair Lewis, and Carl Van Vechten had been prompting the most
delicious sniggers with their portraits of the churchy, narrow minded Middle
West. The Iowa painter Grant Wood was thinking of farms like the ones around
Grinnell when he did his famous painting American Gothic. Easterners
recognized the grim, juiceless couple in Wood's picture right away. There
were John Calvin's and John Knox's rectitude reigning in the sticks.
In the fall of 1948 Harry Truman picked out Grinnell
as one of the stops on his whistle-stop campaign tour, one of the hamlets
where he could reach out to the little people, the average Americans of
the heartland, the people untouched by the sophisticated opinion-makers
of New York and Washington. Speaking from the rear platform of his railroad
car, Truman said he would never forget Grinnell, because it was Grinnell
College, the little Congregational academy over on Park Street, that had
given him his first honorary degree. The President's fond recollection
didn't cut much ice, as it turned out. The town had voted Republican in
every presidential election since the first time Abraham Lincoln ran, in
1860, and wasn't about to change for Harry Truman.
On the face of it, there you had Grinnell Iowa, in
1948: a piece of mid-nineteenth century American history frozen solid in
the middle of the twentieth. It was one of the last towns in America that
people back east would have figured to become the starting point of a bolt
into the future that would create the very substructure, the electronic
grid, of life in the year 2000 and beyond.
On the other hand, it wouldn't have surprised Josiah
Grinnell in the slightest.
It was in the summer of 1948 that Grant Gale, a forty-five-year-old
physics professor at Grinnell College, ran across an item in the newspaper
concerning a former classmate of his at the University of Wisconsin named
John Bardeen. Bardeen's father had been dean of medicine at Wisconsin,
and Gale's wife Harriet's father had been dean of the engineering school,
and so Bardeen and Harriet had grown up as fellow faculty brats, as the
phrase went. Both Gale and Bardeen had majored in electrical engineering.
Eventually Bardeen had taught physics at the University of Minnesota and
had then left the academic world to work for Bell Laboratories, the telephone
company's main research center, in Murray Hill, New Jersey. And now, according
to the item, Bardeen and another engineer at Bell, Walter Brattain, had
invented a novel little device they called a transistor.
It was only an item, however: the invention of the
transistor in 1948 did not create headlines. The transistor apparently
performed the same function as the vacuum tube, which was an essential
component of telephone relay systems and radios. Like the vacuum tube,
the transistor could isolate a specific electrical signal, such as a radio
wave, and amplify it. But the transistor did not require glass tubing,
a vacuum, a plate, or a cathode. It was nothing more than two minute gold
wires leading to a piece of processed germanium less than a sixteenth of
an inch long. Germanium, an element found in coal, was an insulator, not
a conductor. But if the germanium was contaminated with impurities, it
became a "semiconductor." A vacuum tube was also a semiconductor; the vacuum
itself, like the germanium, was an insulator. But as every owner of a portable
radio knew, vacuum tubes drew a lot of current, required a warm-up interval
before they would work, and then got very hot. A transistor eliminated
all these problems and, on top of that, was about fifty times smaller than
a vacuum tube.
So far, however, it was impossible to mass-produce
transistors, partly because the gold wires had to be made by hand and attached
by hand two thousandths of an inch apart. But that was the telephone company's
problem. Grant Gale wasn't interested in any present or future applications
of the transistor in terms of products. He hoped the transistor might offer
a way to study the flow of electrons through a solid (the germanium), a
subject physicists had speculated about for decades. He thought it would
be terrific to get some transistors for his physics department at Grinnell.
So he wrote to Bardeen at Bell Laboratories. Just to make sure his request
didn't get lost in the shuffle, he also wrote to the president of Bell
Laboratories, Oliver Buckley. Buckley was from Sloane, Iowa, and happened
to be a Grinnell graduate. So by the fall of 1948 Gale had obtained two
of the first transistors ever made, and he presented the first academic
instruction in solid-state electronics available anywhere in the world,
for the benefit of the eighteen students majoring in physics at Grinnell
One of Grant Gale's senior physics majors was a local
boy named Robert Noyce, whom Gale had known for years. Bob and his brothers,
Donald, Gaylord, and Ralph, lived just down Park Street and used to rake
leaves, mow the lawn, baby-sit, and do other chores for the Gales. Lately
Grant Gale had done more than his share of agonizing over Bob Noyce. Like
his brothers, Bob was a bright student, but he had just been thrown out
of school for a semester, and it had taken every bit of credit Gale had
in the local favor bank, not only with other faculty members but also with
the sheriff, to keep the boy from being expelled for good and stigmatized
with a felony conviction.
Bob Noyce's father, Ralph Sr. was a Congregational
minister. Not only that, both of his grandfathers were Congregational ministers.
But that hadn't helped at all. In an odd way, after the thing happened,
the boy's clerical lineage had boomeranged on him. People were going around
saying, "Well, what do you expect from a preacher's son?" It was as if
people in Grinnell unconsciously agreed with Sherwood Anderson that underneath
the righteousness the midwestern Protestant preachers urged upon them,
and which they themselves professed to uphold, lived demons of weakness,
perversion, and hypocrisy that would break loose sooner or later.
No one denied that the Noyce boys were polite and
proper in all outward appearances. They were all members of the Boy Scouts.
They went to Sunday School and the main Sunday service at the First Congregational
Church and were active in the church youth groups. They were pumped full
of Congregationalism until it was spilling over. Their father, although
a minister, was not the minister of the First Congregational Church. He
was the associate superintendent of the Iowa Conference of Congregational
Churches, whose headquarters were at the college. The original purpose
of the college had been to provide a good academic Congregational education,
and many of the graduates became teachers. The Conference was a coordinating
council rather than a governing body, since a prime tenet of the Congregational
Church embedded in its name, was that each congregation was autonomous.
Congregationalists rejected the very idea of a church hierarchy. A Congregational
minister was not supposed to be a father or even a shepherd, but, rather,
a teacher. Each member of the congregation was supposed to internalize
the moral precepts of the church and be his own priest dealing directly
with God. So the job of secretary of the Iowa Conference of Congregational
Churches was anything but a position of power. It didn't pay much, either.
The Noyces didn't own their own house. They lived
in a two-story white clapboard house that was owned by the church at Park
Street and Tenth Avenue, at the college.
Not having your own house didn't carry the social
onus in Grinnell that it did in the East. There was no upper crust in Grinnell.
There were no top people who kept the social score in such matters. Congregationalists
rejected the idea of a social hierarchy as fiercely as they did the idea
of a religious hierarchy. The Congregationalists, like the Presbyterians,
Methodists, Baptists, and United Brethren, were Dissenting Protestants.
They were direct offshoots of the Separatists, who had split off from the
Church of England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and settled
New England. At bottom, their doctrine of the autonomous congregation was
derived from their hatred of the British system of class and status, with
its endless gradations, topped off by the Court and the aristocracy. Even
as late as 1948 the typical small town of the Middle West, like Grinnell,
had nothing approaching a country club set. There were subtle differences
in status in Grinnell, as in any other place, and it was better to be rich
than poor, but there were only two obvious social ranks: those who were
devout, educated, and hardworking, and those who weren't. Genteel poverty
did not doom one socially in Grinnell. Ostentation did. The Noyce boys
worked at odd jobs to earn their pocket money. That was socially correct
as well as useful. To have devoted the same time to taking tennis lessons
or riding lessons would have been a gaffe in Grinnell.
Donald, the oldest of the four boys, had done brilliantly
at the college and had just received his Ph.D. in chemistry at Columbia
University and was about to join the faculty of the University of California
at Berkeley. Gaylord, the second oldest, was teaching school in Turkey.
Bob, who was a year younger than Gaylord, had done so well in science at
Grinnell High School that Grant Gale had invited him to take the freshman
physics course at the college during his high school senior year. He became
one of Gale's star students and most tireless laboratory workers from that
time on. Despite his apparent passion for the scientific grind, Bob Noyce
turned out to be that much-vaunted creature, the well-rounded student.
He was a trim, muscular boy, five feet eight, with thick dark brown hair,
a strong jawline, and a long, broad nose that gave him a rugged appearance.
He was the star diver on the college swimming team and won the Midwest
Conference championship in 1947. He sang in choral groups, played the oboe,
and was an actor with the college dramatic society. He also acted in a
radio drama workshop at the college, along with his friend Peter Hackes
and some others who were interested in broadcasting, and was the leading
man in a soap opera that was broadcast over station WOI in Ames, Iowa.
Perhaps Bob Noyce was a bit too well rounded for
local tastes. There were people who still remembered the business with
the box kite back in 1941, when he was thirteen. It had been harmless,
but it could have been a disaster. Bob had come across some plans for the
building of a box kite, a kite that could carry a person aloft, in the
magazine Popular Science. So he and Gaylord made a frame of cross-braced
pine and covered it with a bolt of muslin. They tried to get the thing
up by running across a field and towing it with a rope, but that didn't
work terribly well. Then they hauled it up on the roof of a barn, and Bob
sat in the seat and Gaylord ran across the roof, pulling the kite. and
Bob was lucky he didn't break his neck when he and the thing hit the ground.
So then they tied it to the rear bumper of a neighbor's car. With the neighbor
at the wheel, Bob rode the kite and managed to get about twelve feet off
the ground and glide for thirty seconds or so and come down without wrecking
himself or any citizen's house or livestock.
Livestock. . . yes. Livestock was a major capital
asset in Grinnell, and livestock was at the heart of what happened in 1948.
In May a group of Bob Noyce's friends in one of the dormitory houses at
Grinnell decided to have a luau, and he was in on the planning. The Second
World War had popularized the exotic ways of the South Pacific, so that
in 1948 the luau was an up-to-the-minute social innovation. The centerpiece
of a luau was a whole roasted suckling pig with an apple or a pineapple
in its mouth. Bob Noyce, being strong and quick, was one of the two boys
assigned to procure the pig. That night they sneaked onto a farm just outside
of Grinnell and wrestled a twenty-five-pound suckling out of the pigpen
and arrived back at the luau to great applause. Within a few hours the
pig was crackling hot and had an apple in its mouth and looked good enough
for seconds and thirds, which everybody helped himself to, and there was
more applause. The next morning came the moral hangover. The two boys decided
to go see the farmer, confess, and pay for the pig. They didn't quite understand
how a college luau, starring his pig, would score on the laugh meter with
a farmer in midland Iowa. In the state of Iowa, where the vast majority
of people depended upon agriculture for a livelihood and upon Protestant
morality for their standards, not even stealing a watermelon worth thirty-five
cents was likely to be written off as a boyish prank. Stealing a pig was
larceny. The farmer got the sheriff and insisted on bringing criminal charges.
There was only so much that Ralph Noyce, the preacher with the preacher's
son, could do. Grant Gale, on the other hand, was the calm, well-respected
third party. He had two difficult tasks: to keep Bob out of jail and out
of court and to keep the college administration from expelling him. There
was never any hope at all of a mere slap on the wrist. The compromise Grant
Gale helped work out? a one-semester suspension? was the best deal Bob
could have hoped for realistically.
The Night of the Luau Pig was quite a little scandal
on the Grinnell Richter scale. So Gale was all the more impressed by the
way Bob Noyce took it. The local death-ray glowers never broke his confidence.
All the Noyce boys had a profound and, to tell the truth, baffling confidence.
Bob had a certain way of listening and staring. He would lower his head
slightly and look up with a gaze that seemed to be about one hundred amperes.
While he looked at you he never blinked and never swallowed. He absorbed
everything you said and then answered very levelly in a soft baritone voice
and often with a smile that showed off his terrific set of teeth. The stare,
the voice, the smile; it was all a bit like the movie persona of the most
famous of all Grinnell College's alumni, Gary Cooper. With his strong face,
his athlete's build, and the Gary Cooper manner, Bob Noyce projected what
psychologists call the halo effect. People with the halo effect seem to
know exactly what they're doing and, moreover, make you want to admire
them for it. They make you see the halos over their heads.
Years later people would naturally wonder where Bob
Noyce got his confidence. Many came to the conclusion it was as, much from
his mother, Harriett Norton Noyce, as from his father. She was a latter-day
version of the sort of strong-willed, intelligent, New England-style woman
who had made such a difference during Iowa's pioneer days a hundred years
before. His mother and father, with the help of Rowland Cross, who taught
mathematics at Grinnell, arranged for Bob to take a job in the actuarial
department of Equitable Life in New York City for the summer. He stayed
on at the job during the fall semester, then came back to Grinnell at Christmas
and rejoined the senior class in January as the second semester began.
Gale was impressed by the aplomb with which the prodigal returned. In his
first three years Bob had accumulated so many extra credits, it would take
him only this final semester to graduate. He resumed college life, including
the extracurricular activities, without skipping a beat. But more than
that, Gale was gratified by the way Bob became involved with the new experimental
device that was absorbing so much of Gale's own time: the transistor.
Bob was not the only physics major interested in
the transistor, but he was the one who seemed most curious about where
this novel mechanism might lead. He went off to the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology, in Cambridge, in the fall to begin his graduate work. When
he brought up the subject of the transistor at MIT, even to faculty members,
people just looked at him. Even those who had heard of it regarded it merely
as a novelty fabricated by the telephone company. There was no course work
involving transistors or the theory of solid-state electronics. His dissertation
was a "Photoelectric Study of Surface States on Insulators," which was
at best merely background for solid-state electronics. In this area MIT
was far behind Grinnell College. For a good four years Grant Gale remained
one of the few people Bob Noyce could compare notes with in this new field.
Well, it had been a close one! What if Grant Gale
hadn't gone to school with John Bardeen, and what if Oliver Buckley hadn't
been a Grinnell alumnus? And what if Gale hadn't bothered to get in touch
with the two of them after he read the little squib about the transistor
in the newspaper? What if he hadn't gone to bat for Bob Noyce after the
Night of the Luau Pig and the boy had been thrown out of college and that
had been that? After all, if Bob hadn't been able to finish at Grinnell,
he probably never would have been introduced to the transistor. He certainly
wouldn't have come across it at MIT in 1948. Given what Bob Noyce did over
the next twenty years, one couldn't help but wonder about the fortuitous
chain of events.
Fortuitous. . . well! How Josiah Grinnell,
up on the plains of Heaven, must have laughed over that!
GRANT GALE WAS the first important physicist in Bob
Noyce's career. The second was William Shockley. After their ambitions
had collided one last time, and they had parted company, Noyce had concluded
that he and Shockley were two very different people. But in many ways they
For a start, they both had an amateur's hambone love
of being on-stage. At MIT Noyce had sung in choral groups. Early in the
summer of 1953, after he had received his Ph.D., he went over to Tufts
College to sing and act in a program of musicals presented by the college.
The costume director was a girl named Elizabeth Bottomley, from Barrington,
Rhode Island, who had just graduated from Tufts, majoring in English. They
both enjoyed dramatics. Singing, acting, and skiing had become the pastimes
Noyce enjoyed most. He had become almost as expert at skiing as he had
been at diving. Noyce and Betty, as he called her, were married that fall.
In 1953 the MIT faculty was just beginning to understand
the implications of the transistor. But electronics firms were already
eager to have graduate electrical engineers who could do research and development
in the new field. Noyce was offered jobs by Bell Laboratories, IBM, by
RCA, and Philco. He went to work for Philco, in Philadelphia, because Philco
was starting from near zero in semiconductor research and chances for rapid
advancement seemed good. But Noyce was well aware that the most important
work was still being done at Bell Laboratories, thanks in no small part
to William Shockley.
Shockley had devised the first theoretical framework
for research into solid-state semiconductors as far back as 1939 and was
in charge of the Bell Labs team that included John Bardeen and Walter Brattain.
Shockley had also originated the "junction transistor," which turned the
transistor from an exotic laboratory instrument into a workable item. By
1955 Shockley had left Bell and returned to Palo Alto, California, where
he had grown up near Stanford University, to form his own company, Shockley
Semiconductor Laboratory, with start up money provided by Arnold Beckman
of Beckman Instruments. Shockley opened up shop in a glorified shed on
South San Antonio Road in Mountain View, which was just south of Palo Alto.
The building was made of concrete blocks with the rafters showing. Aside
from clerical and maintenance personnel, practically all the employees
were electrical engineers with doctorates. In a field this experimental
there was nobody else worth hiring. Shockley began talking about "my Ph.D.
production line. "
Meanwhile, Noyce was not finding Philco the golden
opportunity he thought it would be. Philco wanted good enough transistors
to stay in the game with GE and RCA, but it was not interested in putting
money into the sort of avant-garde research Noyce had in mind. In 1956
he resigned from Philco and moved from Pennsylvania to California to join
Shockley. The way he went about it was a classic example of the Noyce brand
of confidence. By now he and his wife, Betty, had two children: Bill, who
was two, and Penny, who was six months old. After a couple of telephone
conversations with Shockley, Noyce put himself and Betty on a night flight
from Philadelphia to San Francisco. They arrived in Palo Alto at six A.M.
By noon Noyce had signed a contract to buy a house. That afternoon he went
to Mountain View to see Shockley and ask for a job, projected the halo,
and got it.
The first months on Shockley's Ph.D. production line
were exhilarating. It wasn't really a production line at all. Everything
at this stage was research. Every day a dozen young Ph.D.'s came to the
shed at eight in the morning and began heating germanium and silicon, another
common element, in kilns to temperatures ranging from 1,472 to 2,552 degrees
Fahrenheit. They wore white lab coats, goggles, and work gloves. When they
opened the kiln doors weird streaks of orange and white light went across
their faces, and they put in the germanium or the silicon, along with specks
of aluminum, phosphorus, boron. and arsenic. Contaminating the germanium
or silicon with the aluminum, phosphorus, boron, and arsenic was called
doping. Then they lowered a small mechanical column into the goo so that
crystals formed on the bottom of the column, and they pulled the crystal
out and tried to get a grip on it with tweezers, and put it under microscopes
and cut it with diamond cutters, among other things, into minute slices,
wafers, chips; there were no names in electronics for these tiny forms.
The kilns cooked and bubbled away, the doors opened, the pale apricot light
streaked over the goggles, the tweezers and diamond cutters flashed, the
white coats flapped, the Ph. D.'s squinted through their microscopes, and
Shockley moved between the tables conducting the arcane symphony.
In pensive moments Shockley looked very much the
scholar, with his roundish face, his roundish eyeglasses, and his receding
hairline; but Shockley was not a man locked in the pensive mode. He was
an enthusiast, a raconteur, and a showman. At the outset his very personality
was enough to keep everyone swept up in the great adventure. When he lectured,
as he often did at colleges and before professional groups, he would walk
up to the lectern and thank the master of ceremonies and say that the only
more flattering introduction he had ever received was one he gave himself
one night when the emcee didn't show up, whereupon - bango!- a bouquet
of red roses would pop up in his hand. Or he would walk up to the lectern
and say that tonight he was getting into a hot subject, whereupon he would
open up a book and - whump! -a puff of smoke would rise up out of
Shockley was famous for his homely but shrewd examples.
One day a student confessed to being puzzled by the concept of amplification,
which was one of the prime functions of the transistor. Shockley told him:
"If you take a bale of hay and tie it to the tail of a mule and then strike
a match and set the bale of hay on fire, and if you then compare the energy
expended shortly thereafter by the mule with the energy expended by yourself
in the striking of the match, you will understand the concept of amplification."
On November 1,1956, Shockley arrived at the shed
on South San Antonio Road beaming. Early that morning he had received a
telephone call informing him that he had won the Nobel Prize for physics
for the invention of the transistor; or, rather, that he was co-winner,
along with John Bardeen and Walter Brattain. Shockley closed up shop and
took everybody to a restaurant called Dinah's Shack over on El Camino Real,
the road to San Francisco that had become Palo Alto's commercial strip.
He treated his Ph. D. production line and all the other employees to a
champagne breakfast. It seemed that Shockley's father was a mining engineer
who spent years out on remote durango terrain, in Nevada, Manchuria and
all over the world. Shockley's mother was like Noyce's. She was an intelligent
woman with a commanding will. The Shockleys were Unitarians, the Unitarian
Church being an offshoot of the Congregational. Shockley Sr. was twenty
years older than Shockley's mother and died when Shockley was seventeen.
Shockley's mother was determined that her son would someday "set the world
on fire," as she once put it. And now he had done it. Shockley lifted a
glass of champagne in Dinah's Shack, and it was as if it were a toast back
across a lot of hardwrought durango grit Octagon Soap sagebrush Dissenting
Protestant years to his father's memory and his mother's determination.
That had been a great day at Shockley Semiconductor
Laboratory. There weren't many more. Shockley was magnetic, he was a genius,
and he was a great research director? the best, in fact. His forte was
breaking a problem down to first principles. With a few words and a few
lines on a piece of paper he aimed any experiment in the right direction.
When it came to comprehending the young engineers on his Ph.D. production
line, however, he was not so terrific.
It never seemed to occur to Shockley that his twelve
highly educated elves just might happen to view themselves the same way
he had always viewed himself: which is to say, as young geniuses capable
of the sort of inventions Nobel Prizes were given for. One day Noyce came
to Shockley with some new results he had found in the laboratory. Shockley
picked up the telephone and called some former colleagues at Bell Labs
to see if they sounded right. Shockley never even realized that Noyce had
gone away from his desk seething. Then there was the business of the new
management techniques. Now that he was an entrepreneur, Shockley came up
with some new ways to run a company. Each one seemed to irritate the elves
more than the one before. For a start, Shockley published their salaries.
He posted them on a bulletin board. That way there would be no secrets.
Then he started having the employees rate one another on a regular basis.
These were so-called peer ratings, a device sometimes used in the military
and seldom appreciated even there. Everybody regarded peer ratings as nothing
more than popularity contests. But the real turning point was the lie detector.
Shockley was convinced that someone in the shed was sabotaging the project.
The work was running into inexplicable delays, but the money was running
out on schedule. So he insisted that one employee roll up his sleeve and
bare his chest and let the electrodes be attached and submit to a polygraph
examination. No saboteur was ever found.
There were also some technical differences of opinion.
Shockley was interested in developing a so-called four-layer diode. Noyce
and two of his fellow elves, Gordon Moore and Jean Hoerni, favored transistors.
But at bottom it was dissatisfaction with the boss and the lure of entrepreneurship
that led to what happened next.
In the summer of 1957 Moore, Hoerni, and five other
engineers, but not Noyce, got together and arrived at what became one of
the primary business concepts of the young semiconductor industry. In this
business, it dawned on them, capital assets in the traditional sense of
plant, equipment, and raw materials counted for next to nothing. The only
plant you needed was a shed big enough for the worktables. The only equipment
you needed was some kilns, goggles, microscopes, tweezers, and diamond
cutters. The materials, silicon and germanium, came from dirt and coal.
Brainpower was the entire franchise. If the seven of them thought they
could do the job better than Shockley, there was nothing to keep them from
starting their own company. On that day was born the concept that would
make the semiconductor business as wild as show business: defection capital.
The seven defectors went to the Wall Street firm
of Hayden Stone in search of start-up money. It was at this point that
they realized they had to have someone to serve as administrator. So they
turned to Noyce, who was still with Shockley. None of them, including Noyce,
had any administrative experience, but they all thought of Noyce as soon
as the question came up. They didn't know exactly what they were
looking for... but Noyce was the one with the halo. He agreed to join them.
He would continue to wear a white lab coat and goggles and do research.
But he would also be the coordinator. Of the eight of them, he would be
the one man who kept track, on a regular basis, of all sides of the operation.
He was twenty-nine years old.
Arthur Rock of Hayden Stone approached twenty-two
firms before he finally hooked the defectors up with the Fairchild Camera
and Instrument Corporation of New York. Fairchild was owned by Sherman
Fairchild, a bachelor bon vivant who lived in a futuristic town house on
East Sixty-fifth Street in Manhattan. The house was in two sections connected
by ramps. The ramps were fifty feet long in some cases, enclosed in glass
so that you could go up and down the ramps in all weather and gaze upon
the marble courtyard below. The place looked like something from out of
the Crystal Palace of Ming in Flash Gordon. The ramps were for his
Aunt May, who lived with him and was confined to a wheelchair and had even
more Fairchild money than he did. The chief executive officer of Fairchild
was John Carter, who had just come from the Corning Glass Company. He had
been the youngest vice president in the history of that old-line, family-owned
firm. He was thirty-six. Fairchild Camera and Instrument gave the defectors
the money to start up the new company, Fairchild Semiconductor, with the
understanding that Fairchild Carnera and Instrument would have the right
to buy Fairchild Semiconductor for $3 million at any time within the next
Shockley took the defections very hard. He seemed
as much hurt as angered, and he was certainly angry enough. A friend of
Shockley's said to Noyce's wife, Betty: "You must have known about this
for quite some time. How on earth could you not tell me?" That was a baffling
remark, unless one regarded Shockley as the father of the transistor and
the defectors as the children he had taken beneath his mantle of greatness.
If so, one had a point. Years later, if anyone had
drawn up a family tree for the semiconductor industry, practically every
important branch would have led straight from Shockley's shed on South
San Antonio Road. On the other hand, Noyce had been introduced to the transistor
not by Shockley but by John Bardeen, via Grant Gale, and not in California
but back in his own hometown, Grinnell, Iowa.
For that matter, Josiah Grinnell had been a defector
in his day, too, and there was no record that he had ever lost a night's
sleep over it.
Noyce, Gordon Moore, Jean Hoerni and the other five
defectors set up Fairchild Semiconductor in a two-story warehouse building
some speculator had built out of tilt-up concrete slabs on Charleston Avenue
in Mountain View, about twelve blocks from Shockley's operation. Mountain
View was in the northern end of the Santa Clara Valley. In the business
world the valley was known mainly for its apricot, pear, and plum orchards.
From the work bays of the light-industry sheds that the speculators were
beginning to build in the valley you could look out and see the raggedy
little apricot trees they had never bother to buldoze after they bought
the land from the farmers. A few well known electronics firms were already
in the valley: General Electric and IBM, as well as a company that had
started up locally, Hewlett-Packard. Stanford University was encouraging
engineering concerns to locate near Palo alto and use the university's
research facilities. The man who ran the program was a friend of Shockley's,
Frederick E. Terman, whose father had originated the first scientific measurement
of human intelligence, the Stanford-Binet IQ test.
IBM had a facility in the valley that was devoted
specifically to research rather than production. Both IBM and Hewlett-Packard
were trying to develop a highly esoteric and colossally expensive new device,
the electronic computer. Shockley had been the first entrepreneur to come
to the area to make semiconductors. After the defections his operation
never got off the ground. Here in the Santa Clara Valley, that left the
field to Noyce and the others at Fairchild.
Fairchild's start-up couldn't have come at a better
time. By 1957 there was sufficient demand from manufacturers who merely
wanted transistors instead of vacuum tubes, for use in radios and other
machines, to justify the new operation. But it was also in 1957 that the
Soviet Union launched Sputnik I. In the electronics industry the
ensuing space race had the effect of coupling two new inventions?the transistor
and the computer?and magnifying the importance of both.
The first American electronic computer known as ENIAC,
had been developed by the Army during the Second World War, chiefly as
a means of computing artillery and bomb trajectories. The machine was a
monster. It was one hundred feet long and ten feet high and required eighteen
thousand vacuum tubes. The tubes generated so much heat, the temperature
in the room sometimes reached 120 degrees. What the government needed was
small computers that could be installed in rockets to provide automatic
onboard guidance. Substituting transistors for vacuum tubes was an obvious
way to cut down on the size. After Sputnik the glamorous words in the semiconductor
business were computers and miniaturization.
Other than Shockley Semiconductor, Fairchild was
the only semiconductor company in the Santa Clara Valley, but Texas Instruments
had entered the field in Dallas, as had Motorola in Phoenix and Transitron
and Raytheon in the Boston area, where a new electronics industry was starting
up as MIT finally began to comprehend the new technology. These firms were
all racing to refine the production of transistors to the point where they
might command the market. So far refinement had not been anybody's long
suit. No tourist dropping by Fairchild, Texas Instruments, Motorola, or
Transitron would have had the faintest notion he was looking in on the
leading edge of the most advanced of all industries, electronics. The work
bays, where the transistors were produced looked like slightly sunnier
versions of the garment sweatshops of San Francisco's Chinatown. Here were
rows of women hunched over worktables, squinting through microscopes doing
the most tedious and frustrating sort of manual labor, cutting layers of
silicon apart with diamond cutters, picking little rectangles of them up
with tweezers, trying to attach wires to them, dropping them, rummaging
around on the floor to find them again, swearing, muttering, climbing back
up to their chairs, rubbing their eyes, squinting back through the microscopes,
and driving themselves crazy some more. Depending on how well the silicon
or germanium had been cooked and doped, anywhere from 50 to 90 percent
of the transistors would turn out to be defective even after all that,
and sometimes the good ones would be the ones that fell on the floor and
Even for a machine as simple as a radio the individual
transistors had to be wired together, by hand, until you ended up with
a little panel that looked like a road map of West Virginia. As for a computer,
the wires inside a computer were sheer spaghetti.
Noyce had figured out a solution. But fabricating
it was another matter. There was something primitive about cutting individual
transistors out of sheets of silicon and then wiring them back together
in various series. Why not put them all on a single piece of silicon without
wires? The problem was that you would also have to carve, etch, coat, and
otherwise fabricate the silicon to perform all the accompanying electrical
functions as well, the functions ordinarily performed by insulators, rectifiers,
resistors, and capacitors. You would have to create an entire electrical
system, an entire circuit, on a little wafer or chip.
Noyce realized that he was not the only engineer
thinking along these lines, but he had never even heard of Jack Kilby.
Kilby was a thirty-six-year-old engineer working for Texas lnstruments
in Dallas. In January, 1959 Noyce made his first detailed notes about a
complete solid-state circuit. A month later Texas Instruments announced
that Jack Kilby had invented one. Kilby's integrated circuit, as the invention
was called, was made of germanium. Six months later Noyce created a similar
integrated circuit made of silicon and using a novel insulating process
developed by Jean Hoerni. Noyce's silicon device turned out to be more
efficient and more practical to produce than Kilby's and set the standard
for the industry. So Noyce became known as the co-inventor of the integrated
circuit. Nevertheless, Kilby had unquestionably been first. There was an
ironic echo of Shockley here. Strictly speaking, Bardeen and Brattain,
not Shockley, had invented the transistor, but Shockley wasn't bashful
about being known as the co-inventor. And, now eleven years later, Noyce
wasn't turning bashful either.
Noyce knew exactly what he possessed in this integrated
circuit, or microchip, as the press would call it. Noyce knew that he had
discovered the road to El Dorado.
El Dorado was the vast, still-virgin territory of
electricity. Electricity was already so familiar a part of everyday life,
only a few research engineers understood just how, young and unexplored
the terrain actually was. It had been only eighty years since Edison invented
the light bulb in 1879. It had been less than fifty years since Lee De
Forest, an inventor from Council Bluffs, Iowa had invented the vacuum tube.
The vacuum tube was based on the light bulb, but the vacuum tube opened
up fields the light bulb did not even suggest: long distance radio and
telephone communicatlon. Over the past ten vears, since Bardeen and Brattain
invented it in 1948, the transistor had become the modern replacement for
the vacuum tube. And now came Kilby's and Noyce's integrated circuit. The
integrated circuit was based on the transistor, but the integrated circuit
opened up fields the transistor did not even suggest. The integrated circuit
made it possible to create miniature computers, to put all the functions
of the mighty ENIAC on a panel the size of a playing card. Thereby the
integrated circuit opened up every field of engineering imaginable, from
voyages to the moon to robots, and many fields that had never been imagined,
such as electronic guidance counseling. It opened up so many fields that
no one could even come up with a single name to include them all. "The
second industrial revolution," "the age of the computer, " "the microchip
universe, " "the electronic grid," none of them, not even the handy neologism
"high tech. " could encompass all the implications.
The importance of the integrated circuit was certainly
not lost on John Carter and Fairchild Camera back un New York. In 1959
they exercised their option to buy Fairchild Semiconductor for $3 million.
The next day Noyce, Moore, Hoerni, and the other five former Shockley elves
woke up rich, or richer than they had ever dreamed of being. Each received
$250,000 worth of Fairchild stock.
Josiah Grinnell grew livid on the subject of alcohol.
But he had nothing against money. He would have approved.
Noyce didn't know what to make of his new wealth.
He was thirty-one years old. For the past four years, ever since he had
gone to work for Shockley, the semiconductor business had not seemed like
a business at all but an esoteric game in which young electrical engineers
competed for attaboy's and the occasional round of applause after
delivering a paper before the IEEE, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics
Engineers. It was a game supercharged by the fact that it was being played
in the real world, to use a term that annoyed scientists in the universities.
Someone?Arnold Beckman, Sherman Fairchild, whoever?was betting real money,
and other bands of young elves, at Texas Instruments, RCA, Bell, were out
there competing with you by the real world's rules, which required that
you be practical as well as brilliant. Noyce started working for Fairchild
Semiconductor in 1957 for twelve thousand dollars a year. When it came
to money, he had assumed that he, Like his father, would always be on somebody's
payroll. Now, in 1959, when he talked to his father, he told him: "The
money doesn't seem real. It's just a way of keeping score."
Noyce took his family to visit his parents fairly
often. He and Betty now had three children, Bill, Penny, and Polly, who
was a year old. When they visited the folks, they went off to church on
Sunday with the folks as if it were all very much a part of their lives.
In fact, Noyce had started drifting away from Congregationalism and the
whole matter of churchgoing after he entered MIT. It was not a question
of rejecting it. He never rejected anything about his upbringing in Grinnell.
It was just that he was suddenly heading off somewhere else, down a different
In that respect Noyce was like a great many bright
young men and women from Dissenting Protestant families in the Middle West
after the Second World War. They had been raised as Baptists, Methodists,
Congregationalists, Presbytenans, United Brethren, whatever. They had been
led through the church door and prodded toward religion, but it had never
come alive for them. Sundays made their skulls feel like dried-out husks.
So they slowly walked away from the church and silently, without so much
as a growl of rebellion, congratulated themselves on their independence
of mind and headed into another way of life. Only decades later, in most
cases, would they discover how, absentmindedly, inexplicably, they had
brought the old ways along for the journey nonetheless. It was as if...
through some extraordinary mistake... they had been sewn into the linings
of their coats!
Now that he had some money, Bob Noyce bought a bigger
house. His and Betty's fourth child, Margaret, was born in 1960, and they
wanted each child to have a bedroom. But the thought of moving into any
of the "best" neighborhoods in the Palo Alto area never even crossed his
mind. The best neighborhoods were to be found in Atherton, in Burlingame,
which was known as very social, or in the swell old sections of Palo Alto,
near Stanford University. Instead, Noyce bought a California version of
a French country house in Los Altos, a white stucco house with a steeply
pitched roof. It was scenic up there in the hills, and cooler in the summer
than it was down in the flatlands near the bay. The house had plenty of
room, and he and Betty would be living a great deal better than most couples
their age, but Los Altos folks had no social cachet and the house was not
going to make House & Garden come banging on the door. No one
could accuse them of being ostentatious.
John Carter appointed Noyce general manager of the
entire division, Fairchild Semiconductor, which was suddenly one of the
hottest new outfits in the business world. NASA chose Noyce's integrated
circuits for the first computers that astronauts would use on board their
spacecraft (in the Gemini program). After that, orders poured in. In ten
years Fairchild sales rose from a few thousand dollars a year to $130 million,
and the number of employees rose from the onginal band of elves to twelve
thousand. As the general manager, Noyce now had to deal with a matter Shockley
had dealt with clumsily and prematurely, namely, new management techniques
for this new industry.
One day John Carter came to Mountain Vlew for a close
look at Noyce's semiconductor operation. Carter's office in Syosset, Long
Island, arranged for a limousine and chauffeur to be at his disposal while
he was in California. So Carter arrived at the tilt-up concrete building
in Mountain Vlew in the back of a black Cadillac limousine with a driver
in the front wearing the complete chauffeur's uniform? the black suit,
the white shirt, the black necktie, and the black visored cap. That in
itself was enough to turn heads at Fairchild Semiconductor. Nobody had
ever seen a limousine and a chauffeur out there before. But that wasn't
what fixed the day in everybody's memory. It was the fact that the driver
stayed out there for almost eight hours, doing nothing. He stayed
out there in his uniform, with his visored hat on, in the front seat of
the limousine, all day, doing nothing but waiting for a man who was somewhere
inside. John Carter was inside having a terrific chief executive officer's
time for himself. He took a tour of the plant, he held conferences, he
looked at figures, he nodded with satisfaction, he beamed his urbane Fifty-seventh
Street Biggie CEO charm. And the driver sat out there all day engaged in
the task of supporting a visored cap with his head. People started leaving
their workbenches and going to the front windows just to take a look at
this phenomenon. It seemed that bizarre. Here was a serf who did nothing
all day but wait outside a door in order to be at the service of the
haunches of his master instantly, whenever those haunches and the paunch
and the jowls might decide to reappear. It wasn't merely that this little
peek at the New York-style corporate high life was unusual out here in
the brown hills of the Santa Clara Valley. It was that it seemed terribly
A certain instinct Noyce had about this new industry
and the people who worked in it began to take on the outlines of a concept.
Corporations in the East adopted a feudal approach to organization, without
even being aware of it. There were kings and lords, and there were vassals,
soldiers, yeomen, and serfs, with layers of protocol and perquisites, such
as the car and driver, to symbolize superiority and establish the boundary
lines. Back east the CEOs had offices with carved paneling, fake fireplaces,
escritoires, bergeres, leather-bound books, and dressing rooms, like a
suite in a baronial manor house. Fairchild Semiconductor needed a strict
operating structure, particularly in this period of rapid growth, but it
did not need a social structure. In fact, nothing could be worse. Noyce
realized how much he detested the eastern corporate system of class and
status with its endless gradations, topped off by the CEOs and vice-presidents
who conducted their daily lives as if they were a corporate court and aristocracy.
He rejected the idea of a social hierarchy at Fairchild.
Not only would there be no limousines and chauffeurs,
there would not even be any reserved parking places. Work began at eight
A.M. for one and all, and it would be first come, first served, in the
parking lot, for Noyce, Gordon Moore, Jean Hoerni, and everybody else.
"If you come late," Noyce liked to say, "you just have to park in the back
forty." And there would be no baronial office suites. The glorified warehouse
on Charleston Road was divided into work bays and a couple of rows of cramped
office cubicles. The cubicles were never improved. The decor remained Glorified
Warehouse, and the doors were always open. Half the time Noyce, the chief
administrator, was out in the laboratory anyway, wearing his white lab
coat. Noyce came to work in a coat and tie. but soon the jacket and the
tie were off. and that was fine for any other man in the place too. There
were no rules of dress at all, except for some unwritten ones. Dress should
be modest, modest in the social as well as the moral sense. At Fairchild
there were no hard-worsted double-breasted pinstripe suits and shepherd's-check
neckties. Sharp, elegant, fashionable, or alluring dress was a social blunder.
Shabbiness was not a sin. Ostentation was.
During the start-up phase at Fairchild Semiconductor
there had been no sense of bosses and employees. There had been only a
common sense of struggle out on a frontier. Everyone had internalized the
goals of the venture. They didn't need exhortations from superiors. Besides,
everyone had been so young! Noyce, the administrator or chief coordinator
or whatever he should be called, had been just about the oldest person
on the premises, and he had been barely thirty. And now, in the early 1960s,
thanks to his athletic build and his dark brown hair with the Campus Kid
hairline, he still looked very young. As Fairchild expanded, Noyce didn't
even bother trying to find "experienced management personnel." Out here
in California, in the semiconductor industry, they didn't exist. Instead,
he recruited engineers right out of the colleges and graduate schools and
gave them major responsibilities right off the bat. There was no "staff,"
no "top management" other than the eight partners themselves. Major decisions
were not bucked up a chain of command. Noyce held weekly meetings of people
from all parts of the operation, and whatever had to be worked out was
worked out right there in the room. Noyce wanted them all to keep internalizing
the company's goals and to provide their own motivations, just as they
had during the start-up phase. If they did that, they would have the capacity
to make their own decisions.
The young engineers who came to work for Fairchild
could scarcely believe how much responsibility was suddenly thrust upon
them. Some twenty-four-year-old just out of graduate school would find
himself in charge of a major project with no one looking over his shoulder.
A problem would come up, and he couldn't stand it, and he would go to Noyce
and hyperventilate and ask him what to do. And Noyce would lower his head,
turn on his 100 ampere eyes, listen, and say: "Look, here are your guidelines.
You've got to consider A, you've got to consider B. and you've got to consider
C. " Then he would turn on the Gary Cooper smile: "But if you think I'm
going to make your decision for you, you're mistaken. Hey... it's your
Back east, in the conventional corporation, any functionary
wishing to make an unusually large purchase had to have the approval of
a superior or two or three superiors or even a committee, a procedure that
ate up days, weeks, in paperwork. Noyce turned that around. At Fairchild
any engineer, even a weenie just out of Cal Tech, could make any purchase
he wanted, no matter how enormous, unless someone else objected strongly
enough to try to stop it. Noyce called this the Short Circuit Paper Route.
There was only one piece of paper involved, the piece of paper the engineer
handed somebody in the purchasing department.
The spirit of the start-up phase! My God! Who could
forget the exhilaration of the past few years! To be young and free out
here on the silicon frontier! Noyce was determined to maintain that spirit
during the expansion phase. And for the time being, at least. here in the
early 1960s. the notion of a permanent start-up operation didn't seem too
farfetched. Fairchild was unable to coast on the tremendous advantage Noyce's
invention of the integrated circuit had provided. Competitors were setting
up shop in the Santa Clara Valley like gold rushers. And where did they
come from? Why, from Fairchild itself! And how could that be? Nothing to
it... Defection capital!
Defectors (or redefectors) from Fairchild started
up more than fifty companies, all making or supplying microchips. Raytheon
Semiconductor, Signetics. General Microelectronics, Intersil. Advanced
Micro Devices. Qualidyne? off they spun, each with a sillier pseudotech
engineerologism for a name than the one before. Defectors! What a merry
game that was. Jean Hoerni and three of the other original eight defectors
from Shockley defected from Fairchild to form what would soon become known
as Teledyne Semiconductors, and that was only round one. After all, why
not make all the money for yourself! The urge to use defection capital
was so irresistible that the word defection,with its note of betrayal,
withered away. Defectors were merely the Fairchildren, as Adam Smith dubbed
them. Occasionally defectors from other companies, such as the men from
Texas Instruments and Westinghouse who started Siliconix, moved into the
Santa Clara Valley to join the free-for-all. But it was the Fairchildren
who turned the Santa Clara Valley into the Silicon Valley. Acre by acre
the fruit trees were uprooted, and two-story Silicon Modern office buildings
and factories went up. The state of California built a new freeway past
the area, Route 280. Children heard the phrase "Silicon Valley" so often,
they grew up thinking it was the name on the map.
Everywhere the Fairchild émigrés went,
they took the Noyce approach with them. It wasn't enough to start up a
company; you had to start up a community, a community in which there were
no social distinctions, and it was first come, first served, in the parking
lot, and everyone was supposed to internalize the common goals. The atmosphere
of the new companies was so democratic, it startled businessmen from the
East. Some fifty-five-year-old biggie with his jowls swelling up smoothly
from out of his F. R. Tripler modified-spread white collar and silk jacquard
print necktie would call up from GE or RCA and say, "This is Harold B.
Thatchwaite," and the twenty-three-year-old secretary on the other end
of the line, out in the Silicon Valley, would say in one of those sunny
blond pale-blue-eyed California voices: "Just a minute, Hal, Jack will
be right with you. " And once he got to California and met this Jack for
the first time, there he would be, the CEO himself, all of thirty-three
vears old, wearing no jacket, no necktie, just a checked shirt, khaki pants,
and a pair of moccasins with welted seams the size of jumper cables. Naturally
the first sounds out of this Jack's mouth would be: "Hi, Hal. "
It was the 1960s. and people in the East were hearing
a lot about California surfers, California bikers, hot rodders, car customizers,
California hippies, and political protesters, and the picture they got
was of young people in jeans and T-shirts who were casual, spontaneous,
impulsive, emotional, sensual, undisciplined, and obnoxiously proud of
it. So these semiconductor outfits in the Silicon Valley with their CEOs
dressed like camp counselors struck them as the business versions of the
They couldn't have been more wrong. The new breed
of the Silicon Valley lived for work. They were disciplined to the point
of back spasms. They worked long hours and kept working on weekends. They
became absorbed in their companies the way men once had in the palmy days
of the automobile industry. In the Silicon Valley a young engineer would
go to work at eight in the morning, work right through lunch, leave the
plant at six-thirty or seven, drive home, play with the baby for half an
hour, have dinner with his wife, get in bed with her, give her a quick
toss, then get up and leave her there in the dark and work at his desk
for two or three hours on "a coupla things I had to bring home with me."
Or else he would leave the plant and decide, well,
maybe he would drop in at the Wagon Wheel for a drink before he went home.
Every year there was some place, the Wagon Wheel, Chez Yvonne, Rickey's,
the Roundhouse, where members of this esoteric fraternity, the young men
and women of the semiconductor industry, would head after work to have
a drink and gossip and brag and trade war stories about phase jitters,
phantom circuits, bubble memories, pulse trains, bounceless contacts, burst
modes, leapfrog tests, p-n junctions, sleeping-sickness modes, slow-death
episodes, RAMs, NAKs, MOSes, PCMs, PROMs, PROM blowers, PROM burners, PROM
blasters, and teramagnitudes, meaning multiples of a million millions.
So then he wouldn't get home until nine, and the baby was asleep, and dinner
was cold, and the wife was frosted off, and he would stand there and cup
his hands as if making an imaginary snowball and try to explain to her...
while his mind trailed off to other matters, LSIs, VLSIs, alpha flux, de-rezzing,
forward biases, parasitic signals, and that terasexy little cookie from
Signetics he had met at the Wagon Wheel, who understood such things.
It was not a great way of life for marriages. By
the late 1960s the toll of divorces seemed to those in the business to
be as great as that of NASA's boomtowns, Cocoa Beach, Florida. and Clear
Lake. Texas, where other young engineers were giving themselves over to
a new technology as if it were a religious mission. The second time around
the tended to "intramarry. " They married women who worked for Silicon
Valley companies and who could comprehend and even learn to live with their
twenty-four-hour obsessions. In the Silicon Valley an engineer was under
pressure to reinvent the integrated circuit every six months. In 1959 Noyce's
invention had made it possible to put an entire electrical circuit on a
chip of silicon the size of a fingernail. By 1964 you had to know how to
put ten circuits on a chip that size just to enter the game, and the stakes
kept rising. Six years later the figure was one thousand circuits on a
single chip; six years after that it would be thirty-two thousand, and
evervone was talking about how the real breakthrough would be sixty-four
thousand. Noyce himself led the race; by 1968 he had a dozen new integrated
circuit and transistor patents. And what amazing things such miniatunzation
made possible! In December 1968 NASA sent the first manned flight to the
moon, Apollo 8. Three astronauts, Frank Borman. James Lovell, and
William Anders, flew into earth orbit, then fired a rocket at precisely
the right moment in order to break free of the earth's gravitational field
and fly through the minute "window" in space that would put them on course
to the moon rather than into orbit around the sun, from which there could
be no return. They flew to the moon, went into orbit around it, saw the
dark side, which no one had ever seen, not even with a telescope, then
fired a rocket at precisely the right moment in order to break free of
the moon's gravitational pull and go into the proper trajectory for their
return to earth. None of it would have been possible without onboard computers.
People were beginning to talk about all that the space program was doing
for the computer sciences. Noyce knew it was the other way around. Only
the existence of a miniature computer two feet long, one foot wide, and
six inches thick?exactly three thousand times smaller than the old ENIAC
and far faster and more reliable?made the flight of Apollo 8 possible.
And there would have been no miniature computer without the integrated
circuits invented by Noyce and Kilby and refined by Noyce and the young
semiconductor zealots of the Silicon Valley, the new breed who were building
the road to El Dorado.
Noyce used to go into a slow burn that year, 1968,
when the newspapers, the magazines, and the television networks got on
the subject of the youth. The youth was a favorite topic in 1968.
Riots broke out on the campuses as the antiwar movement reached its peak
following North Vietnam's Tet offensive. Black youths rioted in the cities.
The Yippies, supposedly a coalition of hippies and campus activists, managed
to sabotage the Democratic National Convention by setting off some highly
televised street riots. The press seemed to enjoy presenting these youths
as the avant-garde who were sweeping aside the politics and morals of the
past and shaping America's future. The French writer Jean-Francois Revel
toured American campuses and called the radical youth homo novus, "the
New Man," as if they were the latest, most advanced product of human evolution
itself. after the manner of the superchildren in Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's
Homo novus? As Noyce saw it, these so-called
radical youth movements were shot through with a yearning for a preindustnal
Arcadia. They wanted, or thought they wanted, to return to the earth and
live on organic vegetables and play folk songs from the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries. They were anti technology. They looked upon science as an instrument
monopolized by the military-industrial complex. They used this phrase,
"the military-industrial complex," all the time. If industry or the military
underwrote scientific research in the universities?and they underwrote
a great deal of it?then that research was evil. The universities were to
be pure and above exploitation, except, of course, by ideologues of the
Left. The homo novus had set up a chain of logic that went as follows:
since science equals the military-industrial complex, and the military-industrial
complex equals capitalism, and capitalism equals fascism, therefore science
equals fascism. And therefore, these much-vaunted radical youths, these
shapers of the future, attacked the forward positions of American technology,
including the space program and the very idea of, the computer. And therefore
these creators of the future were what? They were Luddites. They wanted
to destroy the new machines. They were the reactionaries of the new age.
They were an avant-garde to the rear. They wanted to call off the future.
They were stillborn, ossified, prematurely senile.
If you wanted to talk about the creators of the future,
well, here they were here, in the Silicon Valley! Just before Apollo
8 circled the moon, Bob Noyce turned forty-one. By age forty-one he
had become such a good skier, people were urging him to enter competitions.
He had taken up hang gliding and scuba diving. When his daughter Penny
was almost fourteen, he asked her what she wanted for her birthday, and
she said she wanted to drop from an airplane by parachute. Noyce managed
to convince her to settle for glider lessons instead. Then, because it
made him restless to just stand around an airfield and watch her soar up
above, he took flying lessons, bought an airplane, and began flying the
family up through the mountain passes to Aspen, Colorado, for skiing weekends.
He had the same lean, powerful build as he had had twenty years before,
when he was on the swimming team at Grinnell College. He had the same thick
dark brown hair and the same hairline. It looked as if every hair in his
head were nailed in. He looked as if he could walk out the door any time
he wanted to and win another Midwest Conference diving championship. And
he was one of the oldest CEOs in the semiconductor business! He
was the Edison of the bunch! He was the father of the Silicon Valley!
The rest of the hotshots were younger. It was a business
dominated by people in their twenties and thirties. In the Silicon Valley
there was a phenomenon known as burnout. After five or ten years of obsessive
racing for the semiconductor high stakes, five or ten years of lab work,
work lunches, workaholic drinks at the Wagon Wheel, and work-battering
of the wife and children, an engineer would reach his middle thirties and
wake up one day; and he was finished. The game was over. It was called
burnout, suggesting mental and physical exhaustion brought about by overwork.
But Noyce was convinced it was something else entirely. It was...age,
or age and status. In the semiconductor business, research engineering
was like pitching in baseball; it was 60 percent of the game. Semiconductor
research was one of those highly mathematical sciences, such as microbiology,
in which, for reasons one could only guess at, the great flashes, the critical
moments of inspiration, came mainly to those who were young, often to men
in their twenties. The thirty-five year-old burnouts weren't suffering
from exhaustion, as Noyce saw it. They were being overwhelmed, outperformed,
by the younger talent coming up behind them. It wasn't the central nervous
system that was collapsing, it was the ego.
Now here you saw youth in the vanguard, on the leading
edge. Here you saw the youths who were, in fact, shaping the future. Here
you saw, if you insisted on the term, the homo novus!
But why insist? For they were also of the same stripe
as Josiah Grinnell, who had founded Grinnell, Iowa, at the age of thirty
It was in 1968 that Noyce pulled off the redefection
of all redefections. Fairchild Semiconductor had generated tremendous profits
for the parent company back east. It now appeared to Noyce that John Carter
and Sherman Fairchild had been diverting too much of that money into new
start-up ventures, outside the semiconductor field. As a matter of fact,
Noyce disliked many things "back east." He disliked the periodic trips
to New York, for which he dressed in gray suits, white shirts, and neckties
and reported to the royal corporate court and wasted days trying to bring
them up to date on what was happening in California. Fairchild was rather
enlightened, for an eastern corporation, but the truth was, there was no
one back east who understood how to run a corporation in the United States
in the second half of the twentieth century. Back east they had never progressed
beyond the year 1940. Consequently, they were still hobbled by all of the
primitive stupidities of bureaucratism and labor-management battles. They
didn't have the foggiest comprehension of the Silicon Valley idea of a
corporate community. The brightest young businessmen in the East were trained?most
notably at the Harvard Business School?to be little Machiavellian princes.
Greed and strategy were all that mattered. They were trained for failure.
Noyce and Gordon Moore, two of the three original
eight Shockley elves still at Fairchild, decided to form their own company.
They went to Arthur Rock, who had helped provide the start-up money for
Fairchild Semiconductor when he was at Hayden Stone. Now Rock had his own
venture-capital operation. Noyce took great pleasure in going through none
of the steps in corporate formation that the business schools talked about.
He and Moore didn't even write up a proposal. They merely told Rock what
they wanted to do and put up $500,000 of their own money, $250,000 each.
That seemed to impress Rock more than anything they could possibly have
written down, and he rounded up $2.51 million of the start-up money. A
few months later another $300,000 came, this time from Grinnell College.
Noyce had been on the college's board of trustees since 1962, and a board
member had asked him to give the college a chance to invest, should the
day come when he started his own company. So Grinnell College became one
of the gamblers betting on Noyce and Intel?the pseudotech engineerologism
Noyce and Moore dreamed up as the corporate name. Josiah Grinnell would
have loved it.
The defection of Noyce and Moore from Fairchild was
an earthquake even within an industry jaded by the very subject of defections.
In the Silicon Valley everybody had looked upon Fairchild as Noyce's company.
He was the magnet that held the place together. With Noyce gone, it was
obvious that the entire work force would be up for grabs. As one wag put
it, "People were practically driving trucks over to Fairchild Semiconductor
and loading up with employees." Fairchild responded by pulling off one
of the grossest raids in corporate history. One day the troops who were
left at Fairchild looked across their partitions and saw a platoon of young
men with terrific suntans moving into the executive office cubicles. They
would always remember what terrific suntans they had. They were C. Lester
Hogan, chief executive officer of the Motorola semiconductor division in
Phoenix, and his top echelon of engineers and administrators. Or, rather,
C. Lester Hogan of Motorola until yesterday. Fairchild had hired the whole
bunch away from Motorola and installed them in place of Noyce & Co.
like a matched set. There was plenty of sunshine in the Santa Clara Valley,
but nobody here had suntans like this bunch from Phoenix. Fairchild had
lured the leader of the young sun-gods out of the Arizona desert in the
most direct way imaginable. He had offered him an absolute fortune in money
and stock. Hogan received so much, the crowd at the Wagon Wheel said, that
henceforth wealth in the Silicon Valley would be measured in units called
hogans. *(Dirk Hanson, The New Alchemists, Boston: Little Brown, 1982).
Noyce and Moore, meanwhile, started up Intel in a
tilt-up concrete building that Jean Hoerni and his group had built, but
no longer used, in Santa Clara, which was near Mountain View. Once again
there was an echo of Shockley. They opened up shop with a dozen bright
young electrical engineers, plus a few clerical and maintenance people,
and bet everything on research and product development. Noyce and Moore,
like Shockley, put on the white coats and worked at the laboratory tables.
They would not be competing with Fairchild or anyone else in the already
established semiconductor markets. They had decided to move into the most
backward area of computer technology, which was data storage, or "memory."
A computer's memory was stored in ceramic ringlets known as cores. Each
ringlet contained one "bit" of information, a "yes" or a "no, " in the
logic of the binary system of mathematics that computers employ. Within
two years Noyce and Moore had developed the 1103 memory chip, a chip of
silicon and polysilicon the size of two letters in a line of type. Each
chip contained four thousand transistors, did the work of a thousand ceramic
ringlets, and did it faster. The production line still consisted of rows
of women sitting at tables as in the old shed-and-rafter days, but the
work bays now looked like something from out of an intergalachc adventure
movie. The women engraved the curcuits on the silicon photographically,
wearing antiseptic Mars Voyage suits, headgear, and gloves because a single
speck of dust could ruin one of the miniature circuits. The circuits were
so small that "miniature" no longer sounded small enough. The new word
was "microminiature." Everything now took place in an air-conditioned ice
cube of vinyl tiles, stainless steel, fluorescent lighting, and backlit
The 1103 memory chip opened up such a lucrative field
that other companies, including Fairchild, fought desperately just to occupy
the number-two position, filling the orders Intel couldn't take care of.
At the end of Intel's first year in business, which had been devoted almost
exclusively to research, sales totaled less than three thousand dollars
and the work force numbered forty-two. In 1972, thanks largely to the 1103
chip, sales were $23.4 million and the work force numbered 1,002. In the
next year sales almost tripled, to $66 million, and the work force increased
two and a half times, to 2,528.
So Noyce had the chance to run a new company from
start-up to full production precisely the way he thought Shockley should
have run his in Palo Alto back in the late 1950s. From the beginning Noyce
gave all the engineers and most of the office workers stock options. He
had learned at Fairchild that in a business so dependent upon research,
stock options were a more powerful incentive than profit sharing. People
sharing profits naturally wanted to concentrate on products that were already
profitable rather than plunge into avant-garde research that would not
pay off in the short run even if it were successful. But people with stock
options lived for research breakthroughs. The news would send a semiconductor
company's stock up immediately, regardless of profits.
Noyce's idea was that every employee should feel
that he could go as far and as fast in this industry as his talent would
take him. He didn't want any employee to look at the structure of Intel
and see a complex set of hurdles. It went without saying that there would
be no social hierarchy at Intel, no executive suites, no pinstripe set,
no reserved parking places, or other symbols of the hierarchy. But Noyce
wanted to go further. He had never liked the business of the office cubicles
at Fairchild. As miserable as they were, the mere possession of one symbolized
superior rank. At Intel executives would not be walled off in offices.
Everybody would be in one big room. There would be nothing but low partitions
to separate Noyce or anyone else from the lowliest stock boys trundling
in the accordion printout paper. The whole place became like a shed. When
they first moved into the building, Noyce worked at an old, scratched,
secondhand metal desk. As the company expanded, Noyce kept the same desk,
and new stenographers, just hired, were given desks that were not only
newer but bigger and better than his. Everybody noticed the old beat-up
desk, since there was nothing to keep anybody from looking at every inch
of Noyce's office space. Noyce enjoyed this subversion of the eastern
corporate protocol of small metal desks for underlings and large wooden
desks for overlords.
At Intel, Noyce decided to eliminate the notion of
levels of management altogether. He and Moore ran the show: that much was
clear. But below them there were only the strategic business segments,
as they called them. They were comparable to the major departments in an
orthodox corporation, but they had far more autonomy. Each was run like
a separate corporation. Middle managers at Intel had more responsibility
than most vice-presidents back east. They were also much younger and got
lower-back pain and migraines earlier. At Intel, if the marketing division
had to make a major decision that would affect the engineering division,
the problem was not routed up a hierarchy to a layer of executives who
oversaw both departments. Instead, "councils," made up of people already
working on the line in the divisions that were affected, would meet and
work it out themselves. The councils moved horizontally, from problem to
problem. They had no vested power. They were not governing bodies but coordinating
Noyce was a great believer in meetings. The people
in each department or work unit were encouraged to convene meetings whenever
the spirit moved them. There were rooms set aside for meetings at Intel,
and they were available on a first come, first served basis, just like
the parking spaces. Often meetings were held at lunch time. That was not
a policy; it was merely an example set by Noyce. There were no executive
lunches at Intel. Back east, in New York, executives treated lunch as a
daily feast of the nobility, a sumptuous celebration of their eminence,
in the Lucullan expense-account restaurants of Manhattan. The restaurants
in the East and West Fifties of Manhattan were like something from out
of a dream. They recruited chefs from all over Europe and the Orient. Pasta
primavera, saucisson, sorrel mousse, homard cardinal, terrine de legumes
Montesquiou, paillard de pigeon, medallions of beef Chinese Gordon, veal
Valdostana, Verbena roast turkey with Hayman sweet potatoes flown in from
the eastern shore of Virginia, raspberry soufflé, baked Alaska,
zabaglione, pear torte, creme brulee; and the wines! and the brandies!
and the port! the Sambuca! the cigars! and the decor! walls with lacquered
woodwork and winking mirrors and sconces with little pleated peach-colored
shades, all of it designed by the very same decorators who walked duchesses
to parties for Halston on Eaton Square! and captains and maitre d's who
made a fuss over you in movie French in front of your clients and friends
and fellow overlords! it was Mount Olympus in mid-Manhattan every day from
twelve-thirty to three P.M. and you emerged into the pearl-gray light of
the city with such ambrosia pumping through your veins that even the clotted
streets with the garbage men backing up their grinder trucks and yelling,
" 'Mon back, 'mon back, 'mon back, 'mon back," ' as if talking Urban Chippewa?
even this became part of the bliss of one's eminence in the corporate world!
There were many chief executive officers who kept their headquarters in
New York long after the last rational reason for doing so had vanished...because
of the ineffable experience of being a CEO and having lunch five days a
week in Manhattan!
At Intel lunch had a different look to it. You could
tell when it was noon at Intel, because at noon men in white aprons arrived
at the front entrance gasping from the weight of the trays they were carrying.
The trays were loaded down with deli sandwiches and waxed cups full of
drinks with clear plastic tops, with globules of Sprite or Diet Shasta
sliding around the tops on the inside. That was your lunch. You ate some
sandwiches made of roast beef or chicken sliced into translucent rectangles
by a machine in a processing plant and then reassembled on the bread in
layers that gave off dank whiffs of hormones and chemicals, and you washed
it down with Sprite or Diet Shasta, and you sat amid the particle-board
partitions and metal desktops, and you kept your mind on your committee
meeting. That was what Noyce did, and that was what everybody else did.
If Noyce called a meeting, then he set the agenda.
But after that, everybody was an equal. If you were a young engineer and
you had an idea you wanted to get across, you were supposed to speak up
and challenge Noyce or anybody else who didn't get it right away. This
was a little bit of heaven. You were face to face with the inventor, or
the co-inventor, of the very road to El Dorado, and he was only forty-one
years old, and he was listening to you. He had his head down and
his eyes beamed up at you, and he was absorbing it all. He wasn't a boss.
He was Gary Cooper! He was here to help you be self-reliant and do as much
as you could on your own. This wasn't a corporation...it was a congregation.
By the same token, there were sermons and homilies.
At Intel everyone?Noyce included?was expected to attend sessions on "the
Intel Culture." At these sessions the principles by which the company was
run were spelled out and discussed. Some of the discussions had to do specifically
with matters of marketing or production. Others had to do with the broadest
philosophical principles of Intel and were explained via the Socratic method
at management seminars by Intel's number-three man, Andrew Grove.
Grove would say, "How would you sum up the Intel
approach?" Many hands would go up, and Grove would choose one, and the
eager communicant would say: "At Intel you don't wait for someone else
to do it. You take the ball yourself and you run with it. " And Grove would
say, "Wrong. At Intel you take the ball yourself and you let the air out
and you fold the ball up and put it in your pocket. Then you take another
ball and run with it and when you've crossed the goal you take the second
ball out of your pocket and reinflate it and score twelve points instead
Grove was the most colorful person at Intel. He was
a thin man in his mid-thirties with tight black curls all over his head.
The curls ran down into a pair of mutton chops that seemed to run together
like goulash with his mustache. Every day he wore either a turtleneck jersey
or an open shirt with an ornamental chain twinkling on his chest. He struck
outsiders as the epitome of a style of the early 1970s known as California
Groovy. In fact, Grove was the epitome of the religious principle that
the greater the freedom- for example, the freedom to dress as you pleased-
the greater the obligation to exercise discipline. Grove's own groovy outfits
were neat and clean. The truth was, he was a bit of a bear on the subject
of neatness and cleanliness. He held what he called "Mr. Clean inspections."
showing up in various work areas wearing his mutton chops and handlebar
mustache and his Harry Belafonte-cane cutter's shirt and the gleaming chain
work, inspecting offices for books stacked too high, papers strewn over
desktops, everything short of running a white glove over the shelves, as
if this were some California Groovy Communal version of Parris Island,
while the chain twinkled in his chest hairs. Grove was also the inspiration
for such items as the performance ratings and the Late List. Each employee
received a report card periodically with a grade based on certain presumably
objective standards. The grades were superior, exceeds requirements,
meets requirements, marginally meets requirements,and does not meet
requirements. This was the equivalent of A, B, C, D, and F in school.
Noyce was all for it. "If you're ambitious and hardworking," he would say,
"you want to be told how you're doing." In Noyce's view, most of
the young hotshots who were coming to work for Intel had never had the
benefit of honest grades in their lives. In the late 1960s and early 1970s
college faculties had been under pressure to give all students passing
marks so they wouldn't have to go off to Vietnam, and they had caved in,
until the entire grading system was meaningless. At Intel they would learn
what measuring up meant. The Late List was also like something from a strict
school. Everyone was expected at work at eight A.M. A record was kept of
how many employees arrived after 8:10 A. M. If 7 percent or more were late
for three months, then every body in the section had to start signing in.
There was no inevitable penalty for being late, however. It was up to each
department head to make of the Late List what he saw fit. If he knew a
man was working overtime every night on a certain project, then his presence
on the Late List would probably be regarded as nothing more than that,
a line on a piece of paper. At bottom and this was part of the Intel Culture
Noyce and Grove knew that penalties were very nearly useless. Things like
report cards and Late Lists worked only if they stimulated self-discipline.
The worst form of discipline at Intel was to be called
on the Antron II carpet before Noyce himself. Noyce insisted on ethical
behavior in all dealings within the company and between companies. That
was the word people used to describe his approach, ethical; that
and moral. Noyce was known as a very aggressive businessman, but
he stopped short of cutting throats, and he never talked about revenge.
He would not tolerate peccadilloes such as little personal I'll-reimburse-it-on-Monday
dips into the petty cash. Noyce's Strong Silent stare, his Gary Cooper
approach, could be mortifying as well as inspiring. When he was angry,
his baritone voice never rose. He seemed like a powerful creature that
only through the greatest self-control was refraining from an attack. He
somehow created the impression that if pushed one more inch, he wouid fight.
As a consequence he seldom had to. No one ever trifled with Bob Noyce.
Noyce managed to create an ethical universe within
an inherently amoral setting: the American business corporation in the
second half of the twentieth century. At Intel there was good and there
was evil, and there was freedom and there was discipline, and to an extraordinary
degree employees internalized these matters, as if members of Cromwell's
army. As the work force grew at Intel, and the profits soared, labor unions,
chiefly the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers,
the Teamsters, and the Stationary Engineers Union, made several attempts
to organize Intel. Noyce made it known, albeit quietly, that he regarded
unionization as a death threat to Intel, and to the semiconductor industry
generally. Labor-management battles were part of the ancient terrain of
the East. If Intel were divided into workers and bosses, with the implication
that each side had to squeeze its money out of the hides of the other,
the enterprise would be finished. Motivation would no longer be internal;
it would be objectified in the deadly form of work rules and grievance
procedures. The one time it came down to a vote, the union lost out by
the considerable margin of four to one. Intel's employees agreed with Noyce.
Unions were part of the dead hand of the past... Noyce and Intel were on
the road to El Dorado.
By the early 1970s Noyce and Moore's 1103 memory
chip had given this brand-new company an entire corner of the semiconductor
market. But that was only the start. Now a thirty-two-year-old Intel engineer
named Ted Hoff came up with an invention as important as Noyce's integrated
circuit had been a decade earlier: something small, dense, and hidden:
the microprocessor. The microprocessor was known as "the computer on a
chip," it put all the arithmetic and logic functions of a computer on a
chip the size of the head of a tack. The possibilities for creating and
using small computers surpassed most people's imagining, even within the
industry. One of the more obvious possibilities was placing a small computer
in the steering and braking mechanisms of a car that would take over for
the drive in case of a skid or excessive speed on a curve.
In Ted Hoff, Noyce was looking at proof enough of
his hypothesis that out here on the electrical frontier the great flashes
came to the young. Hoff was about the same age Noyce had been when he invented
his integrated circuit. The glory was now Hoff's. But Noyce took Hoff's
triumph as proof of a second hypothesis. If you created the right type
of corporate community, the right type of autonomous congregation, genius
would flower. Certainly the corporate numbers were flowering. The news
of the microprocessor, on top of the success of the 1103 memory chip nearly
trebled the value of Intel stock from 1971 to 1973. Noyce's own holdings
were now worth $18.5 million. He was in roughly the same position as Josiah
Grinnell a hundred years before, when Grinnell brought the Rock Island
Railroad into Iowa.
Noyce continued to live in the house in the Los Altos
hills that he had bought in 1960. He was not reluctant to spend his money;
he was merely reluctant to show it. He spent a fortune on landscaping,
but you could do that and the world would be none the wiser. Gradually
the house disappeared from view behind an enormous wall of trees, tropical
bushes, and cockatoo flowers. Noyce had a pond created on the back lawn,
a waterscape elaborate enough to put on a bus tour, but nobody other than
guests ever saw it. The lawn stretched on for several acres and had a tennis
court, a swimming pool, and more walls of boughs and hot-pastel blossoms,
and the world saw none of that, either.
Noyce drove a Porsche roadster, and he didn't mind
letting it out for a romp. Back east, when men made a great deal of money,
they tended to put a higher and higher value on their own hides. Noyce,
on the other hand, seemed to enjoy finding new ways to hang his out over
the edge. He took up paragliding over the ski slopes at Aspen on a Rogolla
wing. He built a Quicksilver hang glider and flew it off cliffs until a
friend of his, a champion at the sport, fractured his pelvis and a leg
flying a Quicksilver. He also took up scuba diving, and now he had his
Porsche. The high performance foreign sports car became one of the signatures
of the successful Silicon Valley entrepreneur. The sports car was perfect.
Its richness consisted of engineering beneath the body shell. Not only
that, the very luxury of a sports car was the experience of driving it
yourself. A sports car didn't even suggest a life with servants. Porsches
and Ferraris became the favorites. By 1975 the Ferrari agency in Los Gatos
was the second biggest Ferrari agency on the West Coast. Noyce also bought
a 1947 Republic Seabee amphibious airplane, so that he could take the family
for weekends on the lakes in northern California. He now had two aircraft,
but he flew the ships himself.
Noyce was among the richest individuals on the San
Francisco Peninsula, as well as the most important figure in the Silicon
Valley, but his name seldom appeared in the San Francisco newspapers. When
it did, it was in the business section, not on the society page. That,
too, became the pattern for the new rich of the Silicon Valley. San Francisco
was barely forty-five minutes up the Bayshore Freeway from Los Altos, but
psychologically San Francisco was an entire continent away. It was a city
whose luminaries kept looking back east, to New York, to see if they were
doing things correctly.
In 1974 Noyce wound up in a situation that to some
seemed an all-too-typical Mid-life in the Silicon Valley story. He and
Betty, his wife of twenty-one years, were divorced, and the following year
he "intramarried." Noyce, who was forty-seven, married Intel's personnel
director, Ann Bowers, who was thirty-seven. The divorce was mentioned in
the San Francisco Chronicle, but not as a social note. It was a
major business story. Under California law, Betty received half the family's
assets. When word got out that she was going to sell off $6 million of
her Intel stock in the interest of diversifying her fortune, it threw the
entire market in Intel stock into a temporary spin. Betty left California
and went to live in a village on the coast of Maine. Noyce kept the house
in Los Altos.
By this time, the mid-1970s, the Silicon Valley had
become the late-twentieth-century-California version of a new city, and
Noyce and other entrepreneurs began to indulge in some introspection. For
ten years, thanks to racial hostilities and the leftist politics of the
antiwar movement, the national press had dwelled on the subject of ethnic
backgrounds. This in itself tended to make the engineers and entrepreneurs
of the Silicon Valley conscious of how similar most of them were. Most
of the major figures, like Noyce himself, had grown up and gone to college
in small towns in the Middle West and the West. John Bardeen had grown
up in and gone to college in Madison, Wisconsin. Walter Brattain had grown
up in and gone to college in Washington. Shockley grew up in Palo Alto
at a time when it was a small college town and went to the California Institute
of Technology. Jack Kilby was born in Jefferson City, Missouri, and went
to college at the University of Illinois. William Hewlett was born in Ann
Arbor and went to school at Stanford. David Packard grew up in Pueblo,
Colorado, and went to Stanford. Oliver Buckley grew up in Sloane, Iowa,
and went to college at Grinnell. Lee De Forest came from Council
Bluffs, Iowa (and went to Yale). And Thomas Edison grew up in Port Huron
Michigan, and didn't go to college at all.
Some of them, such as Noyce and Shockley, had gone
east to graduate school at MIT, since it was the most prestigious engineering
school in the United States. But MIT had proved to be a backwater... the
sticks... when it came to the most advanced form of engineering, solid-state
electronics. Grinnell College, with its one thousand students, had been
years ahead of MIT. The picture had been the same on the other great frontier
of technology in the second half of the twentieth century, namely, the
space program. The engineers who fulfilled one of man's most ancient dreams,
that of traveling to the moon, came from the same background, the small
towns of the Midwest and the West. After the triumph of Apollo 11, when
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first mortals to walk on the
moon, NASA's administrator, Tom Paine, happened to remark in conversation:
"This was the triumph of the squares. " A reporter overheard him; and did
the press ever have a time with that! But Paine had come up with a penetrating
insight. As it says in the Book of Matthew, the last shall be first. It
was engineers from the supposedly backward and narrow-minded boondocks
who had provided not only the genius but also the passion and the daring
that won the space race and carried out John F. Kennedy's exhortation,
back in 1961. to put a man on the moon "before this decade is out." The
passion and the daring of these engineers was as remarkable as their talent.
Time after time they had to shake off the meddling hands of timid souls
from back east. The contribution of MIT to Project Mercury was minus one.
The minus one was Jerome Wiesner of the MIT electronic research lab who
was brought in by Kennedy as a special adviser to straighten out the space
program when it seemed to be faltering early in 1961. Wiesner kept flinching
when he saw what NASA's boondockers were preparing to do. He tried to persuade
to forfeit the manned space race to the Soviets and concentrate instead
on unmanned scientific missions. The boondockers of Project Mercury, starting
with the project's director, Bob Gilruth, an aeronautical engineer from
Nashwauk, Minnesota, dodged Wiesner for months, like moonshiners evading
a roadblock, until they got astronaut Alan Shepard launched on the first
Mercury mission. Who had time to waste on players as behind the times as
Jerome Wiesner and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology...out here
on technology's leading edge?
Just why was it that small-town boys from the Middle
West dominated the engineering frontiers? Noyce concluded it was because
in a small town you became a technician, a tinker, an engineer, and an
and inventor, by necessity.
"In a small town," Noyce liked to say, "when something
breaks down, you don't wait around for a new part, because it's not coming.
You make it yourself."
Yet in Grinnell necessity had been the least of the
mothers of invention. There had been something else about Grinnell, something
people Noyce's age could feel but couldn't name. It had to do with the
fact that Grinnell had once been a religious community; not merely a town
with a church but a town that was inseparable from the church. In Josiah
Grinnell's day most of the towns people were devout Congregationalists,
and the rest were smart enough to act as if they were. Anyone in Grinnell
who aspired to the status of feed store clerk or better joined the First
Congregational Church. By the end of the Second World War educated people
in Grinnell, and in all the Grinnells of the Middle West, had begun to
drop this side of their history into a lake of amnesia. They gave in to
the modern urge to be urbane. They themselves began to enjoy sniggering
over Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, Sinclair Lewis's Main
Street, and Grant Wood's American Gothic. Once the amnesia set
in, all they remembered from the old days were the austere moral codes,
which in some cases still hung on. Josiah Grinnell's real estate covenants
prohibiting drinking, for example.... Just imagine! How absurd it was to
see these unburied bones of something that had once been strong and alive.
That something was Dissenting Protestantism itself.
Oh, it had once been quite strong and very much alive! The passion, the
exhilaration, of those early days was what no one could any longer recall.
To be a believing Protestant in a town such as Grinnell in the middle of
the nineteenth century was to experience a spiritual ecstasy greater than
any that the readers of Main Street or the viewers of American Gothic were
likely to know in their lifetimes. Josiah Grinnell had gone to Iowa in
1854 to create nothing less than a City of Light. He was a New Englander
who had given up on the East. He had founded the first Congregational church
in Washington, DC., and then defected from it when the congregation, mostly
southerners, objected to his antislavery views. He went to New York and
met the famous editor of the New York Herald, Horace Greeley. It was while
talking to Josiah Grinnell, who was then thirty-two and wondering what
to do with his life, that Greeley uttered the words for which he would
be remembered forever after: "Go west young man, go west." So Grinnell
went to Iowa, and he and three friends bought up five thousand acres of
land in order to start up a congregational community the way he thought
it should be done. A City of Light! The first thing he organized was the
congregation. The second was the college. Oxford and Cambridge had started
banning Dissenting Protestants in the seventeenth century; Dissenters founded
their own schools and colleges. Grinnell became a champion of "free schools,"
and it was largely thanks to him that Iowa had one of the first and best
public-school systems in the west. To this day Iowa has the highest literacy
rate of any state. In the 1940s a bright youngster whose parents were not
rich, such as Bob Noyce or his brother Donald, was far more likely to receive
a superior education in Iowa than in Massachusetts.
And if he was extremely bright, if he seemed to have
the quality known as genius, he was infinitely more likely to go into engineering
in Iowa, or Illinois or Wisconsin, then anywhere in the East. Back east
engineering was an unfashionable field. The east looked to Europe in matters
of intellectual fashion, and in Europe the ancient aristocratic bias against
manual labor lived on. Engineering was looked upon as nothing more than
manual labor raised to the level of a science. There was "pure" science
and there was engineering, which was merely practical. Back east engineers
ranked, socially, below lawyers; doctors; army colonels; Navy captains;
English, history, biology, chemistry, and physics professors; and business
executives. This piece of European snobbery that said a scientist was lowering
himself by going into commerce. Dissenting Protestants looked upon themselves
as secular saints, men and women of God who did God's work not as penurious
monks and nuns but as successful workers in the everyday world. To be rich
and successful was even better, and just as righteous. One of Josiah Grinnell's
main projects was to bring the Rock Island Railroad into Iowa. Many in
his congregation became successful farmers of the gloriously fertile soil
around Grinnell. But there was no sense of rich and poor. All the congregation
opened up the virgin land in a common struggle out on the frontier. They
had given up the comforts of the East ... in order to create a City of
Light in the name of the Lord. Every sacrifice, every privation, every
denial of the pleasures of the flesh, brought them closer to that state
of bliss in which the light of God shines forth from the apex of the soul.
What were the momentary comforts and aristocratic poses of the East...compared
to this? Where would the fleshpots back east be on that day when the heavens
opened up and a light fell 'round about them and a voice from on high said:
"Why mockest thou me?" The light! The light! Who, if he had ever known
that glorious light, if he had ever let his soul burst forth into that
light, could ever mock these, my very seed, with a Main Street or
an American Gothic! There, in Grinnell, reigned the passion that
enabled men and women to settle the West in the nineteenth century against
the most astonishing odds and in the face of overbearing hardships.
By the standards of St. Francis of Assisi or St.
Jerome, who possessed nothing beyond the cloak of righteousness, Josiah
Grinnell was a very secular saint, indeed. And Robert Noyce's life was
a great deal more secular than Josiah Grinnell's. Noyce had wandered away
from the church itself. He smoked. He took a drink when he felt like it.
He had gotten a divorce. Nevertheless, when Noyce went west, he brought
Grinnell with him... unaccountably sewn into the lining of his coat!
In the last stage of his career Josiah Grinnell had
turned from the building of his community to broader matters affecting
Iowa and the Middle West. In 1863 he became one of midland Iowa's representatives
in Congress. Likewise, in 1974 Noyce turned over the actual running of
Intel to Gordon Moore and Andrew Grove and kicked himself upstairs to become
chairman of the board. His major role became that of spokesman for the
Silicon Valley and the electronic frontier itself. He became chairman of
the Semiconductor Industry Association. He led the industry's campaign
to deal with the mounting competition from Japan. He was awarded the National
Medal of Science in a White House ceremony in 1980. He was appointed to
the University of California Board of Regents in 1982 and inducted into
the National Inventors Hall of Fame in February 1983. By now Intel's sales
had grown from $64 million in 1973 to almost a billion a year. Noyce's
own fortune was incalculable. (Grinnell College's $300,000 investment in
Intel had multiplied in value more than thirty times, despite some sell-offs,
almost doubling the college's endowment. ) Noyce was hardly a famous man
in the usual sense, however. He was practically unknown to the general
public. But among those who followed the semiconductor industry he was
a legend. He was certainly famous back east on Wall Street. When a reporter
asked James Magid of the underwriting firm of L. F. Rothschild, Unterberg,
Towbin about Noyce, he said: "Noyce is a national treasure."
Oh yes! What a treasure, indeed, was the moral capital
of the nineteenth century? Noyce happened to grow up in a family in which
the long-forgotten light of Dissenting Protestantism still burned brightly.
The light, the light at the apex of every human soul! Ironically, it was
that long-forgotten light...from out of the churchy, blue-nosed sticks.
. . that led the world into the twenty-first century, across the electronic
grid and into space.
Surely the moral capital of the nineteenth century
is by now all but completely spent. Robert Noyce turns fifty-six this month,
and his is the last generation to have grown up in families where the light
existed in anything approaching a pure state. And yet out in the Silicon
Valley some sort of light shines still. People who run even the
newest companies in the Valley repeat Noycisms with conviction and with
relish. The young CEOs all say: "Datadyne is not a corporation, it's a
culture, " or "Cybernetek is not a corporation, it's a society, " or "Honey
Bear's assets"? the latest vogue is for down-home nontech names?"Honey
Bear's assets aren't hardware, they're the software of the three thousand
souls who work here." They talk about the soul and spiritual vision as
if it were the most natural subject in the world for a well-run company
to be concerned about.
On June 8, 1983, one of the Valley's new firms, Eagle
Computer. Inc., sold its stock to the pubic for the first time. Investors
went for it like the answer to a dream. At the close of trading on the
stock market, the company's forty-year-old CEO, Dennis Barnhart, was suddenly
worth nine million dollars. Four and a half hours later he and a pal took
his Ferrari out for a little romp, hung their hides out over the edge,
lost control on a curve in Los Gatos, and went through a guardrail, and
Barnhart was killed. Naturally, that night people in the business could
talk of very little else. One of the best-known CEOs in the Valley said,
"It's the dark side of the Force." He said it without a trace of irony,
and his friends nodded in contemplation. They knew exactly what Force he