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  The Transistor Age Begins 1947

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30  The Transistor Age Begins 1947 
NO CABLE TELEVISION. No space travel. No CD players or faxes. Computers as big as refrigerators. Without the transistor, the past 50 years take on a decidedly retro look. 

The triode vacuum tube, the original electronic amplifier, powered the development of radio, TV and early digital computers. But tubes were bulky and power-hungry, a drag on the development of complicated electronic machines; engineers needed a reliable, small, cheap device. The likely building blocks? Semiconductors, crystals of nearly pure germanium or silicon that could selectively allow or deny the transmission of electricity. A team of scientists at Bell Labs in New Jersey demonstrated the first semiconductor amplifier, a primitive transistor, on December 23, 1947. First used in telephone equipment and hearing aids, the devices found their way into everything with a plug or battery. Integrated circuits--a silicon chip etched with microscopic transistors--were developed in the late 1950s; chip-based computers invaded the kitchen, the car, the office, the den. Today, most Americans are usually within a few feet of one. 

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