Fairchild Semiconductor, a pioneering company in transistor and integrated circuit manufacturing, was also the birthplace of the modern semiconductor industry.
In 1956, William Shockley started the Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory in Mountainview, California. He hired some of the brightest graduates with complementary skills in physics, chemistry, metallurgy and electrical engineering to produce semiconductor devices. But in 1957, five scientists and three engineers, known as the ‘traitorous eight’, resigned en masse and founded a new company – Fairchild Semiconductor. The eight defectors were Julius Blank, Victor Grinich, Jean Hoerni, Eugene Kleiner, Jay Last, Gordon Moore, Robert Noyce and Sheldon Roberts. They were funded by businessman and inventor Sherman Fairchild and named the nascent company after him.
The eight Fairchild founders began working with silicon, which was cheap and was also the substrate they had been using at Shockley Labs. Fairchild semiconductors began marketing transistors and pioneered the planar process developed by Hoerni which made other transistor processors obsolete. Among the clients of Semiconductor’s first planar silicon transistors was IBM. Noyce was the head of the Research and Development team and also the public face of the company. He conceived of the integrated circuit and patented it in 1959. In the early 1960s, Fairchild Semiconductor developed the MOS integrated circuits. The company dominated the analog integrated circuit market and initially did not do so well in the digital circuit market. Moreover, it had to compete with Texas Instruments and also with new start-ups. In the late 1960s, the company suffered a loss and there was a mass exodus of employees who found new companies, often referred to as the ‘fairchildren’.
In the 1970s, Fairchild became the first company to commercially market a charge-coupled device, which was first invented at Bell Labs. In 1976, the company started marketing the Fairchild Video Entertainment system using ROM cartridges, which was initially quite successful. The company also sold ‘hardened’ integrated circuits for military and space applications, but was facing severe losses. In 1980, the Fairchild Laboratory for Artificial Research was started but by 1985, the lab was separated out. In 1987, Fairchild was sold to National Semiconductor. But ten years later, Fairchild Semiconductor was reconstituted and reborn as an independent company based in South Portland, Maine. In 1997, the Fairchild Semiconductor Corporation acquired the semiconductor division of Raytheon Corporation. In 2001, the corporation acquired Intersil, which made Fairchild Semiconductor the world’s second largest MOSFET supplier. In 2011, the company grew further by acquiring TranSiC, a Swedish transistor company.
At present, the company headquarters are located at San Jose, California, with branches at Maine, Utah, and Pennsylvania. Fairchild Semiconductor has also expanded beyond the U.S. to Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, China and recently also India.