Chip War Part 1: Cold War Chips

Exploring the pivotal role of semiconductor technology in the transformation from World War II’s industrial warfare to the modern era, highlighting key figures and innovations that shaped the industry.

Christian Mills


November 21, 2023

This post is part of the following series:

From Steel to Silicon

Chapter One explores the transformation from the industrial age of World War II to the emergence of the semiconductor era. It highlights the experiences of key figures like Akio Morita, Morris Chang, and Andy Grove during the war, setting the stage for their future impacts in the semiconductor industry.


  1. World War II marked a transition from industrial warfare to technology-driven conflict.
  2. The experiences of key individuals during WWII influenced the semiconductor industry’s development.
  3. Akio Morita’s wartime research foreshadowed the future of guided missile technology.
  4. The early life of Morris Chang in war-torn China highlighted resilience and adaptability.
  5. Andy Grove’s experience in Hungary during WWII showed the human cost of war.
  6. The concept of computation evolved significantly during and after WWII.
  7. Mechanical computers in WWII were limited and paved the way for electronic advancements.
  8. The war accelerated the need for more sophisticated computing power.
  9. The development of radar and other technologies during WWII showcased the importance of innovation in warfare.
  10. The atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki signaled a new era of technological warfare.


  1. World War II was a pivotal moment in the transition from industrial to technological warfare.
  2. Akio Morita was involved in developing heat-seeking missile technology during WWII.
  3. Morris Chang experienced the chaos and displacement of war in China during his youth.
  4. Andy Grove’s early life in Hungary was marked by the harsh realities of WWII.
  5. The technological developments of WWII laid the groundwork for future advancements in computing.
  6. Mechanical computers used during WWII were limited in their capabilities.
  7. The development of radar and other electronic devices was crucial during WWII.
  8. The atomic bombings represented a significant shift in the nature of warfare.
  9. The invention of the vacuum tube was a major advancement in computing technology.
  10. Digital computing emerged as a response to the limitations of analog computation.

The Switch

Chapter Two focuses on William Shockley’s contributions to semiconductor technology. It details Shockley’s background, his work at Bell Labs, and the development of the transistor, a pivotal invention in the field. The chapter also covers the collaborative efforts of Shockley’s colleagues at Bell Labs, highlighting the transistor’s revolutionary impact on technology and its initial underestimation by the public.


  1. William Shockley’s early life and education significantly influenced his work in semiconductors.
  2. Shockley’s personality traits, like his sense of superiority, impacted his professional relationships.
  3. Semiconductors’ unique properties enable them to conduct electricity under certain conditions.
  4. The concept of doping semiconductors was crucial for developing new electronic devices.
  5. Shockley’s initial experiments with silicon and electric fields laid the groundwork for the transistor.
  6. The early instruments of the 1940s were inadequate for detecting small electric currents in semiconductors.
  7. Shockley’s colleagues, Walter Bratton and John Bardeen, played key roles in proving his theories.
  8. The invention of the transistor at Bell Labs marked a significant advancement in electronic technology.
  9. AT&T initially saw the transistor as a tool for improving telephone technology.
  10. Transistors eventually replaced vacuum tubes in various electronic devices.


  1. William Shockley was a key figure in the development of semiconductor technology.
  2. Shockley’s background included education at Caltech and MIT, and work at Bell Labs.
  3. Semiconductors can conduct electricity under specific conditions.
  4. Doping semiconductors with certain materials allows for the flow of electric currents.
  5. Shockley’s early experiments aimed to transform silicon into a conductive material using electric fields.
  6. The transistor was a significant technological advancement in electronic computing.
  7. AT&T’s initial interest in the transistor was for telephone signal amplification.
  8. The transistor replaced less reliable vacuum tubes in various electronic devices.
  9. Shockley’s further research on transistors was driven by a desire to outperform his colleagues.
  10. The transistor’s amplification capability was a major breakthrough.

Noyce, Kilby, and the Integrated Circuit

Chapter Three describes the development of the integrated circuit. It details the efforts of Jack Kilby at Texas Instruments and the Fairchild Semiconductor team, including Bob Noyce and Gordon Moore, to overcome the complexity and limitations of transistor-based systems. This chapter highlights the revolutionary nature of the integrated circuit and its critical role in advancing computing and electronics.


  1. The transition from individual transistors to integrated circuits was a major technological leap.
  2. Jack Kilby’s work at Texas Instruments was pivotal in simplifying transistor-based systems.
  3. The integrated circuit was born out of the need to reduce complexity in electronic devices.
  4. Bob Noyce and Gordon Moore at Fairchild Semiconductor played crucial roles in advancing integrated circuit technology.
  5. William Shockley’s management style at Shockley Semiconductor led to significant talent migration, contributing to the founding of Fairchild Semiconductor.
  6. The Fairchild team’s innovation was driven by the challenges of transistor manufacturing.
  7. Kilby’s invention of the integrated circuit was initially a solution to reduce wiring complexities.
  8. The integrated circuit represented a significant step towards miniaturization in electronics.
  9. Noyce’s planar process innovation was key in developing more reliable and efficient integrated circuits.
  10. The initial high cost of producing integrated circuits was a challenge for their commercial viability.


  1. Jack Kilby at Texas Instruments played a crucial role in developing the integrated circuit.
  2. The integrated circuit was designed to address the complexities of wiring in transistor-based systems.
  3. Bob Noyce and Gordon Moore at Fairchild Semiconductor significantly advanced integrated circuit technology.
  4. The departure of key engineers from Shockley Semiconductor was a turning point in the history of Silicon Valley.
  5. The integrated circuit represented a major advancement in the miniaturization of electronics.
  6. Noyce’s planar process was critical in creating more efficient and reliable integrated circuits.
  7. The initial production cost of integrated circuits was significantly higher than that of simpler devices.
  8. The integrated circuit was a key milestone in the evolution of computing technology.
  9. Eugene Kleiner, a member of the “traitorous eight,” later founded Kleiner Perkins, a major venture capital firm.
  10. The concept of Moore’s Law, later coined by Gordon Moore, reflected the rapid advancement in computing power.


Chapter Four discusses the role of integrated circuits in the space race and military technology. It highlights the launch of Sputnik by the Soviet Union, prompting the United States to accelerate its space and missile programs. This chapter emphasizes how the demand from NASA and the U.S. military, especially for the Apollo and Minuteman programs, propelled the development and commercial success of integrated circuits, particularly for companies like Fairchild and Texas Instruments.


  1. Sputnik’s launch marked a turning point in global technological competition, emphasizing the importance of advanced electronics in space exploration.
  2. The U.S. response to the Soviet space achievements included significant investment in technology and innovation.
  3. NASA’s Apollo program became a key driver for the development of integrated circuits.
  4. The Apollo Guidance Computer, using integrated circuits, was a groundbreaking advancement in computing for space exploration.
  5. Fairchild Semiconductor’s integrated circuits were critical in the Apollo program, demonstrating their reliability in harsh environments.
  6. The Minuteman missile program significantly contributed to the demand and advancement of integrated circuit technology.
  7. Texas Instruments’ Pat Haggerty recognized the military potential of integrated circuits early on.
  8. The shift from discrete transistors to integrated circuits marked a significant advancement in computing power and efficiency.
  9. The Apollo and Minuteman programs showcased the practical applications of integrated circuits in critical and high-stakes environments.
  10. The U.S. military became a major consumer of integrated circuits, influencing the direction of the semiconductor industry.


  1. Sputnik’s launch by the Soviet Union marked a critical moment in the space race.
  2. The U.S. Apollo program’s reliance on integrated circuits was pivotal for the semiconductor industry.
  3. Fairchild Semiconductor’s chips played a significant role in the Apollo Guidance Computer.
  4. The Minuteman missile program greatly increased the demand for integrated circuits.
  5. Texas Instruments, under Pat Haggerty, foresaw the military applications of integrated circuits.
  6. Integrated circuits were a major technological advancement over discrete transistors.
  7. The U.S. military became a significant market for integrated circuits, influencing their development.
  8. NASA’s adoption of integrated circuits in the Apollo program validated their reliability and efficiency.
  9. The mass production of integrated circuits was a challenge initially faced by companies like Texas Instruments.
  10. The Minuteman program’s need for lightweight, efficient computers was a key driver for the adoption of integrated circuits.

Mortars and Mass Production

Chapter Five focuses on the evolution of semiconductor manufacturing, particularly photolithography. It traces the contributions of Jay Lathrop at Texas Instruments and the efforts of Morris Chang and others in advancing production techniques. The chapter underscores the challenges in mass-producing reliable transistors and integrated circuits, highlighting the role of military and space programs in driving these innovations.


  1. Photolithography, pioneered by Jay Lathrop, revolutionized semiconductor manufacturing by enabling the miniaturization of transistors.
  2. The complexity of manufacturing reliable transistors required innovative approaches and extensive trial and error.
  3. Morris Chang’s methodical approach at Texas Instruments significantly improved transistor production yields.
  4. The military and space programs, particularly the Minuteman missile and Apollo spacecraft, drove the demand for large quantities of integrated circuits.
  5. Texas Instruments’ commitment to mastering photolithography and mass production techniques was vital for the semiconductor industry’s growth.
  6. The development of integrated circuits was not just a scientific achievement but also a triumph of engineering and manufacturing innovation.
  7. The early semiconductor industry faced challenges in purifying chemicals and materials for chip production.
  8. The invention of the transistor and the integrated circuit required a combination of theoretical physics and practical engineering.
  9. The semiconductor industry’s growth was heavily influenced by the needs of the U.S. military during the Cold War.
  10. Texas Instruments and Fairchild Semiconductor’s efforts in the 1960s laid the groundwork for the semiconductor industry’s future.


  1. Photolithography, developed by Jay Lathrop, was a key innovation in semiconductor manufacturing.
  2. The process of manufacturing reliable transistors and integrated circuits was complex and required extensive experimentation.
  3. Morris Chang played a significant role in improving the production yield of transistors at Texas Instruments.
  4. The U.S. military’s demand for integrated circuits for programs like Minuteman and Apollo was a major driver for the semiconductor industry.
  5. Texas Instruments’ dedication to mastering photolithography and mass production was critical to the industry.
  6. The development of integrated circuits was not just a scientific achievement but also a manufacturing breakthrough.
  7. Challenges in purifying chemicals and materials were significant obstacles in early semiconductor production.
  8. The semiconductor industry’s evolution was heavily influenced by military needs during the Cold War.
  9. The mass production of semiconductors involved precise control of temperature, pressure, and chemical reactions.
  10. Collaboration between universities and industry was vital in advancing semiconductor technology.

I Want To Get Rich

Chapter Six explores the shift from military to civilian markets in the semiconductor industry during the 1960s. It focuses on Bob Noyce and Gordon Moore at Fairchild Semiconductor, highlighting their strategic decision to prioritize civilian applications over military contracts. The chapter details the industry’s expansion into the commercial sector, driven by innovations, price cuts, and the growing demand for consumer electronics, ultimately leading to a booming chip market and the birth of Silicon Valley.


  1. The semiconductor industry’s initial growth was heavily reliant on military and space programs.
  2. Bob Noyce envisioned a larger civilian market for integrated circuits beyond military applications.
  3. Noyce’s strategic decision to keep Fairchild’s R&D independent from military influence was pivotal.
  4. Fairchild Semiconductor played a crucial role in the transition from military to civilian markets in the semiconductor industry.
  5. The invention of the integrated circuit opened opportunities in consumer electronics like hearing aids and radios.
  6. The challenge for the industry was to produce affordable chips for the consumer market.
  7. Civilian markets for integrated circuits were significantly larger than military markets.
  8. Gordon Moore’s prediction of exponential growth in computing power, later known as Moore’s Law, was a key foresight.
  9. Fairchild’s aggressive price cuts expanded the civilian market for chips.
  10. The computer industry became a major consumer of integrated circuits, overtaking military demand.


  1. The semiconductor industry was initially driven by demand from military and space programs.
  2. Bob Noyce and Gordon Moore at Fairchild Semiconductor focused on developing civilian applications for integrated circuits.
  3. The invention of the integrated circuit enabled the expansion into consumer electronics.
  4. Fairchild Semiconductor’s strategy included keeping its R&D independent from military influence.
  5. The civilian market for integrated circuits surpassed military demand in size and potential.
  6. Moore’s Law predicted the exponential growth of computing power on integrated circuits.
  7. Fairchild’s price cuts significantly expanded the civilian market for chips.
  8. The computer industry became a major consumer of integrated circuits by the mid-1960s.
  9. The growth of the semiconductor industry in Silicon Valley was fueled by venture capital and the rise of competing firms.
  10. Financial incentives and equity became important for attracting talent in the semiconductor industry.