Vale Jack Kilby: the inventor of the microchip dies

June 24, 2005 Jack Kilby, the man who invented the Integrated Circuit – also known as the microchip – died on Monday at age 81. It’s not every day that a man of Kilby’s importance passes away. In terms of the magnitude of his invention, Jack Kilby ranks with just a handful of people in history whose inventions have comprehensively changed the world – names such as Johannes Gutenberg, James Watt, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford come to mind, and even then the universal application of the microchip ranks it above all of those inventions. In times yet to come, Kilby’s invention will be even more significant as the microchip seems destined to become a part of nearly every manufactured object.

A man of few words, Mr. Kilby is remembered fondly by friends and associates for being in every sense of the word a gentleman and a gentle man. At 6 foot 6 inches in height, he was occasionally called the “gentle giant” in the press.

“Ever practical and low-key, with good humor and quiet grace, Jack was a man with every right to be boastful, yet never was,” said Mr. Engibous. Mr. Kilby was always quick to credit the thousands of engineers who followed him for their impact on growing the industry and changing the world. “For those of us who were fortunate enough to have known him, it’s that dual legacy for which I personally will always feel privileged to have known Jack – not only the quality of what he did, but the quality of who he was,” said Mr. Engibous.

Early Interest in Electronics

Mr. Kilby knew he wanted to be an engineer relatively early in life. When he was in high school, his father ran a small power company with customers scattered across the rural western part of Kansas. When a severe ice storm downed telephone and power lines, Mr. Kilby’s father worked with amateur radio operators to communicate with his customers. This event triggered the younger Kilby’s lifelong fascination with electronics.

He pursued that interest at the University of Illinois. World War II interrupted his studies, when Mr. Kilby joined the Army. Following the war, he returned to the University of Illinois, completing his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1947. Upon graduation, he took a position with Centralab in Milwaukee, where he first worked with transistors, the building blocks for integrated circuits. While at Centralab, he pursued graduate studies in electrical engineering at the University of Wisconsin and received a master’s degree in 1950.

Creating the Future

Mr. Kilby moved to Dallas in 1958 to work for TI. As a new employee that summer, he was not yet entitled to the mass August vacation that was customary among TI employees at the time. It was in this relatively quiet time that the idea of the integrated circuit first came to Mr. Kilby.

“I was sitting at a desk, probably stayed there a little longer than usual,” he recalled in a 1980 interview. “Most of it formed pretty clearly during the course of that day. When I was finished, I had some drawings in a notebook, which I showed my supervisor when he returned. There was some slight skepticism, but basically they realized its importance.”

Mr. Kilby and TI officials put the circuit to the test September 12, 1958. It worked, and his invention transformed the industry. In 1960, the company announced the first chips for customer evaluation. Two years later, TI won its first major integrated circuit contract to design and build a family of 22 special circuits for the Minuteman missile. The integrated circuit remains at the heart of all electronics today.

His Work Continues

Mr. Kilby held several engineering management positions at TI between 1960 and 1968, when he was named assistant vice president. In 1970, he became director of engineering and technology for the Components Group before taking a leave of absence to become an independent consultant. Mr. Kilby officially retired from TI in 1983, but he continued to do consulting work with TI. He maintained a significant relationship with the company until his death.

“Jack was one of the true pioneers of the semiconductor industry,” said TI President and Chief Executive Officer Rich Templeton. “Every engineer, myself included, owes no small part of their livelihood to the work Jack Kilby did here at Texas Instruments. We will miss him.”

In addition to his TI career, Mr. Kilby held the rank of Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering at Texas A&M University from 1978 to 1984. In 1990, he lent his name to The Kilby Awards Foundation, which commemorates “the power of one individual to make a significant impact on society.” Its international awards program honors exceptional individuals for their contributions to society through science, technology, innovation, invention and education.

Mr. Kilby considered himself first and foremost an engineer, a profession he viewed as transforming ideas into practical realities. He held more than 60 patents for a variety of electronics inventions. Among these were the handheld electronic calculator and the thermal printer, both of which he co-invented.

In addition to the Nobel Prize, Mr. Kilby received numerous honors and awards for his contributions to science, technology and the electronics industry. He is one of only 13 Americans to receive both the National Medal of Science and the National Medal of Technology, the highest technical awards given by the U.S. government. In 1993, he was awarded the Kyoto Prize in Advanced Technology. Mr. Kilby also received the first international Charles Stark Draper Prize, the world’s top engineering award, from the National Academy of Engineering in 1989. In addition, he is honored in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s National Inventors Hall of Fame, celebrating individuals whose ideas have changed the world.

Mr. Kilby was the recipient of honorary degrees from several institutions of higher learning including the University of Miami, the Rochester Institute of Technology, the University of Illinois, Southern Methodist University, Texas A&M University and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

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