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Photos: Book celebrates Texas Instruments

From transistor radio to Speak and Spell, TI plays crucial role in key electronic-age concepts and markets.
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1 of 13 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Field explosion

Yeeee hawwww. Although mostly known now for producing chips for large-screen TVs and cell phones, Texas Instruments was first called Geophysical Service Inc. (GSI), and it specialized in seismology equipment for finding oil. The crewman at the bottom right of the picture (with the scarf) operates a piece of equipment that records seismic signals reflected off a horizon deep in the earth. The photographed blast in the South Louisiana field was set intentionally.

The workers stand on a marsh buggy designed by an early employee, Ken Burg.

Much of the company's history is chronicled in "Engineering the World: Stories from the First 75 Years at Texas Instruments," published by Caleb Pirtle III.

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Reflective seismograph

A readout from a reflection seismograph, which provided more details about substructures than previous equipment. John Karcher, one of TI's two founders, pioneered reflective seismology in the 1920s.

While Texas Instruments is named after the Lone Star State, its roots belong in New York City. Karcher worked at New York-based Amerada Petroleum before founding GSI, while fellow co-founder Eugene McDermott taught at Columbia University. The articles of incorporation were first filed in New Jersey in May 1930.

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Sumatra crew

A crew of workers transport oil extraction equipment through a jungle in Sumatra. Hundreds of workers were employed in these efforts, which also involved dodging snakes and other creatures in the search for oil. TI actually owned rubber plantations at one point, but sold them in 1958.

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M/V Arctic Explorer

During World War II, GSI began to expand into submarine detection equipment and then later, as Texas Instruments, into the broader electronics market. The company, though, continued to mostly specialize in chips or equipment for analyzing real-world phenomena.

The ship pictured, the M/V Arctic Explorer, dragged long leads through the water that provided data for 3D models of the geological structures below the ocean floor. The ship, in 1974, was the first to enter the Kellet and Fitzwilliam Straits in the Canadian Arctic.

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5 of 13 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Digital Data Signal Conditioner

TI built this Digital Data Signal Conditioner--which helps gather data on radiation trapped in Earth's magnetic field--for James Van Allen at the University of Iowa, who headed up launches for NASA. The device became the first integrated circuit in space when it launched with a rocket in 1961.

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HARM

The U.S. Navy in the late 1960s began working on HARM, or high-speed anti-radiation missile, a weapon designed to home in on and knock out enemy communications installations. TI had built guidance systems for years, but with HARM it designed the whole missile. More than 20,000 have been built, with some being deployed in Libya and the first Gulf War.

The picture shows an anechoic chamber used to test the guidance system in HARM.

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7 of 13 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Junction silicon transistor

This sketch, by engineer Mort Jones, is of a grown junction silicon transistor. (The name refers to the fact that the silicon that serves as the on-off transistor is grown from a crystal.) TI had recruited Gordon Teal from Bell Labs in the 1950s to serve as its semiconductor research director. The want ad for the job was placed in the New York Times to target Bell Labs employees. In 1954, TI released the first commercial silicon transistor. Earlier, some had believed germanium might become the primary material for making transistors.

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8 of 13 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Stamp transistor

A picture of one of TI's first transistors on a stamp. Electronics jobs in the early 1950s began popping up all over. The rush of companies that jumped into the industry lead to cutthroat competition and boom-bust cycles that persist more than 50 years later.

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9 of 13 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Transistor radio

The world's first transistor radio, the Regency TR-1 from Industrial Development Engineering Associates in Chicago. TI engineers built a prototype in four days in 1954, and the two companies then further refined the design. The final version, released Oct. 18, 1954, measured 5 x 3 x 1.25 inches and was the smallest radio yet produced.

Although it brought recognition, the TR-1 didn't make much money. To avoid alienating customers, the radio sold for $49.95. Other transistor radios quickly followed.

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10 of 13 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Jack Kilby

There it is, the world's first integrated circuit, invented in 1958 by new engineer Jack Kilby. Kilby, who would win the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physics for the invention, made it while most other employees were on company-wide vacation.

It consists of a germanium sliver 7/16th of an inch long by 1/16th on a piece of glass.

While Kilby did it first, the integrated circuit built by Intel founder Robert Noyce shortly afterward became the design the electronic industry adopted. While Kilby and Noyce argued about who deserved the most credit, the two managed to bury the hatchet. Kilby in fact invited Gordon Moore (Noyce was dead) to join him at the Nobel ceremony.

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11 of 13 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Speak and Spell

Is this the Village People in street clothes? Pictured are Gene Frantz, Richard Wiggins, Paul Breedlove and Larry Brantingham, who invented the Speak and Spell. Unveiled at CES in 1978, the $50 toy became a huge hit and lead to several spin-offs. Eventually, TI spun off the entire unit. It was the first commercial device, according to TI, to use synthesized human speech.

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12 of 13 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

99/5A

The TI 99/4A home computer. Back in 1981, this thing sold for $525, a more refined version of a PC it released in 1979. As on other occasions, being early didn't help TI establish the dominant position in the market. In October 1983, it exited home computers and said it had lost $680 million on them since the beginning. Later TI sold laptops before selling the entire division.

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13 of 13 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Micro mirrors

Get that ant off the TV. The picture shows an ant's leg in front of a panel of micro mirrors from a digital light processor. The mirrors switch off and on several thousand times a second--the light reflecting from them creates images. Each DLP contains millions of mirrors.

DLPs now come in rear-projection TVs and digital projectors from manufacturers such as Samsung.

TI's Larry Hornbeck filed the initial patents on the concepts behind the DLP back in 1983 and the company spent several years seeking out high volume applications.

Much of the company's history is chronicled in "Engineering the World: Stories from the first 75 years at Texas Instruments," published by Caleb Pirtle III.

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