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Phil Foy in Army Uniform, 1945

"I just couldn't get [to work at Bell] early enough in the morning.  I enjoyed every minute of it, for the 42 years I put in here.  I was always in pure research.  later on I got to be in device feasibility, so I saw all the different devices come along; worked on a lot of the first models; built a lot of the first models.  Never a dull moment." -- Phil Foy, interview for "Transistorized!"


Phil Foy

Phil Foy built the first working model of a field-effect transistor. He didn't have a science Ph.D. like many of the people who worked in Shockley's lab -- he was hired as a technician. It was his job to take the ideas of the scientists and build them into something that worked.  He played a supporting role in many of the inventions that came out of the lab. 

For the field-effect transistor, William Shockley sat down with Foy and made a small wooden obstacle course.  He rolled ball bearings through it, showing Foy the way that electrons would have to travel across the transistor.   Foy says this ability to describe complex things in simple terms was typical of Shockley: "He gave me enough information in my head that I could go ahead and build the model."

Foy  began working at Bell Labs in 1941, but left to be a fighter pilot in World War II.  When he came back to Bell in 1945, he was put straight into Shockley's lab before the lab had even really come together. Neither Brattain nor Bardeen worked there yet.  Foy was assigned to work under chemist Gerald Pearson to grow his crystal samples.  

Foy was in the room on the day that Walter Brattain first got amplification out of a semiconductor.  He says that the Brattain ran off to get Bardeen, but that everyone stayed relatively calm.  "They didn't jump up and down and say, 'Well, we just revolutionized the world,'" says Foy.  "They didn't display any great excitement, because they didn't know yet where this was going to go."

While Foy continued in Shockley's lab for years and years, he says he only found out later that the inventors of the transistors had difficulties with each other.  Whatever their differences were, all three men kept it to themselves.  

-- Phil Foy, interview for "Transistorized!"




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