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"Oh, I certainly remember the day Bill got the Nobel Prize!  I never adjourned to start drinking champagne at nine o'clock in the morning in any other occasion in my life!" -- Gordon Moore,interview for "Transistorized!"

"The summit of Everest was reached by a small party of ardent climbers.  Working from an advance base, they succeeded.  More than a generation of mountaineers had toiled to establish that base.  Your assault on the semiconductor problem was likewise launched from a high altitude camp, contributed by many scientists.  Yours, too, was a supreme effort -- of foresight, ingenuity and perseverance -- exercised individually and as a team." -- Erik Rudberg to the inventors of the transistor, during the Nobel Prize Award ceremonies.


"As Bardeen and Brattain were having drinks with their hosts in the hotel bar, they noticed Shockley and his wife coming in after all the festivities were over.  And they invited him to come on over and share a few drinks with them, and it seemed at that point that all of the hard feelings of the past years had kind of evaporated.  They were the heroes in Valhalla.  They were the gods of the field. And a lot of the ill feelings began to melt away." -- Michael Riordan, interview for "Transistorized!"

The Nobel Prize


December 10, 1956

The Announcement: November 1, 1956

By the time Bill Shockley, Walter Brattain, and John Bardeen won the Nobel Prize, none of them worked together anymore.  Shockley had moved on to form his own company, Bardeen had taken a job at the University of Illinois, and Brattain was still working at Bell Labs.  So all three men heard the news of their award in completely different ways.


Shockley received a phone call from a reporter at 7:15 in the morning announcing the news -- at first he thought it was a Halloween prank.  When he realized it was true, he and his employees at Shockley Semiconductor spent much of the next two days celebrating. 

Bardeen was at home cooking scrambled eggs, when he heard the announcement on the radio.  He was so surprised he dropped the pan on the floor. Later that night his friends at the University of Illinois formed a candle lit procession to his door, singing "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow."

Walter Brattain, however, wasn't taken by surprise.  He'd heard some advance rumors that they might win the Nobel.  When he was called by a journalist at 7 AM, Brattain calmly told the reporter to call back once he'd gotten to the lab. But Brattain hadn't been prepared for the onslaught of reporters and cameramen that soon found him.  And he certainly wasn't prepared for the standing ovation he received when he walked into the Bell Labs Auditorium -- it brought tears to his eyes.


Receiving the Award: December 10, 1956

John Bardeen and Walter Brattain flew together to Europe, getting drunk on champagne on the way.  They got nervous on the day of the event and had to drink some quinine to settle their stomachs.  Then when they were getting ready for the  main event, Bardeen realized that the vest and tie to his white suit had turned green at the cleaners -- luckily Brattain had an extra set to lend him. 

William Shockley arrived in Stockholm late due to a cancelled flight.  By the time his plane landed, he had barely enough time to get ready for the evening.

At the award ceremonies, the three inventors each walked across the stage to receive their prize from King Gustav VI Adolph of Sweden.  Each of them then gave a short talk on the past and future of the transistor. 

One Last Good Time Together

That night, Bardeen, Brattain, and Shockley all wandered separately into the hotel dining room to celebrate.  The glow of having won a Nobel clearly affected their mood.  Despite the fact that Shockley had years ago become alienated from  Brattain and Bardeen, all three sat together with their families and Swedish hosts.   For the time being, at least, they were able to let bygones be bygones.  

-- Michael Riordan, interview for "Transistorized!"
-- Gordon Moore, interview for "Transistorized!"
-- Crystal Fire by Michael Riordan and Lillian Hoddeson 


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