"The introduction of this first mass production item to use the tiny transistor to replace the fragile vacuum tube leads the way for the long-predicted transistorization and miniaturization of many other mass production consumer devices. TIers can justly be proud of being the first to produce a high-gain transistor at a cost permitting its application to the high-volume commercial market." -internal Texas Instruments Information Bulletin, October 18, 1954
So What Was the Transistor Good For?
Transistors may have been useful to the phone company and to a handful of scientists building computers, but that wasn't enough to build an industry. Companies were eagerly buying transistor licenses from Bell, but if they were going to succeed, they had to come up with sales. They had to catch the attention of the public. That happened with the hand-held radio.
The first transistor radio was a joint project between the Regency Division of Industrial Development Engineering Associates and Texas Instruments. TI knew that it needed a fun product to catch the nation's attention. They thought a radio was just the thing to make a splash. TI built the transistors; Regency built the radio. On October 18, 1954, the Regency TR1 was put on the market. It was a scant five inches high and used four germanium transistors.
A Startup Japanese Company Becomes a Giant
While the Regency sold out everywhere, it didn't stay on the market. Texas Instruments caused the sensation it wanted and then moved on to other things.
But over in Japan, a tiny company had other ideas. A tape recorder manufacturer called Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo had also decided to make small radios. In fact, they were going to devote their whole company to commercial products like that.
Tsushin Kogyo was close to manufacturing its first radios when it heard that an American company had beaten them to the punch. But they kept up the hard work, eventually producing a radio they named the TR-55. When Regency quit producing the TR1, in the Spring of 1955, the Japanese company was poised to enter the US market.
The only problem was that the company name was unprouncable for Americans. They needed a new name. Ibuka and his partner Akio Morita thought and thought. First, they found a latin word sonus meaning "sound." That was a good start. At the time, bright young men were referred to as "sonny boys," and that was a good image too. Combining the two concepts, they developed a new name: Sony.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
This Is What It's Good For!
With the transistor radio, music and information suddenly became portable. No matter how isolated you were, you could hear news of the world. And for teenagers who could suddenly listen to music anywhere they wanted -- far away from an adult's ears -- it sparked a musical revolution: rock n' roll.
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