Reinacting the famous three at Stockholm.

Act I:
Hell's Bells Laboratory

Act II:
Miracle Month

Act III:
Intrigue and Glory

Act IV:
Smaller, Cheaper, Faster






Intrigue and Glory

Recreation: New Year’s Eve 1947

Shockley at a desk in a dark hotel room, furiously writing. Revelers downstairs partying and singing.

-- Music --

(the sounds of people celebrating New Years Eve)

People celebrating New Years Eve in hotel

VO: On New Year’s Eve, 1947... just a couple of weeks after Brattain and Bardeen demonstrated their new invention... Bill Shockley was attending a physics conference in Chicago.




VO: Ignoring the celebration, Shockley stayed in his room, impatient to put the ideas swimming in his head onto paper.

He realized that Brattain and Bardeen’s device would be fragile and difficult to manufacture. Shockley would take advantage of these problems. He would invent a better transistor.

Ira Standup - The Sandwich

Ira picks up a sandwich that is next to Shockley and takes a bite. It is a club sandwich with two toothpicks sticking out. Ira moves toothpicks to opposite pieces of bread.

Ira Standup: Brattain and Bardeen’s point contact transistor worked this way: one input point, one output point contacting the surface of the semiconductor. But as you can see, the points can loosen up and the surface of the semiconductor can become marred and useless.

takes two pieces of Swiss cheese and moves them across each other. The holes get smaller and larger





Standup: Shockley had a better idea. Why not mimic the vacuum tube and create a three–one, two, three–layer sandwich? This way we can move the input around to the other side just like in a vacuum tube so electricity would flow in the input and come out the output and in-between would be a third layer, just like the grid in the vacuum tube. A small electrical signal coming in the grid would influence a larger electrical current flowing from the input to the output. Viola, just like the vacuum tube. This was a brilliant idea, because it made up for the shortcomings of the point contact transistor.

Ian Ross

President Emeritus

Bell Labs & Lucent Technologies

Ross: And all of this work he did, and had it written down in his notebook, and witnessed by fellow Bell Labs employees within four weeks of the , ah, . . . certainly within a month of the original invention. That was a extremely productive period.

shot of notebook junction transistor



trio at blackboard

pullout from B&B to all three

VO: Bill Shockley returned to Bell Labs from Chicago and told… no one. He redrafted the idea at home, telling neither Brattain nor Bardeen, keeping them in the dark.

VO: It was an insult the two would never forget. The first crack in the harmonious team had been created; a rift that would widen and eventually destroy it.

Michael Riordan


Crystal Fire

Riordan: Brattain and Bardeen… essentially got pushed aside,… and, ah, were working on research into the surface into the point-contact transistor,… that Shockley probably knew was a blind alley, a dead end.

Recreation of Bardeen writing a letter



Bardeen (actor voice over): "My difficulties stem from the invention of the transistor. Before that there was an excellent research atmosphere here. After the invention Shockley at first refused to allow anyone else in the group to work on the problem. In short, he used the group largely to exploit his own ideas. I could not contribute to the experimental program unless I wanted to work in direct competition with my supervisor. An intolerable situation."

patent office door

Shockley actor talking to camera (half dissolve)


VO: A tense situation became even worse when Bell Labs’ lawyers began writing the patents. Shockley insisted that he be named sole inventor of Brattain and Bardeen’s device.


Riordan: Shockley felt that what Bardeen and Brattain had done… was derivative of his own ideas. He always thought that the light bulb always went off in one mind. ... And so he felt his name should be on the patent all by himself, or together with Bardeen and Brattain.

Brattain and Bardeen patent

VO: But Bell Labs’ lawyers decided to play it safe. Instead of applying for a patent on Shockley’s broad idea of an amplifier made from a semiconductor–they focused instead on Brattain and Bardeen’s far more narrow device. It would be easier to defend.

Ian Ross

President Emeritus

Bell Labs & Lucent Technologies

Ross: And the patent attorneys recognized that Shockley had played a role in this, but he actually had not been involved in that experiment. Therefore they excluded him from the patent.

Transistor Name Game

John Pierce photos from 1940s


Pierce photo

VO: With the patents filed, Bell Labs decided it was time to break the secrecy and go public. But what would they call the new invention? They knew such an important device needed a really good name.

VO: Walter Brattain sought the advice of his old friend John Pierce, an engineer who wrote science fiction stories on the side.

John Pierce


Bell Laboratories

Pierce: They’d been describing it in descriptive sentences or a couple of really crazy ideas were put forward... But Walter wanted a meaningful and, but above all, a name that fitted with things. And I provided that.


VO: Pierce realized that the new device worked by varying the resistance as current was transferred through it–trans-resistance.


Pierce: Then the name should fit in with other things, such as "varistor" and "thermistor"… which were the names of other devices. And from the, the fitting in with other things, and from the idea of trans-resistance, I suggested the name "transistor".


Bown: Gentlemen, may I ask you to take your places.


VO: And that’s what it became.

The Publicity Photo

recreation, archival stills and film footage of publicity photos taken of the team.

VO: Publicity photos, recreating their historic experiments were staged in Walter Brattain’s old lab. But as the three men took their places... Bill Shockley sat down... center stage in Walter Brattain’s seat.

Nick Holonyak once naively asked John Bardeen whether Brattain like the photo.

Nick Holonyak

Electrical Engineer

University of Illinois

Holonyak: John made a pained look at me and vigorously shook his head and said, no, that’s Walter’s apparatus, that’s our experiment, and Bill, he didn’t say Shockley, Bill didn’t have anything to do with it.

Brattain’s Letter


VO: Brattain later wrote Shockley, expressing his frustration over the picture, the patent, and being cut off from working on the new device.

Walter Brattain writing by a lamp at night, reenacted with actor’s voice over

Brattain: "Dear Bill, A few remarks upon sleeping on our talk of yesterday. It appears to me that the discovery of the transistor has ruined the best research team I ever had the privilege to work in. I think there was an effort in the beginning to give the credit to the group as a whole. The patent department squelched this."

Ira Standup - Public Announcement




VO: Bell Labs finally broke its silence, and on June 30, 1948, Ralph Bown, Director of Research, made his proud announcement to the press at Bell Lab’s old Manhattan headquarters.


Bown: "... is a device that can amplify electrical signals as they are transferred through it."

Tidbits from the press conference. The reporters leave and Ira is left in the audience reading a copy of the July 1, 1948 New York Times


Ira Standup: The announcement got very little public attention. The New York Times buried it on page 46. Time magazine placed it in the small section Science of the Week. Even engineers thought it was a nice device, but for something that did not need replacing, the vacuum tube.

Holonyak: The people I was with in the tube lab laughed and said that’s just a crystal set thing. That’s a joke. That’s just some little wire sitting on top of a crystal. And that’s like our old crystal sets. That’s not going anywhere. If you want to do real electronics you go down to the store room and get some vacuum tubes, capacitors, resistors, inductors transformers and go to work.


Standup: But one man realized its potential.

Joel Shurkin


Broken Genius

Joe Shurkin: I think Shockley understood its implications more than any living human being did. Ah, he was predicting things that came true 20 and 30 years later, and nobody else ever came close.


Sony archive photos


VO: Soon there were others. In a bombed out department store, on the other side of the world, two Japanese engineers saw great business potential in the new invention.

When Masaru Ibuka and Akio Morita heard that Bell Labs was going to license the technology for the transistor, the entrepreneurs realized they could use it to make transistorized radios.

Ian Ross

President Emeritus

Bell Labs & Lucent Technologies

Ross: They recognized the importance of the transistor to things they wanted to do. And they did a wonderful job of building up the capability to manufacture quality transistors in large volume.


shots of TR-1



VO: They gave their little company a new name that would be easy to pronounce in almost any language–Sony.


-- Music --









shots of transistor radios from Picture Glide


transistor radios

VO: But before they could introduce their revolutionary new radio the Regency company, in partnership with Texas Instruments, introduced the TR-1 in 1954, just in time for Christmas. Small enough to fit in a shirt pocket, the TR-1 sold for $49.95…more than three times the cost of a vacuum tube radio. Even so, they sold every one they could make.

Other American radio makers followed, but even at 50 bucks each, they couldn’t turn a profit. So American companies left the pocket radio business, turning to the far more lucrative military market.


Why cut nickels and dimes off the cost of a 4-transistor pocket radio when military brass were willing to pay a hundred dollars or more for one transistor?


That left the consumer market wide open for the Japanese, who were forbidden from producing military hardware. Japanese companies soon cornered the transistor radio market.

Walter Brown

Electrical Engineer

Bell Labs & Lucent Technologies


Walter Brown: Well, the public was enthusiastic about the transistor as soon as transistor radios began to be available, because it meant that you could carry around something pretty small, and the battery would last a while, and you didn’t have to warm it up. It was pretty neat.

First transistor radio photos

VO: The importance of small, portable radios was not lost on Walter Brattain.


Phil Foy


Bell Laboratories

Foy: When the first transistor radio come out, which was about three times the size of a pack of cigarettes, his comment was he thought we’d really done something because now someone over in the desert who was herding sheep could listen to a radio broadcast.

still photograph of tiny junction transistor with pea pods


photo of Shockley’s notebook

VO: Ironically, the transistors used in radios and most other devices were all improved versions of Shockley’s design, patented under his name in 1951. Brattain and Bardeen’s transistor was used for a time in the Bell telephone network, but barely anywhere else. While Shockley had lost the battle, he had won the war. His name, not Brattain and Bardeen’s, would forever be linked with the transistor.

Ira Standup - Transistor Radio

Ira in a classroom with a transistor radio









Ira Standup: I remember my first transistor radio. I used to bring it to school to try to secretly listen to the world series. We used to plug an earphone into the back, and then thread the earphone up our sleeves, hold it in our hands and listen to the score. Any time a team scored a run a little "Yeah" would go out through the classroom. We thought we were fooling our teachers. Until they asked for the score.

Ira Standup: Transistorized and solid state became buzz words. Marketing terms. Transistorized. We didn’t know what a transistor did. But what we did know was that solid state meant state of the art. So anything that was transistorized was not only smaller, but had to be better

The Rise of Rock and Roll

50s youth culture

-- Music --

VO: Within a few years what was first thought to be simply a replacement for the vacuum tube, began to change the world. Anything electronic could now be made portable and cheap.

transistor radios

VO: Transistor radios began to influence popular culture. Now that kids could listen to music out of earshot of their disapproving parents... music became more daring and revolutionary.


VO: And the radio transformed more than just music. It became a portable political weapon.

Charles Stewart


University of Illinois

Charles Stewart: The transistor suddenly opened the floodgates of information. It made it possible for people who had never before been a party to world dramas to be there in a front row seat.

photo of Stewart

VO: This point was driven home to Charles Stewart in 1968, while visiting Bedouin tribes in the Sahara desert.


Stewart: As the tea was being poured and passed around my host turned to me and asked, "Why this time are they burning Detroit?" And as the story unfolded, they had to tell me, I didn’t know myself, was that I was sitting two hours away from the moment that Martin Luther King was assassinated. And they themselves had picked this information up of course on their transistors from Cairo, from Moscow, from London.

The Team Breaks Up


VO: The transistor radio had become the first tool of the Information Age. But by now, the once-great team of Shockley, Brattain and Bardeen had crumbled.

Joel Shurkin


Broken Genius

Shurkin: Essentially what happened is Shockley drove them both out of Bell Labs. Certainly he drove Bardeen out of Bell Labs. Bardeen went several times to his managers and said, "I have to work without this man."

Seitz photo


VO: John Bardeen was the first to leave. In 1951 he appealed to his old friend Fred Seitz, a physicist at the University of Illinois.


Seitz: I went to the dean and said, "Look, here’s your chance to get a world beater," and he managed, with some difficulty, but by piecing pieces of budget together to make him a reasonable offer. I thought they should have offered him more, but when I mentioned the figure to John, he said, "That’s enough for me."

Recreation Shockley speeding off in his MG

VO: By 1955, Shockley’s reputation as a terrible manager finally caught up with him. It became clear that he would not receive further promotions at Bell Labs.


VO: So he decided to leave the East Coast and move West.

Ira Standup - California


-- Music --

Ira driving down Palm Drive in sports car




Ira Standup: This is Palo Alto, just south of San Francisco. It’s one of the richest towns in the whole world–because it’s literally at the center of California’s high-tech industry. But back in 1955, all of this was just another sleepy little college town–home to Stanford University.

Ira pulls up in front of Shockley’s boyhood home

Ira Standup: Shockley knew this place well, because he grew up here. That’s his boyhood home. So, he came back for two reasons, one his mother still lived in town and, two, he knew the warm California weather would help attract the bright young talent he needed for his new company.

You see, Shockley was famous. Now he wanted to become rich and famous.



VO: He began recruiting engineers from Bell Labs for his new company, Shockley Semiconductor. But no one would join. They all knew his reputation. So he looked for others, more eager.


Joel Shurkin: 06:23:12:18

Shockley had one indisputable talent. He had the ability to spot talent in other people. He did that with his company. He did that at Bell Labs. He was probably the best scientific computer . . . scientific recruiter of his time.


VO: Among the first people Shockley hired were Bob Noyce and Gordon Moore. Years later they would go on to found Intel, but they got their start working for Bill Shockley.

Gordon Moore



Moore: When I first got hired by Bill Shockley I had no idea what this industry could be. Ah, in fact, ah, I don’t think anyone had any idea that , ah, it would really change so much of the world. We were just interested in seeing if we could make a transistor that somebody might wanna buy.

Nobel Prize

Archival footage

VO: Shockley Semiconductor had been running less than a year, when Shockley was awakened by an early morning phone call.

Michael Riordan


Crystal Fire


Riordan: Ah, it was somebody from -- claiming to be from Stockholm -- telling him he’d just won the Nobel Prize, to be shared with John Bardeen and Walter Brattain. . . . for the invention of the transistor. And after he got over his initial surprise, ah, he realized it was true. And great celebration erupted.


Moore: Oh I certainly do 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. (laugh)


VO: The trio attended the ceremony with their wives and families. Shockley brought his mother.

The Swedish Academy called their work, quote--a supreme effort of foresight, ingenuity and perseverance--exercised individually and as a team.

Recreation: A meeting after the Nobel Prize

A scene in a bar late at night

-- Music --

VO: After the ceremonies, John Bardeen and Walter Brattain were sharing a night cap in the hotel bar. In walked Bill Shockley.

Brattain and Bardeen invite him over for a drink. After a moment’s pause Shockley accepts.

VO: They’d changed the world. They’d gone their separate ways. They’d won the most prestigious award in science. And for this night, at least, they put their differences aside.


Riordan: 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, ah, the gods of the field. And a lot of the ill feelings began to melt away.

(fade to black)



Act I: Hell's Bells Laboratory

Act II: Mircale Month

Act III: Intrigue and Glory

Act IV: Smaller, Cheaper, Faster

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