A Science Odyssey
People and Discoveries

First commercial microprocessor is introduced

In 1958 the integrated circuit was developed by a young engineer at Texas Instruments named Jack St. Clair Kilby. He put together a few transistors and capacitors, linking them with a thin layer of silicon, a semiconducting material. The silicon completed the circuit between the electronic components. All the building blocks of an electronic circuit -- transistors, diodes, capacitors, resistors, etc. -- could be placed on a small board and linked. This type of "chip" would revolutionize an industry. Texas Instruments manufactured the first practical silicon chips in 1959.

About ten years later, Gilbert Hyatt took the integrated circuit a step further by including in one place all the pieces necessary to operate a computer (except memory and interface). He applied for a patent on this microprocessor in 1970. The following year, while his paper work wended its way through the patent office, three engineers from Intel Corporation created the first commercially viable microprocessor. Thus they have usually been credited with its invention. But in 1990, the U.S. Patent Office gave that recognition to Hyatt. Intel's 4004 (4-bit) microprocessor was the on the market, however, and in 1974 they added the 8080 (8-bit), sixteen times more powerful. This was the hardware for the first popular microcomputer, the Altair 8800.

Microprocessors are small and cheap enough that they've found their way into thousands of products, not just personal computers. While 32-bit processors are commonly found in desktop computers, the 4-bit is still the most widely used -- found in washing machines, televisions, microwave ovens, and so on.

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