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Invention of the Point Contact Transistor, 1954

An Experimentalist and a Theorist

Walter Brattain and John Bardeen co-invented the transistor fourteen years after their initial meeting in Princeton, at which point both men were in the employ of Bell Laboratories. Brattain was good-humored and outgoing, while Bardeen was on the quieter side. Brattain was a skilled experimentalist, and had a reputation for being able to build anything in the laboratory. Bardeen was an incisive thinker capable of examining problems from a variety of angles and of generating thoughtful, ingenious solutions. Bardeen developed a reputation for answering questions at whatever level he thought the inquirer best able to understand. One of his colleagues at the Naval Ordinance Laboratory commented, "There was no intellectual snobbery about him at all."

A letter to Mr. H. B. Ely of Bell Telephone Laboratories from Ralph Brown, Bell Lab Director of Research, describes the work leading up to the development of the transistor as "comprising on Bardeen's part a penetrating development of underlying theory, and on Brattain's part a coordinate line of thought and experimentation." You can read the full text of the letter by clicking on the thumbnails at right.