Fairchild Turns 50

Illustration: Bryan Christie Design

Click here for a larger image

This month Fairchild Semiconductor celebrates 50 years in the business. Executives and engineers from Fairchild founded many of the most influential technology firms in Silicon Valley, including microprocessor rivals Intel and AMD, reconfigurable chip leader Xilinx, and one of the best-known venture capital firms, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. The company was founded by the ”Traitorous Eight”--a group of engineers who abandoned William Shockley's semiconductor firm en masse. Among the eight were Gordon Moore, whose eponymous law has been a guiding force in the chip industry; Robert Noyce, the co-inventor of the integrated circuit; and Jean Hoerni, the inventor of the process that made silicon the dominant semiconductor [look for a profile of Hoerni in our December issue].

Many of the companies these eight and others from Fairchild founded are still going strong, while some have been acquired by larger firms, and some have simply faded away. Fairchild itself was purchased by National Semiconductor, of Santa Clara, Calif., in 1987. Ten years later it was spun out as an independent company, focused on power-related chips and headquartered at one of Fairchild's original manufacturing sites in South Portland, Maine.