The Irresistible Transistor

Fifty years ago this month, a man embraced his inner hobbyist and gave thousands of engineers their first transistor

12 min read
Jack Ward, curator of the online Transistor Museum.

Jack Ward (above), curator of the online Transistor Museum, proffers a pile of unmarked half-size Raytheon germanium hearing-aid transistors, vintage mid- to late 1950s, that he bought on eBay for a few cents each.

Photo: Larry Volk

Is it possible to love a transistor? Certainly what Jack Ward feels for the Raytheon CK722, the first transistor sold to the general public, goes beyond casual affection. He's collected thousands of early transistor specimens, including dozens of CK722s. His stately yellow Victorian home on a quiet, tree-lined street in Brookline, Mass., has a basement crammed with enough code oscillators, Geiger counters, radios, hand-wrought circuit boards, transistorized hearing aids, subminiature vacuum tubes, diodes, resistors, and capacitors to make any collector of vintage electronic gear drool. He's written one book about the CK722 and has started another about early transistor history at RCA. When he's not working as associate director of quality for the Bedford, Mass., facility of gene-chip maker Affymetrix Inc., he's busy maintaining his virtual Transistor Museum on the Web and is widely acknowledged by fellow collectors as a techno-anthropologist par excellence.

“My wife's very supportive, and my younger two children think it's fairly amusing, and probably not a bad way to have a mid-life crisis," says Ward of his family's reaction to his passionate pursuit of transistor history. Far from thinking that his dad's a square, Ward's oldest son, Nick, who is pursuing a B.A. in physics, is learning a lot from his old man. “Nick can't believe how fast technology changes and that the people I talk to have changed the world," adds Ward, who as curator of the online museum has shifted his focus from collecting early transistors to collecting oral histories from the engineers who sparked the Semiconductor Era.

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