The Men Behind the Microchip: The Early Years of Intel Founders Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore

As self-described “accidental entrepreneurs,” Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore created what would become by far the foremost semiconductor maker in the world. They didn’t set out to create a billion dollar company or to transform an industry, but that is exactly what the pair did when they founded Intel in 1968. Though best known for its Pentium and Celeron microprocessors that can be found in more than three-quarters of the new PCs that come today, Intel also makes flash memories and embedded semiconductors. Now, with over $35 billion in revenue and annual growth standing at 13.5 percent, the legacy left by Noyce and Moore remains one of the strongest examples of innovation and entrepreneurship in the 21st century.

Gordon Earle Moore was born on January 3, 1929, in San Francisco, California. From an early age, he discovered his natural curiosity and passion for science. In fact, his hearing would later be damaged as a result of his passion for creating loud explosions with the materials he found in chemistry sets as a young boy. “A couple of ounces of dynamite makes for a great firecracker,” he jokes.

That passion stayed with Moore as he continued on through junior high school and on to university. “From the time I was in junior high school I decided I wanted to be a chemist,” says Moore. “I didn’t quite know what a chemist was, but I kept it up and got my PhD in physical chemistry.” In 1950, Moore graduated with his PhD from the California Institute of Technology.

Robert Noyce, now nicknamed “the Mayor of Silicon Valley,” was born in Burlington, Iowa, on December 12, 1927. The son of a preacher, Noyce majored in physics at Grinnell College. Always the charismatic leader of the crowd, Noyce almost got himself expelled for a prank he pulled. After stealing a pig from a nearby college for a school luau and slaughtering it in one of the college halls, Noyce was saved from expulsion only thanks to the efforts of his physics professor, Grant Gale.

While a student at Grinnell, Gale had gotten a hold of two of the very first transistors manufactured by Bell Labs and he introduced them to Noyce who was immediately hooked. Noyce went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to obtain his PhD in physics, only to find he knew more about transistors than did many of his professors. In 1953, Noyce received his PhD and, after a brief stint making transistors for the electronics firm Philco, decided he wanted to work at Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory. In a single day, Noyce packed up his wife and two children, flew out to California, and bought a house – all before he had even gone to visit Shockley to ask for a job.

Shockley wound up hiring Noyce, and it was while working here that he would meet his future Intel co-founder, Moore. In little time, visions and egos were clashing at Shockley. Seven of the company’s young researchers, including Moore, who had been hired out of Caltech, decided they were going to leave and start up a company on their own. Together, in 1957, the “Traitorous Eight” left Shockley and founded Fairchild Semiconductor. It would be the beginnings of a success that neither Moore nor Noyce could have ever predicted.

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