Most people would not recognize anyone in the photo above. They have no reasons to. Yet, the eight sitting darksuited computer scientists who posed together for Wayne Miller of Magnum were responsible for fundamentally reshaping the modern life.

There was a happier photo four years earlier when some of them were toasting their then-boss William Shockley for the Nobel prize. But that was 1956. Merely a year later, they would have a fallout with Shockley — a brilliant scientist but paranoid and domineering boss (who would later become an eugenicist) — and went on to found Fairchild Semiconductor, named after an East Coast company that provided the initial funding.

In many ways, it was the prototypical start-up, avant l’heure.  There were eight of them (in the photo, from left to right): Gordon Moore, C. Sheldon Roberts, Eugene Kleiner, Robert Noyce, Victor Grinich, Julius Blank, Jean Hoerni and Jay Last.  They were a diverse crew, having majored in everything from metallurgy to optics. Although Miller’s photo suggested otherwise, the dress-code was relaxed, and there were no assigned parking spaces, fixed office hours, or closed office doors.

They ran their start-up out of a 14,000 square foot building at 844 Charleston Road, between Palo Alto and Mountain View, which initially lacked plumbing and electricity. It was located in an area then known as Valley of Heart’s Delight (a place then known for being the largest fruit production region in the world) but their work in semiconductors there was so groundbreaking that they managed to change the place’s toponym into Silicon Valley.

From this ramshackle office, they managed to mass-produce silicon transistors for IBM; Noyce’s design for ‘microchip’ — essentially transforming bulky circuit boards into layers of silicon and germanium — was so transformational that by the mid-1960s, thirty percent of all integrated circuits in America were Fairchild-made. This chip made NASA’s manned mission to the Moon possible later in the decade.

By 1969, however, the group — then already dubbed Traitorous Eight by Shockley — had disbanded. In another pioneering tradition of the Valley, they would go on to found their own startups, which included National Semiconductor, Amelco/Teledyne, LSI, and Intel. Moore was immortalized by the computing law that bears his name, and Eugene Kleiner by the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers — an early investor in everything from Amazon to Google. Noyce, who co-founded Intel with Moore, mentored Steve Jobs. Other early Fairchild employees included Intel’s Andrew Grove, and Don Valentine, founder of another VC titan, Sequoia Capital, which had invested in Atari, Cisco, and LinkedIn. A 2014 study suggests that 92 public companies could be traced back to Fairchild, totally market capitalization of $2.1 trillion.



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2 thoughts on “Fairchildern

  1. Of course I know who those old white men are! I work for IEEE. We’re finally getting some women around here that are doing the same pioneering things but that photo says a lot about how women were left out of the equation

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