Robert Noyce, superstar of Silicon Valley, gets a Google Doodle

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Robert Noyce -- called a modern-day Thomas Edison in his 1990 obituary in the Los Angeles Times -- was smart, yes. The co-inventor of the microchip also was charming, good-looking and lucky that as a youth his penchant for invention didn’t end with him breaking his neck.


Noyce has been honored with a Google Doodle on the 84th anniversary of his birth. For a man who invented something so small, Noyce dreamed big from an early age.

The son of a preacher and a preacher’s daughter, Noyce at 13 built a box kite with his brother that he rode off the roof of a barn. He and the kite hit the ground. Then the brothers hooked the kite to the back bumper of a neighbor’s car and, with the neighbor driving, managed to glide, getting the contraption up to 12 feet in the air.

Noyce also used an engine from an old washing machine and a propeller to amp up his sled.

PHOTOS: Past Google doodles

When the Iowa native was attending Grinnell College, he stirred things up, setting off fireworks and tipping outhouses, but he really got in trouble when he and another student stole a 25-pound pig so they could have a luau with friends, according to author Tom Wolfe. They put an apple in the pig’s mouth, roasted it, and there was a feast. The farmer, not pleased, brought criminal charges. In the end, Noyce weathered a one-semester suspension.

Still, things just seemed to go Noyce’s way.

From Wolfe’s “The Tinkerings of Robert Noyce: How the Sun Rose on the Silicon Valley”:


With his strong face, his athlete’s build, and the Gary Cooper manner, Bob Noyce projected what psychologists call the halo effect. People with the halo effect seem to know exactly what they’re doing and moreover make you want to admire them for it. They make you see the halos over their heads.

Noyce, born Dec. 12, 1927, in Burlington, Iowa, had such a fast-moving brain that his friends were said to have called him “Rapid Robert.” By the end of his life, he held 16 patents on semiconductor methods, devices and structures. He co-founded Fairchild Semiconductor in 1957, leaving it to co-found Intel in 1968.

His contribution to the integrated circuit is arguably his greatest work.

Microchips are interconnected electronic components etched or imprinted onto a tiny chip of semiconducting material, i.e. silicon. The microchip affected the design of all computers, shrinking the size of electronics and the cost of making them.

Noyce and Jack Kilby, who is credited as co-inventor of the integrated circuit, worked separately on the idea in 1958 and ’59 and received separate patents. After several years of legal battle, Texas Instruments, Kilby’s employer, and Fairchild Semiconductor agreed to cross-license their technologies.

In February 1990, four months before Noyce died at age 62 of a heart attack, he and Kilby were honored by President George H.W. Bush for their invention. It is “unimaginable to believe we could ever live without” integrated circuits, Bush said. “The microchip ... helped America change the world.”

[For the record, 11:07 a.m. Dec. 12: An earlier version of this article said George W. Bush had honored Noyce and Kilby. It was, of course, H.W., not W., and thank you, commenters, for pointing out.]



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