Many researchers and inventors were working on a functional transistor device before it was ultimately made. Two patents for similar devices were submitted. One for a field effect transistor was filed in Canada by Hungarian physicist Julius Edgar Lilenfeld in 1925. Since he didn’t publish any information about the research he had done, his work was ignored by the industry. Another field effect transistor was patented in 1934 by German physicist Dr. Oskar Heil. There was no direct evidence that either of these devices were ever built, however in 1990 one of Lilenfeld’s designs worked as described. Operational versions of Lilenfeld’s designs were built by a team at Bell Laboratories, but they never referenced his work in their research papers or historical articles. They waited until after the twenty year patent period had expired to use his designs and create the transistor.
In World War II, they used two-way radio communications in the form of walkie talkies. If they had this transistor radio technology, their communication signals probably could have gone a lot farther. With better communication, it’s possible that the outcome of the war could have been different. But we’ll never know.
Transistors were ultimately developed and produced in 1947 and first demonstrated by Bell Laboratories. This great improvement in technology created a demand for portable electronic devices. In 1954, a portable version of a radio receiver that used this transistor radio circuitry was created by Texas Instruments and Regency Electronics. The first one hit the consumer market on October 18, 1954 for the price of $49.95, which is $436.00 in 2015 dollars. The Bell researchers wound up winning the Nobel Prize for their work in 1956.
It would become the most popular electronic device in its time. In the 1980s, these inexpensive AM transistor radios were superseded by higher quality audio devices like the Sony Walkman and portable boombox players.
I have fond memories of the transistor radio that my Dad kept in the garage. He would listen to it while he was working on projects like fixing the car and tuning up the lawn mower and snow blower. As I create this blog, I’m sitting in the dining room in our cabin in Northern Minnesota listening to the Twins baseball game. I’m listening to the game on an AM station on a CD boombox, but I remember hearing many Twins games from my Dad’s transistor radio.
My Dad’s radio also had a basic alarm clock with it like the one pictured above. Sometimes, if the clock got moved or had something set on it, the alarm would get set by accident and would go off at random times.
My Mom also had a transistor radio that she listened to the news on when she was doing things around the house. We also had an eight track player as part of our in home stereo system. Just a look at what the music players of my childhood looked like. Now we listen to streamed music from the internet on our cellular phones. Technology has come a long way since 1954.