One of the most important items in technology history is up for sale in Dallas next week. On Nov. 4, Dallas' Heritage Auctions will sell a early prototype of the world's first microchip. The minimum bid is set at $350,000.
Texas Instruments engineer Jack Kilby designed the first microchip, then known as the integrated circuit, at the company's Dallas campus in 1958.
"It was in a relatively deserted laboratory at TI's brand-new Semiconductor Building where Jack Kilby first hit on the idea of the integrated circuit," the TI website relates. "In July 1958, when most employees left for the traditional two-week vacation period, Kilby — as a new employee with no vacation — stayed to man the shop."
His invention solved a problem commonly known as the "tyranny of numbers," which referred to the very large computers necessary to house the number of components required to build them. Kilby's chip allowed multiple circuit components to be etched on a single piece of semiconductive material, vastly reducing the size of computers.
The prototype going on sale next week features a wafer of germanium — a semiconductor — outfitted with leads and wires on a glass brick. A second prototype, this one silicone attached via metallic leads to a plastic dish, is included in the lot. Both items belonged to technician Tom Yeargan, a former TI employee and member of a team that worked with Kilby on his chip. In 2000, Kilby thanked Yeargan during his Noble Prize acceptance speech.
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Yeargan's daughter, Leslie Yeargan Riggs, and son, Jeff Yeargan, recently decided to sell the prototypes. They hope the items go to someone who values the history of the invention their father worked on enough to display them in public.
"We would like it to be displayed, ideally. We realize now what an amazing, special thing he was a part of. He wasn’t someone who sought out attention, but we feel like he would want — and be happy about — us getting his name out there," Riggs said. "To him, he was just doing his job, taking care of his family, doing what he was supposed to do. Ideally, this will go somewhere where it is treasured and displayed."