Abstract: Between Research and Production: Making Transistors at RCA, 1948-1960

Hyungsub Choi


The aim of this paper is to re-examine the history of RCA within the context of the Third Industrial Revolution, an ongoing economic transformation since the 1950s characterized by the rise of solid-state electronics and the computer industries and the intensification of organized research and development. The growing importance of science to industry sets this era apart from previous periods. While the introduction of solid-state physics opened up new possibilities in the electronics industry, it also created new problems. One problem was the issue of internal communication, especially between the laboratory and the factory. Constant communication and close working relationships between research scientists and production engineers within a firm were essential for keeping up with the fast pace of change in a Third Industrial Revolution industry. Transistor research and development at RCA in the late 1940s and 1950s is instructive in this regard, because the character of industrial research went through a drastic transformation. The gradual separation of the laboratory from the factory in the mid-1950s ultimately unfolded into RCA's failure to capture the market share it desired.