Robert Noyce: Biography, Net Worth, Quotes and Books

Robert Noyce

Robert Noyce (Dr. Robert Norton Noyce, December 12, 1927 – June 3, 1990) was an American physicist and businessman best known for founding Intel Corporation and the realization of the first monolithic integrated microchip. The microchip is an electrical component that is considered one of the most important technological developments of the twentieth century. Robert Noyce has been nicknamed “the mayor of Silicon Valley” as the instigator of the computer revolution.

Highlights from Robert Noyce:

  • Founder of Fairchild Semiconductor and Intel and inventor of the first monolithic microchip
  • Place in the Business Hall of Fame
  • Many honors and awards, including the National Medal of Technology, received by President Ronald Reagan and awarded the National Medal of Science
  • Mentioned 3x in Jack Kilby’s Nobel Lecture

Robert Noyce biography

Robert Noyce was born on December 12, 1927 in Burlington, Iowa, United States. He is the third of his parents’ four sons. Both parents were religious. Noyce himself was not.

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His father, Rev. Ralph Brewster, was a minister who graduated from Doane College, Oberlin College, and Chicago Theological Seminary. Mother Harriet May Norton was herself the daughter of the Reverend Milton J. Norton and Louise Hill. A graduate of Oberlin College, she was described by journalists as an intelligent woman with a strong will of her own.

Noyce’s brothers were named Donald Sterlin, Gaylord Brewster and Ralph Harold. Brother Donald would later become a respected professor and associate dean of undergraduate affairs at the UC Berkeley College of Chemistry. His brother Gaylord later went on to become a distinguished professor of practical theology. As a young professor, he was once arrested for being part of the Freedom Riders, a civil rights movement.

Winning

Later in life, Robert Noyce recounted an early childhood memory. He stated that one day he beat his father at ping pong. He proudly told his mother the news, who responded with: wasn’t that nice of daddy? To make you win? He was deeply offended by the idea of deliberate loss. He said: if you’re going to play, play it to win.

In 1940, when Noyce was a little boy, he built a small plane with his brothers, which they flew off the roof of the stables. He also reportedly built a radio from scratch and mounted the motor of an old washing machine to the back of a sled, which gave him the ownership of a motorized vehicle.

Academic background Robert Noyce

During his high school years, Robert showed great talent and interest in mathematics and science. In his senior year, he therefore took a first-year physics course at Grinnell College. In 1949 he received his baccalaureate degree in physics and mathematics from Grinnell and graduated Phi Beta Kappa.

It was during his time at Grinell College that he was introduced to the transistor. A transistor is a small electronic device that works like a switch, but without any mechanical parts. Noyce became enthusiastic about the invention and started to develop it further.

How it started

After his Ph.D. in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1953, focusing purely on research at an academic institution did not interest Robert. He was offered jobs by Bell Labs, IBM, RCY and Philco and began working as a research engineer for Philco corporation in Philadelphia. The company where semiconductors were made aroused his interest. His college graduate friends said of Robert that he had a mind and understanding so fast, they called him Rapid Robert.

Robert left Philco in 1956 to join William Shockley, a co-founder of the transistor and then Nobel Prize winner. He worked at the Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory in Mountain View, California.

A year later, Noyce left again after he ran into problems with Shockley’s management style. He co-founded Fairchild Semiconductor in 1957.

It was Jack Kilby who invented the first hybrid integrated circuit in 1958, but in 1959 Noyce made another invention: a new type of integrated circuit that was much more practical than Kilby’s invention. The design was made of silicon, while Kilby’s design was made of germanium. Robert Noyce’s invention therefore became the first monolithic integrated circuit chip.

Intel

After leaving Shockley, Robert Noyce co-founded Intel with Gordon Moore in 1968. Its biggest backer, Arthur Rock, Intel’s chairman of the board, said the company needed Robert Noyce, Gordon Moore and Andrew Grove to make it work.

Robert Noyce became the visionary in this picture, Gordon Moore became the virtuoso, and Grove was the technologist turned management scientist. Andy Grove was also Intel’s first CEO.

The relaxed culture that Robert Noyce and his associates maintained at Intel, as opposed to the culture of Shockley’s Fairchild Semiconductor, was a relic of that same period.

Management style

Robert treated his employees like his own family and rewarded them whenever he could. His management style is described as rolling up his sleeves. He avoided a luxurious lifestyle with expensive cars, private jets and expensive offices. Instead, he stuck with Intel’s relaxed work environment where everyone contributed and no one enjoyed privileges.

By rejecting the usual benefits for executives in the organization, he served as a model for the newer generations of Intel CEOs.

Private life of Robert Noyce

Noyce married Elizabeth Bottomley in 1953. Together they had four children: William, Pendred, Priscilla and Margaret. Elizabeth was very fond of New England, where the family had a summer home with 50 acres of land near the coast in Bremen. Elizabeth and the kids loved spending the summer there, while father Robert continued to work at Intel. He did visit regularly. The couple divorced in 1974.

That same year, Robert found love again and married Ann Schmeltz Bowers. She became the first director of human resources for Intel Corporation and was also vice president of Human Resources for Apple Inc.

Noyce was very active throughout his life. He liked to read, flew his own small plane and practiced hang gliding and diving. He firmly believed that microelectronics would continue to grow, including in complexity. This led to the question of the extent to which technology would determine society. When asked what he would do as ruler of the United States, he replied that he would do everything he could to ensure that the population could flourish in a time of high-tech. That includes teaching everyone, including the poorest.

Today, the microchip is used in a wide variety of devices. From the laptop computer to the electric car, video equipment, smartphones, game consoles, etc. None of this would have been possible without the invention of Robert Noyce.

Robert Noyce died in hospital on June 3, 1990, after suffering a heart attack at home. He was only 62 years old.

Net worth

In 2012, the net worth of Robert Noyce was estimated to be around $3.7 billion.

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Robert Noyce quotes

  1. “If ethics are poor at the top, that behavior is copied down through the organization.”
  2. “Don’t be encumbered by history, just go out and do something wonderful.”
  3. “Optimism is an essential ingredient of innovation. How else can the individual welcome change over security, adventure over staying in safe places?”
  4. “Innovation is everything. When you’re on the forefront, you can see what the next innovation needs to be. When you’re behind, you have to spend your energy catching up.”
  5. “Start with a growing market. Swim in a stream that becomes a river and ultimately an ocean. Be a leader in that market, not a follower, and constantly build the best products possible.”
  6. “From the beginning at Intel, we planned on being big.”
  7. “A significant innovation has effects that reach much further than can be imaged at the time, and creates its own uses. It will not be held back by those who lack the imagine to exploit its use, but will be swept along by the creative members of our society for the good of all.”
  8. “Knowledge is power. Knowledge shared is power multiplied.”

Publications and Books

  • 1981. A history of microprocessor development at Intel. IEEE Micro, 1(01), 8-21.
  • 1977. Microelectronics. Scientific American, 237(3), 62-69.
  • 1977. Large-scale integration: What is yet to come?. Science, 195(4283), 1102-1106.
  • 1957. Carrier generation and recombination in pn junctions and pn junction characteristics. Proceedings of the IRE, 45(9), 1228-1243.

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Published on: 12/13/2022 | Last update: 12/13/2022

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