Noyce and Gordon Moore in front of the Intel SC1 building in Santa Clara in 1970.
Robert Norton Noyce (December 12, 1927 – June 3, 1990), nicknamed "the Mayor of Silicon Valley", was an American physicist and entrepreneur who co-founded Fairchild Semiconductor in 1957 and Intel Corporation in 1968. He is also credited with the realization of the first monolithic integrated circuit or microchip, which fueled the personal computer revolution and gave Silicon Valley its name.
Noyce was born on December 12, 1927, in Burlington, Iowa the third of four sons of the Rev. Ralph Brewster Noyce. His father graduated from Doane College, Oberlin College, and the Chicago Theological Seminary and was also nominated for a Rhodes Scholarship.
His mother, Harriet May Norton, was the daughter of the Rev. Milton J. Norton, a Congregational clergyman, and Louise Hill. She was a graduate of Oberlin College and prior to her marriage, she had dreams of becoming a missionary. Journalist Tom Wolfe described her as "an intelligent woman with a commanding will".
Noyce had three siblings: Donald Sterling Noyce, Gaylord Brewster Noyce and Ralph Harold Noyce. His brother Donald would go on to become a respected professor and associate dean of undergraduate affairs in the UC Berkeley College of Chemistry; Robert later created the Donald Sterling Noyce Prize to reward excellence in undergraduate teaching at Berkeley. His brother Gaylord would go on to become a respected professor of practical theology and dean of students at Yale Divinity School; in 1961, while a young professor, he was arrested for being one of the Freedom Riders of the civil rights movement.
Noyce's earliest childhood memory involved beating his father at ping pong and feeling shocked when his mother reacted to the news of his victory with a distracted "Wasn't that nice of Daddy to let you win?" Even at the age of five, Noyce felt offended by the notion of intentionally losing. "That's not the game", he sulked to his mother. "If you're going to play, play to win!"
When Noyce was twelve years old in the summer of 1940, he and his brother built a boy-sized aircraft, which they used to fly from the roof of the Grinnell College stables. Later he built a radio from scratch and motorized his sled by welding a propeller and a motor from an old washing machine to the back of it. His parents were both religious but Noyce became an agnostic and irreligious in later life.
Noyce grew up in Grinnell, Iowa. While in high school, he exhibited a talent for mathematics and science and took the Grinnell College freshman physics course in his senior year. He graduated from Grinnell High School in 1945 and entered Grinnell College in the fall of that year. He was the star diver on the 1947 Midwest Conference Championship swim team. While at Grinnell College, Noyce sang, played the oboe and acted. In Noyce's junior year, he got in trouble for stealing a 25-pound pig from the Grinnell mayor's farm and roasting it at a school luau. The mayor sent to his parents stating that “In the agricultural state of Iowa, stealing a domestic animal is a felony which carries a minimum penalty of a year in prison and a fine of one dollar.” Noyce faced expulsion from school but Grant Gale, Noyce's physics professor and president of the college, did not want to lose a student with his potential. They compromised with the mayor so that Grinnell would compensate him for the pig, and suspend Noyce for one semester. He returned in February 1949. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a BA in physics and mathematics in 1949. He also received a signal honor from his classmates: the Brown Derby Prize, which recognized "the senior man who earned the best grades with the least amount of work".
While Noyce was an undergraduate, he was fascinated by the field of physics and took a course in the subject that was taught by professor Grant Gale. Gale obtained two of the very first transistors ever produced by Bell Labs and showed them off to his class. Noyce was hooked. Gale suggested that he apply to the doctoral program in physics at MIT, which he did.
Noyce had a mind so quick that his graduate school friends called him "Rapid Robert." He received his doctorate in physics from MIT in 1953.
After graduating from MIT in 1953, Noyce took a job as a research engineer at the Philco Corporation in Philadelphia. He left in 1956 to join William Shockley, a co-inventor of the transistor and eventual Nobel Prize winner, at the Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory in Mountain View, California.
Noyce left a year later with the "traitorous eight" upon having issues with Shockley's management style, and co-founded the influential Fairchild Semiconductor corporation. According to Sherman Fairchild, Noyce's impassioned presentation of his vision was the reason Fairchild had agreed to create the semiconductor division for the traitorous eight.
After Jack Kilby invented the first hybrid integrated circuit (hybrid IC) in 1958, Noyce in 1959 independently invented a new type of integrated circuit, the monolithic integrated circuit (monolithic IC). It was more practical than Kilby's implementation. Noyce's design was made of silicon, whereas Kilby's chip was made of germanium. Noyce's invention was the first monolithic integrated circuit chip. Unlike Kilby's IC which had external wire connections and could not be mass-produced, Noyce's monolithic IC chip put all components on a chip of silicon and connected them with copper lines. The basis for Noyce's monolithic IC was the planar process, developed in early 1959 by Jean Hoerni. In turn, the basis for Hoerni's planar process were the silicon surface passivation and thermal oxidation methods developed by Mohamed Atalla in 1957.
Noyce and Gordon Moore founded Intel in 1968 when they left Fairchild Semiconductor. Arthur Rock, the chairman of Intel's board and a major investor in the company, said that for Intel to succeed, the company needed Noyce, Moore and Andrew Grove. And it needed them in that order. Noyce: the visionary, born to inspire; Moore: the virtuoso of technology; and Grove: the technologist turned management scientist. The relaxed culture that Noyce brought to Intel was a carry-over from his style at Fairchild Semiconductor. He treated employees as family, rewarding and encouraging teamwork. Noyce's management style could be called "roll up your sleeves". He shunned fancy corporate cars, reserved parking spaces, private jets, offices, and furnishings in favor of a less-structured, relaxed working environment in which everyone contributed and no one received lavish benefits. By declining the usual executive perks he stood as a model for future generations of Intel CEOs.
At Intel, he oversaw Ted Hoff's invention of the microprocessor, which was his second revolution.