Dallas, TX (WHTM) The integrated circuit, or microchip, is now an essential part of our lives, and a multi-billion dollar industry. They’re in anything and everything electronic, and they’re why the computing power in your cell phone dwarfs that of the most powerful room-sized computers of the 1950s and 1960s.

Until the first half of 1958, they didn’t exist.

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Electronics of the time were trapped in what was called “the tyranny of numbers.” It was possible to imagine computers with incredible capacities – but it was impossible to build them, because the number of components that had to be wired together made them physically (and fiscally) impracticable.

Then in 1958, Jack Kilby joined Texas Instruments. Kilby, an electrical engineer, had attended a symposium in 1951 at Bell Laboratories, where the invention of the transistor consigned the bulky vacuum tube to the dustbin of electronics history. Kirby saw in this new technology the path to overthrowing the tyranny of numbers. “TI was the only company that agreed to let me work on electronic component miniaturization more or less full time, and it turned out to be a great fit.” he later wrote.

As fate would have it, he arrived at the company just as much of the staff left on their annual summer vacations, leaving him pretty much alone in the office. It was a perfect chance to just sit and think – and he thought of the integrated circuit, in which numerous miniaturized electrical components could nest on a single minuscule block of material.

His first integrated circuit, presented on September 12, 1958, was made of germanium and was about as big as a postage stamp. He would receive U.S. Patent 3,138,743.

About the same time Robert Noyce of Fairchild Semiconductor was working on an integrated circuit made of silicon, which was introduced in 1959. Noyce received U.S. Patent 2,981,877. The two men are now considered the co-inventors of the integrated circuit. Both their companies would spread the use of integrated circuits around the world. (Noyce would help co-found Intel in 1968.) The chips they pioneered have become more and more powerful, as technological advances make it possible to squeeze more circuitry onto a single chip.

Noyce would die in 1990; when Kilby received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2000, he made special note of Noyce in his speech, stating “If he were still living, I have no doubt we would have shared this prize.” he also went on to say “Humankind eventually would have solved the matter, but I had the fortunate experience of being the first person with the right idea and the right resources available at the right time in history.” Kilby would die in 2005.