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Freescale Semiconductor: The End of a Long Journey

Freescale Semiconductor: The End of a Long Journey
by Majeed Ahmad on 12-15-2015 at 7:00 am

“You don’t argue with success,” said Paul Galvin back in 1949 at the creation of a new venture that would eventually become known as Motorola Semiconductor Products Sector. He was referring to how Daniel E. Noble, one of Motorola’s top managers, had persuaded him to set up a small electronics research facility in Phoenix, Arizona geared toward solid-state electronics.

Motorola Semiconductor Products Sector facility in Mesa, Arizona

Conservatives within Motorola had opposed the idea, calling it “Noble’s Resort” and arguing that whatever Noble wanted to do in Phoenix could be done at the headquarters in Chicago. Noble had Phoenix in mind for a number of reasons, including its reputation as a clean city and prospects of hiring qualified engineers and scientists.

Noble was a pioneer in his own right before he joined Motorola as director of research in 1940 after taking a year’s leave of absence from the University of Connecticut. He had developed the first FM mobile communications system for the specialized needs of the Connecticut State Police.

The timing of this move was impeccable. In the coming years, solid state electronics would unleash the power of semiconductors, thrusting Motorola’s semiconductor division into a key position in the rapidly evolving chip industry. The first major milestone in Motorola’s journey in the semiconductor industry came in 1952 when it licensed the design of transistor from Bell Laboratories.

Daniel Noble in front of the Motorola Research facility in Phoenix

For a start, Motorola’s semiconductor division began toying with the transistor as a replacement for bulky and expensive radio power supplies. Then, in 1955, Motorola launched its first mass-produced semiconductor product: a high-power germanium transistor for car radios. Motorola was a leading manufacturer of two-way mobile radios, and initially, it facilitated the company’s entry into the embryonic semiconductor industry.

By the late 1950s, Motorola’s semiconductor division had become a major player in transistors and diodes business. Apart from radio and communications, Motorola’s semiconductor business made a major impact in automobiles, where car makers like Ford used electronic components to build alternators and replaced generators during the 1960s.

Motorola’s first chip: a germanium-based high-power transistor

Motorola’s major break in the semiconductor business came with the launch of NASA’s celebrated Apollo 11 mission to the moon for whom the company supplied components for on-board tracking and communications equipment.

The radio transponder that relayed the first words from the moon to earth in July 1969 was based on a Motorola-supplied module that transmitted telemetry, tracking, voice communications and television signals between Earth and the moon. Motorola Semiconductor Products Sector was now a leading player in the nascent semiconductor industry.

It’s the first part of the three-part series of blogs about Freescale’s long journey. Stay tuned for more about how Motorola Semiconductor Products Sector became a formidable player in the chip industry and what led to its spin-off from the parent company in 2004.

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