The history of transistor research in Australia began in 1953 within the Radiophysics Division of CSIRO when its Director, Dr Bowen, arranged with the then Director of Research at Bell Laboratories, Dr Jim Fisk, to assist in setting up a fledgling research laboratory in Australia. As part of the agreed technologies transfer, Fisk hosted a new hire at CSIRO, Dr Louis Davies, for six weeks.
Davies modestly recounts “So poor Shockley, Brattain and other members of technical staff were saddled with this guy from Down Under for a whole day each, introducing me to some of the mysteries of solid-state physics as exemplified by germanium and transistor work.”
This was not what Davies had imagined doing. He had come back from Oxford University hoping to work in plasma physics and the nearest he could manage was in CSIRO radiophysics research where he began work on simulating the origin of cosmic microwave noise using plasma columns. But at the end of the project Bowen suggested to him “Lou, I would like you to do some work on these newfangled transistors and germanium!”
In the USA, Davies obtained the key technologies for semiconductor research: purification of germanium and single crystal production and the laboratory was set up. Davies was responsible for purification and transistor production and co-worker Brian Cooper was responsible for testing the transistors that were produced and developing applications for them.
Their work attracted attention. Soon they were delivering a course of lectures to the Australian electronics industry and government departments such as defence. The lectures were produced as a book on transistor physics, The Transistor and published in 1953 by CSIRO.
Companies began to take an active interest: AWA, STC, Philips and Ducon.
Three years later in 1956, Dr Neville Fletcher joined the Group after completing his PhD at Harvard. Fletcher was familiar with the Radiophysics Division as he had taken vacation jobs in the adjacent National Measurement Laboratory as an under-graduate. His thesis covered impurity levels in semiconductors and the design of power transistors. Part of his research on power transistors was carried out at Transistor Products (to become Cevite Transistor Products in 1954) during the vacations. During the summer vacation of 1953 he had developed the X-78, one of the first germanium power transistors sold commercially and the basis for more widely commercialised power transistors in the following decade.
At CSIRO he worked on high-current diodes and high-power transistors.
In 1958 AWA bought and set up a plant to manufacture transistors and no longer needed the Australian research. CSIRO decided to close down the group and redeploy everyone.
Fletcher accepted an offer to move to cloud physics. Subsequently he took an academic position at University of New England, obtained a personal chair, and later returned to CSIRO as Director of the Institute of Physical Sciences.
Louis Davies returned to Bell Laboratories under a Harkness Fellowship. He joined a group at Murray Hill working on hot electrons in silicon and theoretical aspects of zone refining of germanium. After returning to Australia and publishing the Bell Labs work there was no role remaining at CSIRO in semiconductors research. AWA, however, were keen to have him. Sir Lionel Hooke, the Chairman of AWA, had been making overtures for two years and in 1960 Davies became Chief Physicist, AWA Research Laboratory in the same building as the Amalgamated Wireless Valve Co at Rydalmere.
AWA was formed in 1913 on the basis of the earlier “new fangled technology” of wireless. Its antecedents were an Australian subsidiary of the German company Telefunken and the Australian subsidiary of the British Marconi company.
Sir Lionel told Davies, “Please do some research in semiconductors.” TheAWA tube subsidiary had just begun making transistors in Rydalmere, Sydney. Initially this was simply the assembly of components but later they were manufactured at this site.
Despite Davies’ experience in purification and crystal production AWA never did this. “From our work at CSIRO I knew how to do it, so we were able to make an informed decision not to do it. If you do everything yourself, very often you end up becoming commercially unattractive and losing money.” Soon Davies was appointed to Chief Scientist of AWA at the AWA Research Laboratory.
AWA set up AWA Microelectronics, initially as part of its tube company and then as an independent company. They made the first integrated circuits in Australia making components for the first implantable cardiac pacemakers to have integrated circuits in them. “I don’t think they lost a single patient because of an electronic device failure in any of the many devices which they made, over many years.”
STC was the first company to make transistors in Australia in 1958. The news was carried by the electronics press including Radio Television and Hobbies, June 1958 which reported the entry of STC in a 3 page article entitled Australia Makes Transistors. “Transistor production in this country has now begun, and soon there will be a number of firms engaged in this important new industry.”
STC began transistor production at its Alexandria NSW factory making audio frequency transistors although the report promised that radio frequency transistors would be added later. Through a photographic essay it is clear that STC were carrying out all the expected processes in the production of PNP alloy junction transistors from imported germanium dioxide which was reduced to germanium in a hydrogen reducing furnace. The germanium was then zone refined in a six element furnace followed by doping and production of a single drawn crystal by the Czochralski process.
The germanium was then cut into 20 mil slices, lapped on both sides to about 10 mils thickness and then diced into pellets 125*160 mils and etched to 5 mils thickness prior to an alloying process using indium to produce the finished transistor.
In Britain STC made prototype junction transistors such as the 3X/300N to 3X/302N series which transitioned into the TJ1-3 series dating from about 1956. These were replaced by the TS1-3 series used in low power audio amplifier applications. [Andrew Wylie]
Illustrated below, these were amongst the first STC transistors to be made in Australia.
TS2 and TS3 transistors made in Australia by STC. The labels are printed on metal tape. Common examples of STC transistors of this era had labels printed directly onto the cans in coloured ink, for example, as shown in an "Application Report" for the TS1-3 series printed by STC Australia dated June 1959. [Pictures courtesy of Graham Dicker]
Philips began the production of transistors late in 1959 in a factory at Hendon, SA.
Initially seven diodes and transistors were made there and the announcement advised that a “full range of germanium and silicon types should be available early in the New Year.” [Radio Television and Hobbies, December 1959]
A Philips manual published in Australia in 1957 lists data on familiar Mullard transistors and diodes and may be what the Philips’ press release intended when referring to a “full range.”
Ducon Industries Ltd produced capacitors, potentiometers and porcelain electrical parts. They were minority owned by P R Mallory & Co ltd until being taken over by Plessey in 1963.
Ducon began manufacture of transistors at Villawood NSW under license from CSF in France as to transistors and germanium diodes and under license to A P Mallory as to silicon diodes.
In November 1960 their range included:
SFD 108 germanium signal diode
SFD 110 germanium ratio detector matched pair
SFD 106 germanium signal diode for up to 50 Mhz
SFT 108 broadcast band converter transistor
SFT 151 first audio stage transistor
SFT 152 medium gain audio driver transistor
SFT 153 high gain audio driver transistor
SFT 122 audio output available as a matched pair for Class B
SFT 123 audio output available as a matched pair for Class B
1N2094 silicon rectifier 750 ma at 400 PIV
SFR 105 germanium rectifier 15 amps
[Radio Television and Hobbies, November 1960]
The Ducon SFT 123 pictured is very similar in appearance to the CSF SFT122 type shown on the right (including the surplus black paint on the leads in both examples).
Advertising for Ducon transistors in Radio Television and Hobbies March 1961
In June 1964 Radio, Television and Hobbies magazine carried the following announcement:
“A new Australian company to produce heat resisting silicon transistors has been formed in Melbourne. An offshoot of the Fairchild Camera and Instrument Coporation of New York, the Australian company will be known as Fairchild Australia Pty Ltd. Chief executives of Fairchild Australia are Mr John B Baldwin, General Manger and Mr Robert L Major, Marketing Manager.”
It noted that the new company would produce silicon planar transistors and integrated circuits and that the price would range from 6/- ($0.60) to a whopping ₤75 ($150). Noting that the Fairchild planar process was “the single most important development in semiconductor technology since the invention of the transistor” and that this process enables “the manufacture of highly reliable transistors and diodes, as well as integrated circuits that combine several transistors, resistors, diodes and associated connections on a single chip of silicon approximately the size of the head of a pin,” the report suggested that the new range would be well suited for transistorized TV sets.
When Fairchild opened its plant in Australia its first manufacturing manager, Chris Reardon, recalled: “I joined Fairchild in '64 as manufacturing manager for Australia and spent three months up in Hong Kong where I got excited because I assembled the first transistor. I wouldn't be able to do it today. I went back and we got into a temporary building until we went out and selected a five acre site. We built a 20,000 square foot factory and started to staff it four months later. As it was a 20,000 square foot, it went up pretty fast.” [Pausa 2007] Reardon was born in Wales and came to Melbourne in 1957 when he was 27.
Advertising the following year drew on the USA military heritage of Fairchild planar transistors:
Later, in 1966, the company opened its laboratory facilities.
The same article noted that Fairchild had recently released a number of new PNP silicon epitaxial planar transistors: the 2N3639 and 2N3640 high speed switches, the AY1102 RF amplifier capable to 750 mHz, the AY1104 and AY1106 high current amplifiers and the AY1110 low noise amplifier.
AY1104 picture courtesy Susan Butcher Date code 146 (1971)
Advertising in May 1966 featured more of the range:
In 1967 its silicon planar process was featured in the July edition of Electronics Australia and in September that year the same journal noted the introduction of three more “low cost” silicon planar transistors. These were the AY1101 general purpose high gain NPN type, the AY1112 NPN for high gain pre-amplifiers and direct coupled circuits and the AY1113 NPN very high gain type all priced at $0.46 each.
The above cover picture from Electronics Australia for July 1967 features a close up of the transistor dice already mounted on a header ready for bonding the connections between the emitter and base to their external leads. The picture below shows the same process. Note the Fairchild Australia Pty branding on the machine. [Myles 1967]
Fairchild advertising in August 1967 featured the following range of “extra low cost” AY series planar transistors and AN diodes:
This picture shows an AX1108 as a PNP audio driver in a
1966 HMV portable record player. The code after the type number is
"625". It is possible that the AX series
transistors were special production runs for manufacturers, and did
not differ greatly from the corresponding off-the-shelf AY types.
At the rear on the left is a Fairchild SE4010. HMV used the AX1108 in their portables up to 1968, when they switched to BC158's. Comment and picture courtesy Susan Butcher
The factory closed in 1973 and the AY/AX series of transistors which had been unique to Fairchild in Australia became obsolete. (Correspondence and data courtesy Peter Walsh)
I wrote this article to attract some interest in the history of Australian semiconductors. I fully expect that there is a great deal of information extant. For example, there is certainly much to be found from electronics journals of the period. It is highly likely that histories have already been written for publication in the journals of historical societies. I would be delighted to have scans of any print material and advertising.
It would be interesting to have unambiguous information on transistors produced in Australia and good quality pictures of some of these.
If you have more information please get in touch: Please email me at
Copyright: Mark P D Burgess 2008
(1) Australian Academy of Science
(2) Jack Ward Semiconductor Museum
(4) Radio, Television & Hobbies, June 1964 26 3 page 89
(5) Pausa 2007] Fairchild Oral History Panel: Manufacturing and Support Services CHM Reference number: X4208.2008 Computer History Museum http://archive.computerhistory.org/resources/access/text/Oral_History/102658277.05.01.acc.pdf
(6) Myles D D 1967 Silicon Planar Transistors Electronics Australia 29 (July) 8-13