From Submarines to Calculators, Texas Instruments Enjoys a Storied History of Innovation

As a pioneer in technology, Texas Instruments has used its ambitious history to shape just about every industry.


If you don't know the history of Texas Instruments (Nasdaq: TXN), you surely know of or have used one of its products. Anyone who has taken a math class since the 70s has used a Texas Instruments calculator, which is arguably the most visible of its products; however, the Dallas-based company is much more than one of the top calculator manufacturers in the world.

Though it didn't start in the space it currently occupies, Texas Instruments has a storied history of innovation, development, and manufacturing of integrated circuits, transistors, and microprocessors that enabled society to enter the modern digital age.

The Beginnings of Texas Instruments

John Clarence Karcher and Eugene McDermott founded the original company in 1930 to provide seismographic data for the petroleum industry. At the time, the company was named Geophysical Service Inc. (GSI); after some mergers and acquisitions, the transition to what the company is today began during World War II. During this period, GSI operated as an electronics firm developing submarine detection devices for the Navy.

GSI's technology was deployed on low-flying aircraft and could detect magnetic disturbances caused by submarines below the ocean's surface. Defense technology became the bedrock of the electronics industry early on as the need for innovation during the war led to tremendous advancements and fostered modern research and development of technology.

The Original Texas Innovator

As the company's portfolio diversified, it changed its name to Texas Instruments Incorporated (TI) in 1951. Shortly after, TI established its semiconductor division by purchasing a license to manufacture transistors from Western Electric, an American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) subsidiary.

According to Britannica, the opening of its semiconductor division led to the development of the world's first transistor radio, which became a hot item for the 1954 Christmas season. The innovation of using transistors for a radio reduced its overall size and power consumption, enabling it to be handheld and more mobile. This feat put the company on the map as a major electronics firm. In the four years to follow, TI was the only firm capable of producing silicon transistors at scale.

In 1958, one of the most vital innovations in the tech industry was co-invented by TI researcher Jack Kilby in the integrated circuit. However, TI had a problem; further developing the integrated circuit was a feat beyond its line of funding. As one of the leading suppliers of semiconductors for the military and with the recent launch (1957) of the Soviet ballistic missile, the Air Force provided funding for TI to develop integrated circuits for use in ballistic missile guidance systems, the Minuteman missile.

TI's First Integrated Circuit Commercial Product

After receiving funding from the Air Force to further develop its integrated circuit research and production, and in collaboration with Zenith Radio Corporation, TI released the first consumer product containing an integrated circuit, a hearing aid.

That hearing aid was the first product on the path to its reigning domain of electronic calculators. After the hearing aid, TI's president and soon-to-be chairman, Patrick Haggerty, commissioned Jack Kilby to begin designing an affordable electronic calculator in 1965. By 1967, Kilby's design was a success and put into production. The first handheld calculator, the TI Datamath, was introduced in 1972.

The Datamath became the foundation for a long line of handheld calculators, with the most recent product, the TI-84 Plus CE Python graphing calculator, released in 2021.

A Modern Company

As its revenue reached $18.34 billion and with the development of the new 300-millimeter semiconductor wafer fabrication plant in Sherman, today, TI boasts a global reach with 15 manufacturing sites worldwide and tens of billions of chips produced yearly.

TI's design and manufacturing of analog and embedded processing chips for markets such as industrial, automotive, personal electronics, communications equipment, and enterprise systems mean TI has a hand in pretty much all of the electronics needed to progress the digital age further.

Looking toward the future, with the growth of decentralized computing networks and Intel's recent announcement of the Intel Blockscale ASIC for bitcoin mining, will TI get into the game as well?

Time will undoubtedly tell.


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