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We all know how Kilby at TI and Noyce at Fairchild invented the integrated circuit. But who called it microchip? Chip?

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    AFAIK, "microchip" was a non-technical term. The words used in the industry were "microprocessor" and "chip", both of which are fairly obvious in derivation. Merriam-Webster says "microchip" was first used in 1969, but provides no citation. Jun 15, 2021 at 1:25
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    My copy of the Oxford English Dictionary (1971 edition) doesn't have an entry for microchip. There's also no entry for chip (with this meaning). OED does tend to lag a few years (~5?) before adding newly-coined words. Jun 15, 2021 at 2:24
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    @AlexHajnal There is an entry in OED online (link if you have access to it), and it gives a first citation from 1969 (the source is given as Science 11 July 104/1 (advt.)): "If a 6 foot microchip sounds crazy to you, don't tell us."
    – texdr.aft
    Jun 15, 2021 at 2:43
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    Upper bound on the answer: Microchip Technology was founded in 1989.
    – DrSheldon
    Jun 15, 2021 at 3:29
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    I would suggest that the word microchip was originally introduced as short for "microprocessor on a chip". The micro qualifier refers not to the size of the chip but to the size of the processor. I can't provide citations. Jun 15, 2021 at 14:28

1 Answer 1

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This is more of a very, very long comment on what I found so far. Nothing conclusive.

I found an 1976 book called Microprocessors and Microcomputers which mentions it.

A Senator used it in 1974.

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and in another 1975 hearing it occurs, most definitely in the meaning we use it today.

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Note it's written as micro-chip.

An 1974 patent https://patents.google.com/patent/US3925639A/ also use it in the form of micro-chip.

The operational amplifiers are well known in the art and are commercially available in the form of an integrated circuit or micro-chip.

It seems the dash was not because of a word break.

In 1973, Electronic Design - Volume 21, Issues 1-6; Volume 21 - Page 72 has this:

How to change bulky , discrete circuits into their micro - chip equivalents

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Based on this search for micro-chip in 1973 compared to this micro-chip in 1972 we can see some mentions in 1973 but nothing in 1972 except for false positives.

texdr.aft's comment notes:

There is an entry in OED online (link if you have access to it), and it gives a first citation from 1969 (the source is given as Science 11 July 104/1 (advt.)): "If a 6 foot microchip sounds crazy to you, don't tell us."

While I can't find the relevant 1969 July Science I found the ad in the 1969 August Computers and Automation https://usermanual.wiki/Document/196908.845775114/

CalComp presents the 6 foot microchip.

If a 6 foot microchip sounds crazy to you, don't tell us. Tell Texas Instruments. They're the people who draw it

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Certainly Texas Instruments certainly was using the word "chip" at the time. In the July 1969 Radio-Electronics All About IC's - What Makes Them Tick Bob Hibberd from TI wrote

In multichip circuits, the electronic com-ponents for a circuit are formed in two or more silicon wafers (chips). The chips are mounted side by side on a common header. Some interconnections are included on each chip and the circuit is completed by wiring the chips together with small-diameter gold wire.

Each IC chip is now assembled into a package, sealed and tested.

And so forth. He didn't use the word microchip, however, in any of the four parts. It is notable how he used the word "chip" for what we would call today a "die" and not the entire packaged chip. I think the CalComp ad is a just a witty wordplay on the "chip" word TI used at the time and is essentially a red herring and it has no more connection to the word as used today than the Microchip Technology which existed in the 1910s https://patents.google.com/patent/US723825A. As another commenter notes, microchip is not unlikely to be an abbreviation of "microcomputer on a chip" but such a thing won't exist for a few years yet especially because the word "microcomputer" allegedly first appeared in print in 1973 for the Micral.

I found a patent from 1969 https://patents.google.com/patent/US3615454A/ which uses the word without explanation

The process is thus particularly useful for recording data where large reductions in image size are desired, for example such microforms as microfiches, microchips, aperture cards and roll film bearing the image-fix compositions.

In 1973, another patent again has the word in a similar context https://patents.google.com/patent/US3926633A/

A still further object of the invention is to provide retrieval instructions on film to be used in automatic information retrieval systems, the filing instructions being placed over the useable image area of microchips

Even today Wikipedia mentions casually "A 35 mm microfilm chip is mounted in the hole inside of a clear plastic sleeve, or secured over the aperture by an adhesive tape." it's entirely possible "microfilm chip" was abbreviated as "microchip" at the time. Also, I found some metallurgy mentions. If this is indeed so, simple text mining won't be enough.

So I think we have two open questions:

  1. The word micro-chip indeed seems to coincidence with the appearance of the microcomputer however there's nothing conclusive yet for its appearance.
  2. And it's also not at all clear when the dash was dropped. The first widespread non-dash usage I can find is an Atari ad from 1981.

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