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

  • 4
    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 '21 at 1:25
  • 3
    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 '21 at 2:24
  • 4
    @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 '21 at 2:43
  • 2
    Upper bound on the answer: Microchip Technology was founded in 1989.
    – DrSheldon
    Jun 15 '21 at 3:29
  • 1
    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 '21 at 14:28

This is more of a very, very long comment on the futility of the search so far.

The first real use I was able to find is

enter image description here

but this makes me think by then the word was known enough it didn't even warrant an explanation. So it must have been coined earlier. When?

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

enter image description here

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. If this is indeed so, simple text mining won't be enough.

An 1974 patent https://patents.google.com/patent/US3925639A/ almost has the word but not quite:

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. Possibly it was called "micro-chip" at the time but not microchip yet? Or is this yet another red herring?

Intel itself didn't use the word microchip or chip in the ad for the 8080 (image courtesy of https://www.extremetech.com/computing/105107-4004-to-sandy-bridge-40-years-of-intel-cpus/)

enter image description here

Neither did MOS for the 6502.

enter image description here

Note this 1975 ad used the word "microprocessor" which "first came into use at Intel in 1972" according to Noyce in his 1981 "A History of Microprocessor Development at Intel" article (doi:10.1109/mm.1981.290812). I do not know whether it was used elsewhere earlier. More relevant is how even this 1981 article does not use the word microchip.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.