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18 October 2010

On this day in history: First commercial transistor radio announced, 1954

In December 1947, Walter Houser Brattain and H. R. Moore demonstrated a germanium transistor to colleagues at the Bell Labs by using it as an amplifier. This was the culmination of a collaboration between Brattain, John Bardeen and William Shockley, who jointly received the 1956 Nobel Prize in Physics for their invention. Their development of the transistor owed much to the work of the Austro-Hungarian physicist Julius Edgar Lilienfeld who had patented the field effect transistor in 1925, although his invention was not given a commercial application.

In the early 1950s, various companies started producing prototypes of all-transistor radios but their performance was not on a par with vacuum tube based models. Nevertheless, in May 1954, Texas Instruments (TI) developed a prototype transistor radio, which they hoped that established radio manufacturers would be interested in developing. TI Executive Vice President Pat Haggerty hoped that the radio would create a market for the company's transistors.

None of the major radio manufacturers showed any interest; however, the Regency Division of Industrial Development Engineering Associates (IDEA) of Indianapolis, Indiana showed interest. They decided to go into partnership with TI to develop the radio. The result was the Regency TR-1, which they announced on 18th October 1954.

The TR-1 went on sale the following month priced at $49.95 - quite a sum in those days, but enough for the venture to be profitable. The AM receiver was also expensive to run since it was powered by a 22.5v battery. Nevertheless, the novelty appeal of the TR-1 resulted in over 100,000 being sold.

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