Tomorrow, I go to honor a change in our way of
life. The University of Houston's College of
Engineering presents this series about the machines
that make our civilization run, and the people
whose ingenuity created them.
Tomorrow afternoon I fly up
to Dallas. I'm representing The American Society of
Mechanical Engineers at a dedication ceremony. We
designate historic engineering works as Landmarks.
Last year we dedicated the first windmill in Texas
and the first fully air-conditioned building in
America. These ceremonies are fun. They remind me
how engineering touches our lives.
You expect things like the first windmill and the
first air-conditioned building. But many of these
machines you might never notice. Tomorrow we
dedicate one like that. It's called Abacus II.
That has little to do with the ancient abacus. It's
not a gadget that lets you do arithmetic by moving
beads on wires. Instead, this is the first machine
that automatically made integrated circuits -- the
great-grandchildren of the old abacus.
The circuitry for a pocket calculator, or for a
computer, is printed out on a chip. It's so small.
The calculator on my wrist watch would've filled a
room in the radio-tube days of 1950.
The trouble is, you have to connect tiny wires to
that tiny circuit chip. You have to communicate
with it. How do you weld the wires in place? The
wires are gold, only a thousandth of an inch in
diameter. You have to place them within a 4000th of
an inch. Then you have to melt the gold and bond it
Texas Instruments Company made Abacus to do that in
1970. Abacus used its own computer to weld wires
onto an array of chips, automatically.
Two years later, TI made the Abacus II production
model. It could weld 375 chips an hour. Later
versions did 800 an hour. TI kept making Abacus II
for ten years. Then they replaced it with fancier
Abacus II. Image courtesy ASME History & Heritage Committee
Now we go to Dallas to honor a thing that looks
like a desk with a computer screen and a microscope
on it. You could pass it in the hall without seeing
But this Abacus II carries Serial Number One. TI
put it to work in Sherman, Texas. Then they sent it
to Taiwan -- then Brazil. They did a little
upgrading. It has a newer alignment mechanism. But
this is where our age of affordable computers
It stayed in use for 13 years. This one machine has
produced more than fifty million integrated
circuits -- fifty million computer brains -- fifty
million agents of change. Add the thousand Abacus
IIs that followed, and you've completely changed
our civilization. Tomorrow, in Dallas, we'll
celebrate the way a team of thirteen design
engineers altered human history.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds