Robert Norton Noyce, nicknamed “the Mayor of Silicon Valley,” co-founded Fairchild Semiconductor in 1957 and Intel Corporationin 1968. He is also credited (along with Jack Kilby) with the realization of the first integrated circuit or microchip that fueled the personal computer revolution and gave Silicon Valley its name.
Active all his life, Noyce enjoyed reading Hemingway, flying his own airplane, hang gliding, and scuba diving. Noyce believed that microelectronics would continue to advance in complexity and sophistication well beyond its current state, leading to the question of what use society would make of the technology. In his last interview, Noyce was asked what he would do if he were “emperor” of the United States. He said that he would, among other things, “…make sure we are preparing our next generation to flourish in a high-tech age. And that means education of the lowest and the poorest, as well as at the graduate school level.”
Noyce was born on December 12, 1927, in Burlington, Iowa as the third of four sons of the Rev. Ralph Brewster Noyce. His father had graduated fromDoane College (1915), Oberlin College (1920), and the Chicago Theological Seminary (1923). He was also nominated for a Rhodes Scholarship. The Reverend Noyce worked as a Congregational clergyman and as the associate superintendent of the Iowa Conference of Congregational Churches in the 1930s and 1940s.
His mother, Harriet May Norton, was the daughter of the Rev. Milton J. Norton, a Congregational clergyman, and of Louise Hill. She graduated from Oberlin College in 1921 and had dreamed of becoming a missionary prior to her marriage. She has been described as an intelligent woman with a commanding will. Bob Noyce had three siblings: Donald Sterling Noyce, Gaylord Brewster Noyce and Ralph Harold Noyce. His earliest childhood memory involved beating his father atping pong and feeling absolutely shocked when his mother reacted to the thrilling news of his victory with a distracted “Wasn’t that nice of Daddy to let you win?” Even at the age of five, Noyce felt offended by the notion of intentionally losing at anything. “That’s not the game”, he sulked to his mother. “If you’re going to play, play to win!”
In the summer of 1940, at the age of 12, he built a boy-sized aircraft with his brother, which they used to fly from the roof of the Grinnell College stables. Later he built a radio from scratch and motorized his sled by welding a propeller and an engine from an old washing machine to the back of it. His parents were both religious but Noyce became an agnostic and irreligious in later life (abridged).