Okay now I know how a transistor works, but how can it transfer resistance? I am not getting it because all I know about Transistors is that "A Transistor is used to control the flow of current in a Secondary circuit using a Primary circuit." But how does it transfer resistance?


2 Answers 2


John Pierce named it, according to a PBS documentary in 2000. He worked with Shockley at Bell Labs.

Before Shockley sandwiched three semiconductor layers together, the only kind of transistor was the point-contact...uh, not "point contact transistor"! That word wasn't invented yet. "Point contact solid state amplifier"? But Shockley's invention became "transistor" for "transfer"+"resistor", but what sense, you ask, does that make?

Current flowing between emitter and collector is a "transfer" of charge. It is not a good conductor - it is a resistor.

Also, vacuum tubes were commonly characterized by "trans-conductance" as a measure of gain: output current divided by grid voltage. Transistors were supposed to be opposite of tubes in many ways - more reliable, use far less power, rugged not delicate, etc. The opposite of conductance is resistance.

There's no particular logic in characterizing the gain of a transistor by some output voltage over some input current, but for naming a sexy new gadget who cares. Today, and for the last few decades, bipolar transistor amplifier capability has been characterized by beta which is a pure number, current over current, and JFETs are characterized by, um... transconductance. (Also called "transfer admittance")

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ The point contact transistor was called a transistor when it was announced. The junction transistor that Shockley developed was the second type of transistor invented. \$\endgroup\$
    – ThomasW
    Jun 6, 2016 at 8:14

From the Book "The Idea Factory Bell Labs and the Great Age of Innovation" by Jon Gertner 2012:

When the point contact device was going to be announced to the press in early 1948, they of course needed a name to call the device. A memo was sent to thirty one people on the Bell Lab technical staff to vote on a name for the device. The possible names were:

  • Semiconductor Triode
  • Surface States Triode
  • Crystal Triode
  • Solid Triode
  • Iotatron
  • Transistor
  • Other____

The term "istor" was popular at the lab at the time, from the varistor and thermistor. Transistor was an abbreviated combination of the words transconductance (or transfer) and Varistor. Transistor was suggested by John Pierce, a researcher at the lab. The vote was clear--transistor was the name of choice.

Pierce was responsible for the traveling wave tube, that made possible the network of long distance telephone microwave links across the continent. He was also behind the idea of relay communications satellites at Bell labs. (Arthur C Clarke was the first to publish this idea).


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

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