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Tech luminaries we lost in 2011

Frank Hayes | Jan. 3, 2012
It's been a rough year for the IT industry. Here's one last look at some of the people who made a big difference.

It was a good choice. Wolf and his students, dubbed the "Wolf pack," cross-pollinated magnetic drive design with information theory, applying compression in increasingly creative ways, and spread Wolf's ideas throughout the industry.

Julius Blank

Silicon Machinist

June 1925 - September 2011

Silicon Valley had many builders, but one of them literally built some of the high-tech hub's first silicon-making machines. Julius Blank was one of the "Traitorous Eight" engineers who founded Fairchild Semiconductor in 1957. He and his seven colleagues had acquired that unflattering sobriquet because they decided to strike out on their own just a year after Nobel Prize-winning physicist William Shockley had recruited them to create a new kind of transistor at Shockley Labs.

The Eight included future Intel founders Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce, but the lesser-known Blank had skills critical to the new venture: Before going to college, he had been trained as a machinist. Along with eventual venture capitalist Gene Kleiner, Blank built Fairchild's machine shop, created the manufacturing machinery and outfitted the rest of the fab. Within nine months, Fairchild went from occupying an empty building in Mountain View, Calif., to shipping its first transistor.

How well did that first hand-built equipment hold up? In 1962, Fairchild set up its first offshore plant in Hong Kong, and no new equipment was required. "We took the old, ancient equipment from Mountain View," Blank told an interviewer in 2008. "They just put it in crates and shipped it overseas. It came over there rusty, but they just sandblasted it, put a coat of paint on it and put it together; it worked fine."

Robert Galvin

No More Mobile Monopoly

October 1922 - October 2011

Motorola CEO Bob Galvin didn't design the first working handheld mobile phone -- one of his researchers, Marty Cooper, did that in 1973. But Galvin broke AT&T's monopoly on mobile-phone service in the U.S. by demonstrating a Motorola phone at the White House in 1981, spurring then-President Ronald Reagan to push the FCC to approve Motorola's proposal for a competing cellular network, just three years after AT&T had lost its long-distance monopoly.

Galvin, whose father and uncle started the business that would become Motorola, took the company's reins in 1956 and led it for more than three decades. During that time, Motorola went from the car radios and walkie-talkies that the company had been making to microprocessors (the early Apple Macintosh's 68000 and Power CPUs), TVs and satellite communication systems.

Galvin also pushed to make Motorola's manufacturing competitive with non-U.S. companies, supporting development of the Six Sigma quality system starting in the 1970s. By the time Galvin retired as Motorola's chairman in 1990, the company dominated the cellphone hardware business.


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