When one thinks of the most significant dates in our technological development, October 18, 1954 doesn't pop up there at the top of the list. It should; 60 years ago the first portable transistor radio went on sale. The Regency TR1 was the first consumer device to use transistors. According to Fortune Magazine, " If you owned one, you were the coolest thing on two legs."
The big radio companies weren't interested in the transistor. Don Pies, son of the co-founder of Regency, writes on his Regency TR1 website:
...the industry giant companies of 1954 completely missed the opportunity to market transistorized products. At the time, vacuum tubes were king - Bell Labs' 1947 transistor invention was not taken seriously by the major radio manufacturers…RCA, Sylvania and Philco felt transistors were just a novel idea for hobbyist.
That, of course, is the innovators' dilemma, the failure to "to adopt new technology or business models that will meet customers' unstated or future needs." Pies notes that at IBM, Thomas Watson handed out TR-1 radios to any engineer who complained about using transistors instead of tubes. It seems so obvious now that the smaller,energy efficient transistor would be better, but it wasn't then.
Steve Wozniak had one as a kid and is a fan, saying "My first transistor radio...I loved what it could do, it brought me music, it opened my world up." Sony, who is often credited with developing the first portable radio, didn't come out with theirs until 1957.
It didn't take long for transistors to take over and for them to shrink down to integrated circuits to the point where you can now get an entire Radio Shack in an iPhone. It all started 60 years ago with this.
Thanks to Don Pies and his wonderful retro website keeping the history of the Regency TR-1 alive.
It is interesting, reading on the Regency website that a few years back some claimed that the iPod was modeled on the TR1. I had always thought that Dieter Rams of Braun was the big influence. However, lining up the Regency, Rams' radio and the iPod, it really does look like an evolution of design thinking.