50th Anniversary of First Microprocessor
Written by Sue Gee   
Monday, 15 November 2021

Today Intel is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its 4004 microprocessor, the first world's first "computer on a chip" which ushered in the new era of integrated electronics.

The Intel 4004, designed by Federico Faggin, Tedd Hoff and Stan Mazor was a remarkable breakthrough - for Intel and for the rest of us. It was the world’s first commercially available microprocessor and November 15, 1971 was the date on which it went public, being advertised for sale for the first time in Electronic News.

In fact, this revolutionary microprocessor wasn't originally intended for a computer. It was part of a four-chip set, dubbed the MCS-4, designed for a a range of desktop calculators marketed by the Japanese firm Nippon Calculating Machine Corp.

busicom141p

The Busicom 141-PF.

In this video Gordon Moore, co-founder and original CEO of Intel explains how  Tedd Hoff realized that by using a general-purpose computer architecture - the kind of things that were being used in larger mini-computers - it might to possible to put the entire processor on a single chip. 

The story is taken up in this video by Federico Faggin who was the person brought in to implement the ambitious design for shrinking the logic onto a single chip. 

The MCS-4 as the Intel 4004 was first called, could only be sold to Busicom who had paid for most of the development. A little later on a slump in the calculator market forced Busicom to ask Intel to lower the price of the MCS-4. Intel agreed but only if they could sell the chip set for non-calculator applications - Busicom agreed.

Intel’s marketing department weren’t so sure that this was a good thing. The sales of minicomputers were so low that volume production of the MCS-4 looked unlikely. Of course, as we know today, the sales of minicomputers had no bearing on the potential sales of microcomputers, but the MCS-4 was seen as a minicomputer replacement.

The problem was solved by Arthur Rock, Intel's first investor, who simply recognized a good thing when he saw it and told the board of directors so.  The MCS-4 was announced at the end of 1971 and they sold $85,000 worth of them within a few months.

Now we can look back and appreciate the role of the 4004 as the  pioneer microprocessor. It success proved that it was possible to build complex integrated circuits and fit them into a single chip - which over time has shrunk to the size of a fingernail. 

Intel_4004_Package

See our history article The Chip that Changed the World for more details.

More Information

The Chip that Changed the World

Related Articles

Birth of the Intel 4004 - the First Microprocessor

Invention of the Microchip

Intel - The Microprocessor Revolution

The Road to Silicon Valley

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Last Updated ( Monday, 15 November 2021 )