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Eugene J. Flath

  • Born: July 14, 1937, Green Bay, Wisconsin

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0355
Interview Date: February 28, 2007
Location: Seattle, Washington
Interviewers: David C. Brock and Hyungsub Choi
No. of pages: 86
Minutes: 268
Sponsor: Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation
Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation

  Abstract of Interview

Eugene J. Flath was born in Green Bay, Wisconsin but moved to Rockford, Illinois, at age eight. He often went to work with his father, who was an electrical engineer, but who worked for a while on the coal dock in Green Bay. Flath loved all the "things" associated with his father's work and wanted to be an electrical engineer himself. He was always tinkering with "things," making gas-powered engines for planes or taking apart watches. He attended a Catholic boys' school, where he was interested in science and mathematics.

He matriculated at the University of Wisconsin, where he joined the Naval Reserve Officers' Training Corps (NROTC) because he believed he should be in the military somehow and because he could not otherwise afford college. The professor of Flath's class in transistors used his students' class notes for his textbook; from that class Flath decided he wanted to be a circuit designer. During college he also worked with FORTRAN in early analog computers. Most importantly, he met his wife to be.

After graduating, Flath went immediately to Long Beach, California, to spend two years on a destroyer. After his first year he went back to Wisconsin to marry; he and his wife returned to California so Flath could finish his obligation to the Navy. Not enjoying the work on the destroyer, he changed to the Civil Engineer Corps and was transferred to the Portsmouth, New Hampshire, shipyard, where he worked on submarines. Having a great deal of free time, he began classes part time at the University of New Hampshire with backing from the U.S. Navy. When he left the Navy he finished his degree; his thesis dealt with converting FM signal to AM; from there he got into semiconductors. Now with two children, he realized he needed to get a job.

Flath received offers from International Business Machines (IBM) in East Fishkill, New York, and Fairchild Semiconductor in Mountain View, California. He found IBM's culture to be formal and reserved, while Fairchild's was more informal and comfortable; in addition, there were the locations to consider. Flath accepted the position of product engineer at Fairchild. Over the years, he worked his way up and around the "matrix" structure of Fairchild to become general manager of digital integrated circuits (DIC). At first he found the "back of the envelope" approach exciting and productive, but as the field settled down and in, he began to find the trial and error frustrating. In addition, there was growing competition within the company.

When Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore left to found their own company (Noyce Moore Electronics, later Intel), Flath offered his services and was immediately snapped up. Intel began with static RAM but then moved into DRAM. Flath went to Intel Japan, where he stayed for three years, during the evolution of EPROMs. Other companies were by now beginning to compete with Intel, and Flath organized a deal with Mitsubishi to produce EPROMs that Intel could brand with their own name, making Intel's prices competitive. Then Intel moved out of memory and into production of microprocessors. Flath came back from Japan knowing that he would no longer be comfortable at Intel, and he retired. After working for some years in venture capital he retired from that also and now works in his community.

  Education

1960 B.A. University of Wisconsin Madison
1966 University of New Hampshire

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Early Years 1

Born in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Moved to Rockford, Illinois, at age eight. Often went to work with father, who was electrical engineer. Always tinkering with things. Attended Catholic boys' school, where he was interested in science and mathematics. Joined Boy Scouts of America to obtain merit badges. Loved water activities, especially water skiing and canoeing. Also interested in Wisconsin's American Indian culture.

College Years 6

Matriculated at University of Wisconsin. Joined Naval Reserve Officers' Training Corps. Professor of class in transistors used students' class notes for his textbook, but Flath decided he wanted to be circuit designer. Worked with FORTRAN in early analog computers. Met his wife to be.

After-College Years 10

Went from school immediately to Long Beach, California, to spend two years on a destroyer. After first year returned to Wisconsin to marry. Changed to Civil Engineer Corps and transferred to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, shipyard. Began classes part time at University of New Hampshire with backing from U.S. Navy. Finished Navy years and finished degree full time. Thesis dealt with converting FM signal to AM; from there he got into semiconductors.

Fairchild Semiconductor Years 17

Compared job offers from International Business Machines (IBM) and Fairchild. Accepted position of product engineer at Fairchild. Worked his way up and around the "matrix" structure of Fairchild to become general manager of digital integrated circuits (DIC). "Back of the envelope" approach. Growing competition within company.

Intel Years 39

Robert Noyce, Gordon Moore, Andrew Grove leave to form Intel. Leslie Vadasz and Flath join Intel. First product bipolar RAM; then moved to DRAM. Unionization. Moore's Law. Iso-defect curves. Flath went to Intel Japan for three years. Competition with other companies to make EPROM prompted Flath to deal with Mitsubishi for private-label EPROMs Intel could sell as their own. Intel moved into microprocessors. Flath back from Japan, retires. Went into venture capital for some years. Now in community work.

Index 77

  About the Interviewer

David C. Brock

David C. Brock is a senior research fellow with the Center for Contemporary History and Policy at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. As a historian of science and technology, he specializes in the history of semiconductor science, technology, and industry; the history of instrumentation; and oral history. Brock has studied the philosophy, sociology, and history of science at Brown University, the University of Edinburgh, and Princeton University.

In the policy arena Brock recently published Patterning the World: The Rise of Chemically Amplified Photoresists, a white-paper case study for the Center’s Studies in Materials Innovation. With Hyungsub Choi he is preparing an analysis of semiconductor technology roadmapping, having presented preliminary results at the 2009 meeting of the Industry Studies Association.

Hyungsub Choi

Hyungsub Choi is manager of the emerging technologies program at the Center for Contemporary History and Policy. His training is in the history of science and technology, with specialties in recent developments in the fields of semiconductors, materials science, and nanotechnology. He has received degrees from Seoul National University, Georgia Institute of Technology, and Johns Hopkins University. He was a Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) postdoctoral fellow at the University of Tokyo, Japan.

Choi’s works have appeared in leading professional journals, such as Technology and Culture and Social Studies of Science. Currently, he is preparing a book examining the history of the semiconductor industry in the United States and Japan. He also directs the Robert W. Gore Materials Innovation project.

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