Carver A. Mead

Born: May 1, 1934 | Bakersfield, CA, US

Carver A. Mead discusses his early interest in electronics, his studies in electrical engineering at the California Institute of Technology, and his long history of entrepreneurial activity that continues to the present day. Mead conducted transistor research and pioneered automated design methodologies for VLSI devices. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0294
No. of pages: 162
Minutes: 699

Interview Sessions

Arnold Thackray and David C. Brock
30 September, 8 December 2004 and 15 August 2005
Woodside, California

Abstract of Interview

Carver A. Mead begins with a review of his family history and his childhood near a power plant in Kernville, California. He discusses his early interest in electronics, which included getting his ham radio license and working for local radio stations during high school. Mead studied electrical engineering at the California Institute of Technology and was invited to teach during graduate school, where he took up solid state electronics. In 1959 Gordon Moore contacted Mead, beginning an informal technical exchange while Moore was at Fairchild Semiconductor and Intel Corporation. Mead conducted transistor research, and also pioneered automated design methodologies for VLSI devices. While consulting with Intel Corporation, Mead came to know its internal business culture and management style as well as the economics of the silicon manufacture. Mead discusses his long history of entrepreneurial activity, which continues to the present day. 


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1956 California Institute of Technology BSEE Electrical Engineering
1957 California Institute of Technology MSEE Electrical Engineering
1959 California Institute of Technology PhD Electrical Engineering

Professional Experience

California Institute of Technology

1955 to 1958
Teaching Assistant, Department of Electrical Engineering
1958 to 1959
Lecturer, Department of Electrical Engineering
1959 to 1962
Assistant Professor, Department of Electrical Engineering
1962 to 1967
Associate Professor, Department of Electrical Engineering
1967 to 1977
Professor, Department of Electrical Engineering
1977 to 1980
Professor, Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering
1980 to 1992
Gordon and Betty Moore Professor of Computing Science
1992 to 1999
Gordon and Betty Moore Professor of Engineering and Applied Science
1999 to 2006
Gordon and Betty Moore Professor of Engineering and Applied Science Emeritus

Pacific Semiconductors, Inc.

1956 to 1960

Fairchild Semiconductor

1960 to 1968

Intel Corporation

1968 to 2006

Synaptics, Inc.

1986 to 2006
Director, Co-founder

Foveon, Inc.

1997 to 2006
Chairman, Co-founder

Impinj, Inc.

2000 to 2006
Director, Co-founder


Year(s) Award

Award for Achievement, Electronics Magazine


Centennial Medal, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers


Howard Pender Award


John Price Wetherhill Medal, Franklin Institute


Harry Goode Memorial Award, American Federation of Information Processing Societies


Honorary Doctorate of Science, University of Lund


Walter B. Wriston Public Policy Award, Hudson Institute


Honorary Doctorate, University of Southern California


Award for Outstanding Research, International Neural Network Society


Secretary of the Navy Captain Robert Dexter Conrad Award


John Von Neumann Medal, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers


Phil Kaufman Award, Electronic Design Automation Consortium


Allen Newell Award, Association for Computing


Lemelson-MIT Prize, Invention and Innovation


Computer History Museum Fellow Award


Dickson Prize in Science


National Medal of Technology

Table of Contents

Childhood and Early Education

Family background. Childhood in Kernville, California. World War II. Significant Childhood Experiences. Interest in Electronics. Amateur Radio. High School. California Institute of Technology. Work Ethic. Teaching. Early Semiconductor Industry.

Early Silicon Valley

Graduate School. Family. Consulting. California Institute of Technology Faculty. Undergraduate Thesis. Employment Search. Teaching at California Institute of Technology. Graduate Research. Gordon Moore. Personal Relationship with Gordon Moore. Early Transistor Research.

Intel Corporation

Intel Corporation. Management at Intel. Role of Japanese in Semiconductor Industry. Gordon Moore. Moore's Law. Automation of VLSI Device Design. Silicon Valley Spinoffs. Pacific Semiconductor, Inc. Device Innovation at Intel. Early Intel Business Culture. Uncertainty in Semiconductor Industry. Relationship with Intel Corporation Management. Organization of Intel. Integrated Circuit. Fabrication Processes. Silicon Design.


Involvement with Start-Up Companies. Foveon, Inc. Impinj, Inc. Reflections. Youth. Immediate Family and Children. Nathan Mead. Residence in Woodside, California.


About the Interviewer

Arnold Thackray

Arnold Thackray founded the Chemical Heritage Foundation and served the organization as president for 25 years. He is currently CHF’s chancellor. Thackray received MA and PhD degrees in history of science from Cambridge University. He has held appointments at Cambridge, Oxford University, and Harvard University, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In 1983 Thackray received the Dexter Award from the American Chemical Society for outstanding contributions to the history of chemistry. He served for more than a quarter century on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the founding chairman of the Department of History and Sociology of Science and is currently the Joseph Priestley Professor Emeritus.

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.