Photo of John Robinson Pierce

John Robinson Pierce

  • National Medal of Science
  • Engineering

For his outstanding contributions to communications theory, electron optics and travelling wave tubes, and for the analysis leading to world-wide radio communications using artificial earth satellites.

Among his colleagues at Bell Laboratories, John Robinson Pierce was known for quips like this one: “I thought of it the first time I saw it.”

It’s a remark befitting for the distinguished inventor. In 1949, Pierce coined the term “transistor,” having led the team that developed the device – a building block in computer chips used to control the flow of electricity.

Among his varied achievements, Pierce is considered the father of communication satellites – small computer-controlled systems that orbit the Earth, relaying the signals that make our phone calls and Internet browsing possible.

After the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957, Pierce propelled America into the space race, assisting NASA with the 1960 launch of Echo I, a 150-pound aluminum-covered balloon capable of reflecting radio and radar signals from one ground station to another.

Two years later, Bell Labs – led by Pierce – created Telstar I, a satellite used in the first transatlantic TV broadcasts.