Fun Facts: Bardeen’s Music Box

  • Nanofabrication core
  • 2022-12-09

Bardeen’s Music BoxIn 1949 Bell Labs constructed three music boxes to demostrate the capabilities of the newly invented transistor. The “music box”, was technically named the “Transistor Oscillator-Amplifier Box”. Each box used two point-contact transistors. One transistor was used in the oscillator circuit and the other as an amplifier. The box had a power switch, one speaker, and five momentary contact push buttons. When a particular button was pushed, the box would emit a distinct audible tone. Bardeen and Brattain were each given a box. The third box was kept by Bell Labs. Only Bardeen’s box survives and is currently on display at the Spurluck Museum / University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Bardeen brought the box with him to the University of Illinois when he left RCA due to rising tensions with Shockley and frustration with industrial research.



Bardeen’s Music Box

On top of the box was a note containing a key sequence to play the song “How Dry I Am”. Bardeen would play this tune to demonstrate the box. People were always amazed how quickly the box could play tones once it was turned on. If this box used vacuum tubes it would then take a few minutes before the tubes warmed up. At that time the box was an amazing demonstration of the transistor. John Dallesasse, Bardeen’s academic grandson and professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Illinois said, “All of our modern conveniences including cellphones, cars, and computers ultimately trace back to Bardeen's Box,”

Authors: Kevin Hilgers and Kevin Nordquist