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Advertising Archive - Victor 3900

Victor 3900 Advertisement
Late 1965

The Victor 3900 marked a major development in calculator history. The machine was way ahead of its time, and was the first mass-marketed MOSFET (Metal Oxide Semiconductor, Field Effect Transistor) "large scale" integrated circuit-based electronic calculator, developed at a time when other electronic calculators were crammed with discrete transistors. Victor did not have the integrated circuit technology at the time, and turned to a newly-formed start-up company, a spinoff of Fairchild Semiconductor, called General Micro-electronics, Inc. (GM-e). GM-e was founded by former Fairchild employees who felt that MOS IC technology was the future of integrated circuits, but were frustrated at attempts to get Fairchild to buy into developing the technology. The folks that founded GMe were correct with their assertion that MOS integrated circuits were the future, but the technology to reliably produce such devices hadn't yet caught up with their vision.

At the time that Victor was developing the 3900 (beginning in late 1963), electronic calculators all used discrete transistor circuitry. Even by the time it went to market (October, 1965), integrated circuits were still just coming to commercial reality, with small-scale bipolar silicon (not MOS) devices being used mainly in military and high-end computer equipment.

The IC's made by GM-e for the Victor 3900, while very functional, stretched some aspects of integrated circuit manufacturing too far, proving to be prone to failure due to electrostatic discharge (ESD). While GMe worked on developing a solution to the ESD problem, GMe was purchased by Philco-Ford Electronics, further complicating the situation. Victor had to scramble to placate frustrated customers by providing high-end loaner (or in some cases, free replacement) electromechanical calculators to keep the customers happy. In the end, many of the approximately 2000 machines produced were taken out of service due to field failure and repair issues. Victor suffered tremendous losses, both financial, and in market reputation as a result of the situation.

The perceived failure of the 3900 kept Victor out of the electronic calculator manufacturing market for almost three years, by which time small-scale IC technology had advanced sufficiently for the idea to be resurrected, resulting in the Victor 1400-series machines.