Intel 4004Source: Intel

What you need to know

  • Intel is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its 4004 microprocessing chip.
  • It is the invention that paved the way for microprocessors as we know them today.
  • It debuted in 1971, though its story began in 1969 alongside plans for a calculator.

In case you've been out of the loop, it turns out calculators and chips go hand-in-hand these days when it comes to groundbreaking news. First, Texas Instruments—the folks behind many of the most popular calculators on planet Earth—got put on blast in a discussion regarding who was responsible for the global chip shortage. Then, Intel came out with a celebratory smattering of informative content regarding the anniversary of the Intel 4004 chip, which came about due to a 1969 mission to build a calculator.

Back then, Nippon Calculating Machine Corp. wanted Intel to develop chips for a calculator it was prototyping. This resulted in a team of Intel employees—among them, Federico Faggin, Marcian "Ted" Hoff, and Stan Mazor—concocting the Intel 4004, the first programmable microprocessor that could fit on a fingernail. It held the kind of computing power that would, at that time, have required computers big enough to stuff entire rooms.

You can check out Intel's newsroom for insightful videos on the Intel 4004 chip, as well as additional background info on how the technology that defines our modern chip landscape came to be.

"The 4004 was so revolutionary that it took about five years for Intel to educate engineers about how to build new products based on microprocessors," said co-inventor Stan Mazor. "Intel was ultimately very successful in this endeavor, and the rest is history."

It makes one wonder what inventions of today will be looked back on in 50 years as revolutionary milestones that changed the tech landscape forever.