Nov 11, 2013

Beginnings of Burr-Brown

The footsteps in “Analog Footsteps” came about because I learned that so many key people spent time in either Silicon Valley and Stanford, or Boston and MIT – and a great many followed each others’ footsteps on both coasts. Literally, up the same steps. So how did a great analog company like Burr-Brown start up in Tucson, Arizona? Well, they happened to add a few footsteps around MIT.

Robert Page Burr was born in New York in 1922 to Robert Page Burr and Lawrence (Hewlett) Burr. Page was his grandmother’s maiden name. (After a quick look, I found no evidence that he was related to Aaron Burr or Raymond Burr, nor that Lawrence Hewlett was related to William Hewlett.) Robert, the son, was active in ham radio and attended Princeton University. In 1943 he left for the V12 Navy ROTC program at Cornell University and received a B.S. in electrical engineering, in 1944. He pursued the midshipman's school at Columbia, and received training in radar at Bowdoin and MIT. It’s not clear when he became friends with Tom Brown but their paths crossed several times. Burr was assigned to the New York Naval Shipyard, where he spent a year supervising fire-control and anti-aircraft radar installations on new vessels before separation in 1946. He worked for 10 years with Hazeltine Corp., (now part of BAE) developing electronics for radio and television.

Thomas Rush Brown Jr. was born in Memphis, Tennessee and raised in Longview, Texas. At the age of 12 he went to boarding school at Woodberry Forest in Virginia. At the age of 16, he was accepted into MIT. But instead, he joined the Navy where he was first introduced to electronics. After the Navy he returned to MIT, this time earning a degree in general engineering in 1949.

His first career was in teaching but when he realized it would never pay, he headed off to Harvard Business School and earned his MBA in 1952.  If anyone knows how he ended up in Tucson, let me know!

Anyway, Burr and Brown became fascinated with the new device – the transistor. It was 1956 and Burr recognized that transistors inherently had the reliability of a "short piece of bare copper wire." They realized that virtually no electronic instruments at that time were using the transistor and a company was born in Tom Brown's Tucson garage. Burr-Brown Research Corporation was incorporated on May 8, 1956 (reminiscent of George A Philbrick Researches and Nexus Research Labs). Burr assumed the presidency and Brown became vice-president. The first Board of Directors meeting was held on May 10, 1956. Corporation law required four directors but BBRC only had three – Page, Tom and Tom's wife Helen. To solve the problem, one of Tom's friends, Joch C. Leonard, agreed to be present at the first board meeting and then resign five days later. Burr once said that Tom Brown was an engineer in the Edisonian tradition – a perfectionist who succeeds through repeated efforts to get it right. Initially, Burr worked on product development in New York and Brown handled sales and manufacturing in Tucson.

Burr-Brown started with “instruments” in wooden boxes. The 1st product was the model 100 AC Decade Amplifier. Other early products, in wooden boxes, included a Differential AC Amp, Square Wave generator, Variable Gain Preamp and AC Millivolt Meter.

As stated on the poster from the University of Arizona conference room named for Brown, he found that customers were removing the circuits and discarding his beloved boxes!

The model 130 was the world’s 1st transistorized op-amp. This was a completely discrete design using just 8 transistors on a PC-board in a 3 ½” long aluminum shell.

Henry Koerner, Rick Gerdes, Helen and Tom Brown, (unknown) and Don McGraw

In 1958, Burr left the company, turned in his stock and Brown assumed the role of president. Burr never expressed any regrets about missing Burr-Brown’s massive success. He started Circuit Research Company, the new product development contractor for Photocircuits Corp. in Glen Cove, New York (acquired by Kollmorgen). There, he developed printed motors, which revolutionized magnetic tape drive systems widely used in medical equipment, welding and automotive equipment. Burr held well over 200 patents worldwide. He was the first recipient of the IEEE Charles J. Hirsch Memorial Award for outstanding contributions to engineering. All in all, he had a successful career and retired in 1987 as the senior scientific officer.

Meanwhile, back in 1962, a Burr-Brown op amp was the first to land on the moon as part of the Ranger program. Of course, the mission was a failure because it actually impacted the moon and never returned any photos – during a period when the program was called "shoot and hope". I should confirm that Ranger 7, which was completely successful, probably also had Burr-Brown op amps aboard.

Burr-Brown relied on its location near the University of Arizona in Tucson for skilled engineers and created a very close and productive relationship.

Much is written about what an inspiring leader Tom Brown was, but I'll leave that for others.  In 1983 the company changed its name from Burr-Brown Research Corp. to Burr-Brown Corporation. In 1984 Burr-Brown went public. In 2000, Burr-Brown was acquired by Texas Instruments for $7.65B. And for a cliff-hanger, did T.I. spontaneously start up in Texas or are there footsteps leading from either Boston or Silicon Valley?


1. Burr-Brown company history page, Funding Universe,;jsessionid=tidy7h3co3y0?title=Burr-Brown+Corporation+--+Company+History&page=

2. Burr-Brown, Wikipedia

3. “R. Page Burr '44”, Princeton Alumni publication, published in July 7, 1999, issue,

4. “Who Is Tom Brown?” By Steve Taranovich, EDN, October 25, 2012

5. “Tom Brown: A Serendipitous Life” December 2002


7. “Tom Brown ‘43” []

8. “Analog: back to the future, part 2”, Steve Taranovich, EDN, July 16, 2012]

9. IEEE Global History Network,]

10. Robert Page Burr

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