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The Printed Circuit Board: Its Long Journey and History

July 31, 2014

Printed Circuit Boards (aka: PCBs) are used in almost all electronics today. They’re found in devices ranging from cell phones, security alarms, dishwashers, and radios -- to ultra-sophisticated radar and computer systems. In a printed circuit board, the traditional electrical wiring is replaced by strips of conducting material laid down by a printing process, which eliminates the laborious manual work that is often plagued by error. It makes cheap mass-production possible, and has facilitated the miniaturization of products like calculators or camcorders.

As early as the 1900s inventors were trying to patent various printed circuit boards. These early attempts were revolutionary because they were working toward eliminating complex wiring and providing consistent results. Even so, it wasn’t until World War II that the first real operational PCBs were made.

That’s where Paul Eisler comes in. Born into an Austrian Jewish family in 1907, Eisler graduated from Technische University Wien (Vienna University of Technology) in 1930 with his engineering degree. Despite already being a budding inventor, he couldn’t find work in Austria because of the political situation and rising views against the Jewish people.  Instead, he opted to move to Yugoslavia and accepted a short-lived position designing a radio electronic system for trains.

He soon left that job when he was offered a job to be paid in “grain” instead of money. Returning to Austria, Eisler switched professions and began writing for newspapers, started a radio journal, and learned all about printing technology since it was a thriving business in the 30s. At the time, all components were hand-soldered – time-consuming and error-prone, certainly not easy to convert to automation. He knew he could change this.

But despite his genius, nothing was ever easy for Eisler. He fled from Austria in 1936 to escape persecution from the Nazis and was “invited” to work in England based on two of his previous patents. Even though he was able to sell one of the patents to earn some money, however, he couldn’t find full time employment.

War was on the horizon and Eisler found himself in even more difficult straits. He soon was locked away and charged as an illegal alien. It wasn’t until 1941 when he was released that he finally found work in a music printing company. He worked on various projects, but eventually convinced the company to invest in his printed circuit idea that he’d been working on throughout this entire time.

Eisler finally found an enthusiastic response as he demonstrated the first small radio sets with PCBs to personnel in the British and American Military forces. For some reason, the British rejected the invention – and no industrial company wanted to test it. US military authorities, however, saw potential in using the small PCBs and put them into anti-aircraft shells that were deployed to defend London against V1 rockets.

Eisler received numerous honors and awards in France, Italy and Britain for his work on printed circuits, including the 1992 Nuffield Silver Medal awarded by the Institution of Electrical Engineers shortly before his death.

The miniaturization of electronic products continues to drive PCB manufacturing technology today. Each new design is smaller and more densely-packed with increased electronic capabilities than ever before. In fact, you can find various Keystone Electronic components in many of these devices.  These parts include Test Points, Battery & Coin Cell Holders, Contacts & Clips, Universal Serial Bus (USB) Plugs & Sockets, Micro Pins and Jacks, Fuse Clips and Holders, and Male and Female Quick Fit Terminals

Thanks to Eisler’s determination in his difficult path to invention, these and other advancements will keep the design and manufacture of printed circuit boards a constantly-evolving industry well into the future.