The microchip
The microchip

It's one of the basic building blocks of modern technology.

With the advent of supersonic weapons following World War II, the military was on a hunt to find a tiny device that could quickly do the complicated mathematical equations necessary for precise missile targeting.

As it so happened, firms like Fairchild Semiconductor (employees of which would later found Intel) and Texas Instruments were working on such a product, later to be known as the microchip. By the late 1950s the Pentagon's cash was flowing in.

"Those companies were funded through government contracts," said MIT's Cima "Without that funding, these companies would not have gotten off the ground."

While basic R&D money or contracts for specific projects like missile guidance systems is different than loans to expand an existing company, the government clearly has a long history of helping other technologies get off the ground.

Last updated October 20 2011: 4:09 PM ET
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