Oral history interview with Vincent J. Coates

Oral history interview with Vincent J. Coates

  • 2003-May-05

Vincent J. Coates was too young to join the military at the start of World War II, so he got a job filing machine parts and began attending the Bridgeport Engineering Institute. He later applied the knowledge he had gained at the Institute on the Navy's Officer Candidate School exam, earning him the highest score in Connecticut. At the behest of his mother, Coates attended Yale University, majoring in mechanical engineering. After a short tour in the Navy, Coates took a job at Chance-Vought Aircraft. In 1948, he was hired at Perkin-Elmer Corporation; when John U. White left suddenly in 1949, the responsibility for their project, the Model 21, fell completely on Coates's shoulders. After the original Model 21 became a proven success, he began developing accessories for the instrument, such as the Prism Interchange Unit, to expand its potential market. Coates decided to leave Perkin-Elmer after the president decided to shut down Coates's field-emission scanning electron microscopes (FESEM) project. With Len Welter, he started the Coates & Welter Instrument Company to produce the world's first commercial FESEMs. Later, his Microspot Film-Thickness-Measurement Systems became essential for the manufacture of advanced microchips, and his company became extremely successful as a result.

Property Value
Place of interview
Original file type PDF, MP3
  • 128 pages
Rights Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Rights holder
  • Science History Institute
Credit line
  • Courtesy of Science History Institute

About the Interviewer

David C. Brock is a senior research fellow with the Center for Contemporary History and Policy at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. As a historian of science and technology, he specializes in the history of semiconductor science, technology, and industry; the history of instrumentation; and oral history. Brock has studied the philosophy, sociology, and history of science at Brown University, the University of Edinburgh, and Princeton University.In the policy arena Brock recently published Patterning the World: The Rise of Chemically Amplified Photoresists, a white-paper case study for the Center’s Studies in Materials Innovation. With Hyungsub Choi he is preparing an analysis of semiconductor technology roadmapping, having presented preliminary results at the 2009 meeting of the Industry Studies Association.

Physical location


Interviewee biographical information

  • January 19, 1925
  • Bridgeport, Connecticut, United States
  • December 11, 2012
  • Palo Alto, California, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1946 Yale University BS Engineering

Professional Experience

United States. Navy

  • 1943 to 1946 Naval Reserve

Chance-Vought Aircraft Corp.

  • 1946 to 1948 Designer

Perkin-Elmer Corporation

  • 1948 to 1952 Project Engineer
  • 1952 to 1954 Sales Engineer
  • 1954 to 1955 Manager, Special Engineering Sales
  • 1955 to 1959 Manager, Applied Engineering
  • 1958 to 1963 Director, Research Internal Operations
  • 1963 Director, Distribution Products Department

Coates and Welter Instrument Corporation

  • 1963 Co-Founder

Nanometrics Incorporated

  • 1975 Founder
  • 1975 to 1996 President
  • 1975 to 1997 Chief Executive Officer
  • 1989 Secretary

Vincent J. Coates Foundation

  • 1999 to 2012 President


Year(s) Award
1995 Semiconductor and Equipment and Materials International Award

Cite as

Vincent J. Coates, interviewed by David C. Brock in Milpitas, California on May 5, 2003. Philadelphia: Science History Institute, n.d. Oral History Transcript 0275. https://digital.sciencehistory.org/works/qj72p8105.

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PDF — 10.2 MB

The published version of the transcript may diverge from the interview audio due to edits to the transcript made by staff of the Center for Oral History, often at the request of the interviewee, during the transcript review process.

Complete Interview Audio File Web-quality download

7 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads