Microelectronics is a central area within information technology, which is still one of the most important global technologies. It will be shown that the development of integrated circuits is based on a long and fascinating history, which is unique in modern time. Yet, the fantastic growth in semiconductor electronics is due to a unique combination of basic conceptional advances, the perfection of new materials and the development of new device principles. A brief survey of the development of microelectronics is given by not only focusing on the history of microelectronics but also taking into account materials and market aspects. Since microelectronics is an extremely complex area, a few criteria and reference points for integrated circuits are given. Thereafter, some examples are presented indicating the rapidly changing state-of-the-art. It will be shown that the development of material science within the area of microelectronics is not always driven by scientific curiosity but often by arbitrary and not always obvious preferences. After a short discussion of the performance advantages and disadvantages of germanium, silicon and III-V compound semiconductors, the SiGe heterojunction bipolar transistor is taken as an example for demonstrating a few important differences in the performance of all-silicon devices with regard to silicon-based heterojunction devices in general. In conclusion, the impact of human enterprise and research policy on the development of microelectronics is briefly discussed.