TEKTRONIX, THE EARLY DAYS
-as I remember them-
by Frank Hood
I first met Jack Murdock and Howard Vollum in the mid 1930's. I was working at Portland Radio Supply Co. Howard was a student at Reed College and was very interested in electronics, or as it was then called 'Radio Theory'. He used to come in to buy radio parts, tubes, resistors, condensers etc. He was particularly interested in Cathode Ray Oscilloscopes and was attempting to build one that would be better than the crude ones then on the market. He would often explain to me the progress that he was making and at times I would offer suggestions. Howard's oscilloscope consisted of a fairly large square box, containing the power supplies and the circuitry, with a heavy brass or iron cylinder on top as a shield for the cathode ray tube. Some of the metal fabrication for his 'scope' was made by Bill Stirling, a local radio servicemen. Dr. Marcus O'Day, a professor at Reed gave Howard a great deal of inspiration and help with this project.
Jack Murdock was then running a small radio service shop out on Foster Road. He would come in to Portland Radio to buy radio parts. Guy Paine, the owner of Portland Radio, disliked collecting past due accounts and would often ask me to inform a customer that we could no longer give him open account and his purchases must be C.O.D. I remember that Jack called up one day and placed a fairly large order for tubes and parts. When Guy saw the order, he told me not to fill it until his old account was paid. Jack came in and it was my unpleasant duty to tell him he would have to pay cash. Jack dug in his pockets and came up with a few dollars, but not enough to pay for the complete order. So he purchased only what those few dollars would buy.
The 1930's were depression times. One of the projects started under President Franklin D. Roosevelt was the Y.P.A. (Youth Progress Administration) I heard that there was an opening for a job as an instructor in Radio Theory. The pay was $125 or $150 per month. This was more than I was then earning at Portland Radio, so I applied for the job. I took the necessary test and was informed that I had the highest grade of all applicants. A week or two went by. I was called in and told that they were sorry but someone had received a better grade than mine. They were giving the position to him. The man who beat me out, Howard Vollum!
During the war years I worked as an engineer at radio station KWJJ. In late 1948, Dick Rhiger, a man who had worked with me in radio, went to work for a new company, Tektronix Inc. He told me what a wonderful, growing company it was and advised me to apply for a job. I did and was hired as a design engineer. I went to work in February of 1949. During the war Jack Murdock saw service as a petty officer in the Coast Guard. Howard Vollum was with the Army as a Captain in the Signal Corps. I understand that he was on loan to the British Government and played a key role in developing the artillery Radar. He received citations from both the British and American governments.
(The following is taken from Vol 1. No. 1, dated May 1951 of an in-plant paper that was to be later known as Tek-Talk)
"Several months after the conclusion of World War II, in the year 1945, Howard Vollum, Jack Murdock, Miles Tippery and Glenn McDowell, began the establishment of Tektronix, Inc.
"Since material and equipment was were still scarce, it was thought that a retail radio sales and service operation might provide some immediate revenue to help sustain the long and expensive development program of the Type 511 Oscilloscope.
"After about a year of continuous development work by Howard Vollum, during which time a building was designed and constructed at SE 7th and Hawthorne, Hawthorne Electronics was established.
"By the early part of 1946 production had started on the Type 511, and it had become apparent that both Hawthorne Electronics and Tektronix, Inc were full time activities which would operate better separately. About this time Glenn McDowell took over the operation of Hawthorne Electronics as a separate business no longer affiliated with Tektronix, Inc.
"Also during early 1946, Logan Belleville, who was a development engineer at the U.S. Forest Service Radio Lab, joined with the owners of Tektronix, and contributed much to our overall instrument development activity.
"Our first year of operation, 1947 was lean and difficult. The entire production facilities were all located in (an upstairs room), with the shop equipment in the same room. The people mentioned were all doing parts of several jobs; sales, purchasing, accounting, and production. The entire production force on Jan 1, 1948 consisted of Lowell Hadley, Howard Gault, John Rieschel, Don Tweedie, John Larson, Lee Penson, Ken Walling and Grace Gasser. During January, Fay Holliday and Kate Probstfield were added, and Les Purcell in February.
"At that time the rest of the building was sub-leased to several organizations. Hawthorne Electronics occupied the entire ground floor. The south section of the upper floor was divided among four firms. One of these, Neely Enterprises, Portland Branch, was operated by W.K. “Dal” Dalles, who later become our sales manager."
Howard Vollum, Jack Murdock and the others mode a good team. Howard had had the best engineering mind of anyone that I have ever met. He was determined that the oscilloscope should be a 'quantitative' measuring device rather then e "qualitative" or "looking" device*. Other oscilloscopes were being marketed, but none capable of being accurately calibrated. Jack Murdock had some understanding of electronics, but he was better at getting along with people and business organization. Miles Tippery was good at directing people, he was fair and understanding of the personal problems of others. Milton Bave was a good machinist and directed the metal working and the shop. Logan Belleville had a very good knowledge of electronic design. He was talented, methodical and a perfectionist and never willing to say that something was "good enough".
The first mention of Tektronix and the oscilloscope was in the April 1948 issue of the magazine ELECTRONICS. It was not called the 511 but only called "The Vollum portable cathode ray oscilloscope"
The first advertising was in the September issue of this same magazine, saying; "The Tektronix Type 511 is a portable, wide band oscilloscope providing facilities formerly available only in very expensive, cumbersome instruments" The weight 65 pounds. The price $795.00 f.o.b. Portland.
In Feb. 1949, when I went to work for Tektronix, (as employee #32) the engineering department consisted of Howard Vollum, Logan Belleville, Bob Davis, Dick Rhiger and myself. A few weeks later. Chuck Nolan, Charles Sanford, Gordon Sloat, Henry Haase and several others were hired.
At this time the original Type 511 had been replaced by the 511A, a lighter version, which only weighed about 65 pounds rather than the 90, or so pounds of the original instrument. A new version, the 511AD was just going into production. This featured a 'delay line' which permitted the instrument to look at the start of the pulse that triggered the "sweep". This was a big step forward. This was shown and the first instruments shipped in April of 1949. A new scope, the Type 512 was just about ready to be produced. The 512 featured a 'Direct Coupled' amplifier with much higher sensitivity than anything else on the market. Logan Belleville had done much of the design work on the 512 and he and Howard were just starting work on a new, high powered, scope that was to have a bandwidth of 100 megacycles, 10 times that of the Type 511.
I had a fair understanding of electronics as applied to radio broadcast, but had little knowledge of oscilloscopes, so I spent every bit of spare time in brushing up on this phase of electronics. My first assignment was to build or modify some special instruments for Bonneville Power. They wanted a device that would detect and record any lightning strikes or arc-overs on the high voltage power lines running between Vancouver, Wash. and other cities such as Longview, Spokane, etc. They wanted to detect each event, in a fraction of a millionth of a second, then to send a pulse of energy down the defective line and measure the time it took to return, (this was an application much like radar). They wanted markers displayed at each mile and fraction of a mile so that they could determine the exact location of the fault. They needed to record a photographic image for latter study. Two or more such instruments were built. We called these Type 511B. They worked very well and were used for several years.
My next assignment was to design and build some instruments, somewhat similar to these for measuring the timing of the 'Cyclotron' at the Livermore Laboratories of the Atomic Energy Commission. A few such instruments were built. They were celled Type 103 Time Mark Generator"
A point that I might mention here is that the Type 511 was not the first instrument built by Tektronix. Actually the first instrument offered for sale was a calibration standard, designed and built by Howard, and called a Type 101 Calibrator. This instrument was used in the test department for many years to assure the accuracy of all instruments. Every scope was hand calibrated. The person doing the testing put pencil marks on blank dials, John Larson then engraved each dial according to this calibration.
When I first come to work for Tektronix, Miles Tippery was doing all testing of instruments, this amounted to one or two instruments a day. If he got behind, he would call in Bob Herron, who worked for Hawthorne Electronics, to assist. Even at that time Tektronix had a profit sharing plan, the amount determined by how many instruments were shipped each month. This soon gave way to a plan much like the present one, where the amount is determined by a percentage of net profit.
In these early days, every person seemed willing to take on any task. No one watched the clock in engineering. Very often many of us would come back at night because we were so involved in interesting experiments. Making a suggestion usually was taken as volunteering for a task. I saw that we were stamping component numbers on the metal chassis with rubber stamps. I mentioned that we might do a faster, neater job with silk screens. I had no idea how they were made, but I was told "go ahead and make some". A trip to the library and I found out that it was a photo process. There was a small broom closet that I set up as a dark room and soon was turning out screens. Pictures of our scopes were needed for advertising. Howard brought down his 4 x 5 view camera and I suddenly found that I was the "official photographer". When this photo work began to take time away from the design of instruments, Ed Egan was hired to take over this work.
As we grew, we began running out of space. The companies that were sub-leasing had to move out and we took over the entire building. Plans for e new building were being drawn up. Several pieces of property in the Beaverton area were considered as plant sites. The one on Sunset that was selected had been an apple orchard. It was chosen, not because it was the best or least expensive, but because we could get a Portland phone. Further out would have been a long distance call. Building was started in the fall of 1950. The plant was designed for 150 employees. However, long before it was completed and we were ready to move, we had well over 200 workers, so a Quonset type building was added on the West end.
A lot of progress was made in 1949 and 1950. Work was well underway by Logan Belleville, Dick Rhiger and Howard on the high speed scope, the 517. This used some brand new circuitry, distributed (or chain) amplifiers, using 16 to 20 tubes in each stage to get the power needed to handle the high frequencies. Our best prediction at that time was that there were only about 30 to 50 people in the whole world who had need of a scope with 60 to 100 megacycle bandwidth. As it turned out, when we brought out a higher speed scope, people were able to design equipment of greater bandwidth and needed even faster measuring instruments. The cycle was regenerative. Having faster, more accurate measuring tools created a demand for even more measuring tools. We eventually sold several thousand of this instrument.
The Type 105 high speed pulse generator designed by Howard and Charles Sanford was just getting into production.
I was privileged to be the project engineer in designing the Type 513, a scope with about twice the bandwidth and brightness of the 511. This instrument also used a distributed amplifier with 14 tubes in the output stage and with a 12 thousand volt power supply.
Bob Davis and Dick Rhiger had designed an upgrade of the 511, called the Type 514. Several other projects were well underway. These included some special amplifiers and pulse generators for use in medical research. Dick Ropequet and several others came into the engineering department.
We were having a great deal of trouble in getting dependable suppliers of some of our components. Gordon Sloat, who had had experience in winding transformers was hired to set up a department to make our own transformers. In 1950, a summer employee was hired as janitor. He later went on to become the company president. This man's name was Bob Fitzgerald. John Taylor was made supervisor of assembly. W.K. Dallas, "Dal" was hired as sales manager.
Up to 1951, distributors handled instruments for commission along with other product lines, they offered no service or technical assistance. In 1951 we started cancelling distributors and installing field offices in their place with engineers or technicians trained at Beaverton. The first field office was in New York City and was managed by Jack Cassidy.
In 1947, Tektronix's 2nd year, there were 12 employees, no field offices, 3,500 square feet of working space and a total net sales of $125,000.
By 1952, we had 359 employees, 3 field offices, 32,000 square feet of space and sales of $5.5 million dollars.
We started to move into the new Sunset plant in June of 1951. In the same year I started the design work on our first compact scope, the Type 315. This instrument had several innovative features. One was a sweep circuit designed by Dick Ropequet which was several times more stable and accurate then any other then in use. With this circuit, the actual time of the sweep could be calibrated with such accuracy that we decided to start calling it a "TIME BASE". The vertical amplifier was also more stable and accurate. A man in our test department, John Kobbe, suggested a direct coupled unblanking circuit. Another employee, Ted Goodfellow, a musician with ceramics as a hobby, suggested making a ceramic strip with silvered notches to act as insulator and support for the components. This smaller scope had less space on the front panel for the necessary controls. A Machinist, Jim Morrow, suggested combining some of the controls, by making them co-axial (that is, a shaft within a shaft and separate knobs.) We tried to purchase such controls but could find no one interesting in making them, so Jim machined sample controls. He even machined the dies to produce our own plastic knobs. All these suggestions were incorporated in the 315. Several patents were granted, which later led to a patent infringement suit which we brought against the Government, (we eventually won the law suit)
Many new people joined Tektronix in 1951 and 1952. Bill Polits was hired as a summer employee to assist in engineering. Earl Scott was hired to assist in writing instruction manuals. Bill Weber was made a vice president. Bob Davis became production manager. New departments were being formed to have better control over the quality and availability of components. We were now making all of our transformers. A ceramic department, under Ted Goodfellow, was started to make ceramic strips.
We installed plastic molding presses and started to make our own knobs and probe bodies. Joe Griffith, who had glass blowing experience was hired to experiment in making our own cathode ray tubes. A separate building was being planned to house this Tube Plant. Derrel Pennington was hired to help solve the chemical problems associated with manufacturing our tubes. We started making some of our own capacitors, wire wound resistors and switch assemblies.
A separate division was formed, celled 'Panelcraft' to make our own photo etched front panels. They rented space in the Sellwood district of Southeast Portland. Larry Vollum, Howard's brother was in charge of this operation. A very tragic event took place at 'Panelcraft'. Larry was cleaning the sheet aluminum for the panels with Carbon Tetrachloride. At that time it was not known that this solvent was highly toxic. Larry worked for several hours, without gloves and breathing the fumes. He absorbed enough of the poison to cause kidney and liver failure. Though he was flown up to the nearest kidney machine, in Vancouver B.C., there was nothing they could do and he died.
Atomic and Hydrogen bomb tests were being conducted in the South Pacific in the early 1950's. The main measuring instruments for these tests were Tektronix 517’s and 513’s. Dozens of scopes were used to record an event that only lasted a fraction of a second. Many were destroyed, but they had served the intended purpose. Others were contaminated with radioactive fall out and were sent beck to Beaverton for cleaning and recalibration.
At least three new instruments were announced in 1952. The first compact scope, the 315. The 524, the first specialized instrument designed for a narrow market, the TV broadcaster. Cliff Moulton was the project engineer. The 531 and 535, the first instruments designed for separate 'plug-in' vertical amplifiers. The main frame contained only the power supplies, the cathode ray tube and the horizontal deflection circuits. With different plug-in amplifiers, the scope could be used by different researchers with different requirements. This instrument used the "Kobbe' unblanking circuit and the 'Ropequet' time base. Dick Rhiger and Chuck Nolan were the project engineers on the 531-535.
In engineering, there was quite a bit of controversy over the plug-in design. Howard had the original idea. Some of the other engineers felt that such design would never be as good as making separate instruments for each specialized application. It took quite a time and the sale of many instruments to convince everyone that Howard's idea was good.
We were going through e period of rapid growth in 1952. Engineering work was started on an improved series of the plug-in scope. This would be called the 540 series.
Jack Murdock was showing his skill at organizing people. He was determined that Tektronix would be known as a good place to work and be known for fair treatment of employees. It was no longer possible to have general meeting of all employees, so he set up meetings of small groups, who appointed a representative to meet with management on a regular basis. Jack was very proud of our progress, knowing that I was interested in film, he asked if there was any way to make e movie to show off our operation. I wrote a script and did the filming. W.K. Dallas narrated the sound track and we made a little 12 minute film celled "We Are Tektronix" This was used in employee orientation and community relations for several years. In 1952 and 1953 business was good and the profit share was high.
In the mid 1950's we were again running out of room. A large parcel of swampy land was purchased.(our present site) Drainage ditches were dug and a new building, designed by Mel Loftin, was started. This building, known as building 19, was intended to house our entire operation and we could give up the Sunset plant. But history has a habit of repeating itself. By the time the building was completed, we had out grown it. Only the metal and plastic fabrication moved in, assembly and engineering remained in the old location. Engineering moved out of the first Sunset building and into space in the new Tube Plant' on Barnes road. The manufacturing of the CRTs was just getting underway. I found these operations very interesting, so brought my camera down and filmed each step in the process. The completed color film, with sound was called "A Precision Cathode Ray Tube" and was well received by people interested in our operation.
Howard Vollum had been President and Chief Engineer since the company was formed. He now found that he was trying to do too much, so Dick Ropequet was appointed to be in charge of engineering.
I.B.M. had asked for a high performance, light weight, portable scope to service their computers. I made some suggestions as to the building of such an instrument and was assigned as project engineer to build a working model. By 1954 the engineering model met with I.B.M.'s approval so production was started on the Type 310. We manufactured this instrument, both under our name and I.B.M.'s. Being a specialized instrument, we did not expect the sales to be large. But again we were wrong, 10's of thousands of the 310 and the 310A were sold before it was discontinued in the late 1960's.
In 1953 some of the original founders felt that Tektronix had grown about as much as it could. Miles Tippery, Milton Bave and Logan Belleville sold their shares back to the company, leaving only Jack and Howard as owners. Several of the other managers, feeling that the direction of the company was wrong left at about this same time. Time proved that the management was good and Tektronix kept right on growing.
Though Howard was no longer in such close contact with engineering, he was very aware of what was going on. He would come around to each engineer every week or so and discuss problems and offer advice in solving them. He would remember, in greet detail, every conversation and each problem and suggestion. Even though you had not seen him for several weeks, he would pick up the conversation exactly where it had left off, asking the results of his suggestions. He seemed to have a photographic memory. He would refer to a text or an article that he had read, quoting it almost word for word. He could remember the chapter and often the page number.
From time to time I brought my camera down and filmed other interesting operations around the plant. At times I was asked to record some process or application of our instruments. As additional buildings were being constructed I often filmed them. We all felt that we were involved in progress. There was a general attitude of all employees that was sometimes call the Tektronix Spirit. I tried to capture some of this feeling by showing people at their work. The 30 minute film, "THE TEKTRONIX SPIRIT", was completed in 1956 or 1957 and was shown to our employees, their families and friends. I received a little criticism on this, not because of the content or the idea, but because I had produced it on my own, and at my own expense, and had not cleared it through some new P.R. departments that were just starting.
As scopes become more complex, the engineering deportment began to change. No longer was a single person designated as a project's engineer, but rather groups were formed to design and build the first models of new instruments. I worked with several groups on such instruments as the 321, the first transistorized scope, the 555, a double beam scope and on several experimental instruments that were never released.
We started receiving many requests to borrow our films from technical schools, colleges, government and industries. It became quite a chore to answer letters, inspect, clean and ship them out. Many times the viewers sent complements and asked for more. It seemed that the free loan of films was bringing a lot of goodwill. In 1960 or 1961,I was asked to set up a film production and distribution department. I was left pretty well on my own as to the subject matter, the style of presentation and even the intended audience. I was given space, first in a building in West Slope, and then in the basement of the Cedar Hills Shopping Mall. Most of our films were aimed at a technical student or person interested in technical matter. We showed the use and application of our instruments, but seldom mentioned our name except in the opening or closing title. They were very low key and contained no direct advertising. A few films were of a higher technical level and intended to show the features of new instruments to our field engineers or interested potential customers. We worked closely with Joe Floren, who wrote the scripts for several films, with department heads in assembly, in ceramics, in CRT Production, in the metal and plastic areas and Electro Chem. Several dozen films were mode for "free loan'. Many more were made for in-plant use, for engineering, or for time motion studies. The Army and Navy purchased and used several of our films in their electronic training classes. Several of the films were circulated well into the late 70's and only withdrawn because the instruments shown were no longer “state of the art".
Tektronix has been good to me. I am proud to have worked there. I have know some very inspired people. I have enjoyed every one of my 22 years there. I watched it grow from 30 or so people to well over 10,000. I am glad that I was able to share in the excitement of that growth. I like to think that I may have contributed a little something to the success of this company which will always be so close to my heart.
TEKTRONIX, THE EARLY DAYS
December 10, 1985
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My name is Don James. I am an electrical engineer. Graduated from Texas A&M in June 1958.
I was working at Defense Research Lab in Austin, Texas in the 60’s. We did sonar research for the U.S. Navy. I remember the Tektronix 535 scope. We got all of our scopes from the Navy. The 535 was a beautiful instrument and easy to use. It had a sweep circuit that was rock-solid.
Henderson, Texas USA