In 1946 as Howard Vollum was wrapping up the design of the 511, the founders decided to introduce a smaller and less complicated product to be able to more easily ramp up a brand new manufacturing organization. Howard had designed a square wave generator to test his oscilloscope so they introduced this as the Type 101 Video Calibrator. They built a total of 10 instruments and sold none! Tektronix first product was a flop. However, it was successful in getting manufacturing ready for the Type 511 oscilloscope. Later the Type 101 Video Calibrator was replaced by the Type 104 Square Wave Generator which had modest sales.
These three photos are of Howard Vollum with his Type 101 Video Calibrator and the Type 511 Oscilloscope. The original version of the 511 is noted by the external graticule light above the CRT and the single sweep speed knob. Photos are courtesy of Special Collections and Archives, Eric V. Hauser Memorial Library, Reed College.
This photo is Jack Murdock with the Type 101 Video Calibrator.
This excerpt from the March 23, 1984 Tekweek featuring an interview with Howard describes the 511 and how the nomenclature was derived.
The 511 was very well received and the small Hawthorn facility had to add a swing and grave shift and even with 3 full shifts running the lead time stretched out to over 6 months.
The 511 was designed for medium and high frequency work but did not effectively work with frequencies below 60 Hz. Other weaknesses included lack of sufficient vertical gain, the inability to see the trigger portion of the waveform, and the lack of voltage regulation. The first enhancement was to add a delay line which could be installed as an option. The second enhancement was to add voltage regulation to the power supply. Improving the lower bandwidth and more vertical gain became the basis for the follow-on Type 512 Oscilloscope.
This undated 511 brochure is stamped with Neeley Enterprises which represented Tektronix products at the time. Click on the image to view the PDF.
The first mention of the 511 appeared in the April 1948 issue of Electronics. It wasn't called the 511, simply the Vollum oscilloscope.
The first advertisements for the 511 appeared 5 months later in the September 1948 issues of The Review Of Scientific Instruments, Proceedings of the IRE, and Electronics. This ad is from Electronics with the theme of Versatility ... Plus.
Also in that issue was an article on the transistor called A Crystal Triode.
See our Early Advertisements for more examples of early ads.
This excerpt from the 1951 Tektronix Catalog highlights "Fingertip Controls" of the 511AD Trigger Selector. Click on the image to view the full "Fingertip" Control page.
At the museum we have both the Type 101 Video Calibrator and the first version of the Type 511 Oscilloscope operational and prominently displayed as you enter the museum. The serial number of the Type 101 is 11461 which represents the date and number of manufacturing: November 1946 #1. This is the very first product that Tektronix manufactured!
We also know of the existence of #5 which resides in California.
The serial number of the Type 511 Oscilloscope is 441 so it was the 340th product manufactured.
SN 101 was sold to Dr. Archie Tunturi (yes, the individual with the 50 channel oscilloscope) and was traded back to Tektronix in 1960. This July 28, 1960 TekTalk features the return of this oscilloscope to Tektronix (note the side of the 50 channel oscilloscope is visible in the photo).
This February 1961 Servicescope article also describes the return of the first oscilloscope to Tektronix.
These two early photos with notes from Frank Hood describe a number of modifications and repairs made on the product during the 13 years that Dr. Tunturi used the product.
At the museum we also have a front panel for a 511 that appears to be hand drilled with a serial number 101. We suspect this was a reject panel.
This photo shows a large shipment of 511AD products from the Hawthorne building.
This photo shows a 511A being calibrated and dates from around 1951.
This photo shows the largest single order to date of thirty 511D oscilloscopes shipped to Hughes Aircraft in Culver City, California, on November 7, 1951 from the Sunset plant. The individuals are (left to Right) Paul Billes, Waldo Johnson, and Dale Holiday.