In 1945 four young entrepreneurs decided to start an electronics company in Portland, Oregon. It was the right idea at the right time. In its heyday, Tektronix was Oregon’s largest employer and earned a reputation as a “freewheeling idea factory” with ambitious and brilliant engineers. OREGON EXPERIENCE: THE SPIRIT OF TEK explores the history of a unique company through engaging archival film and photos, and the eyes of some early employees who remember the heyday of a company that changed the world. Tune in to the stations of Oregon Public Broadcasting on Monday, May 3 at 9pm.

Howard Vollum was fresh from the U.S. Army Signal Corps. Jack Murdock was home from the Coast Guard. Both were radiomen eager to build new careers. Along with fellow “Coastie” Miles Tippery and accountant Glenn McDowell, they decided to start their own business and signed incorporation papers in 1945, naming their company Tektronix.  

Both Murdock, who started his own radio repair and appliance shop after high school, and Vollum, a Reed College graduate with a degree in physics, wanted to build a small, family-like company. Tektronix employees were hired on the basis of talent and knowledge. All were encouraged to experiment, take risks and seek excellence in an informal, egalitarian culture. The company quickly became known as a freewheeling research factory that led the world in innovative, state-of-the art oscilloscopes and hundreds of related products. Tek engineers were engaged in continual research and constantly testing new ideas to make better products.

From the start Tek scopes were a huge success because no other company could match their quality, accuracy and design. Tek built a wide variety of scopes to meet the needs of the many industries they served including the computer, automotive and aircraft industries. In addition, Tek scopes were indispensible in the development and improvement of television and helped send men to the moon.

By the early 1980s Tektronix had ballooned into a billion dollar company and had become Oregon’s largest private employer. But its size and success would also bring change. Ideas for new products and projects were often lost in the pipeline and many of Tek’s best and brightest were leaving the company to start their own. 

The exodus of top employees from Tek would help seed Oregon’s Silicon Forest in Washington County – and help transform the state’s traditional lumber and resource based economy to one of high tech manufacturing instead. 

Today Tektronix and continues to produce oscilloscopes at its headquarters near Beaverton and employs about 4,500 people worldwide.

Watch the complete program online anytime after May 3 at or at


OREGON EXPERIENCE is an exciting new history series on OPB-TV that brings to life fascinating stories that help us understand who we are and that reinforce our shared identity as Oregonians. The series, co-produced by the Oregon Historical Society and Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB), takes advantage of the extensive film, video and stills from the archives of OHS and OPB, and draws upon the expertise of OHS researchers and historians. Each half-hour show features captivating characters — both familiar and forgotten — who have played key roles in building our state into the unique place we call home. Funding for OREGON EXPERIENCE is provided in part by Ann & Bill Swindells Charitable Trust, James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation and Oregon Cultural Trust.

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