Where We Live: Tektronix and the Silicon Forest

Technology

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The cluster of high-tech companies between Beaverton and Hillsboro is known as the “Silicon Forest.”

Intel dominates as Oregon’s largest private employer, but it wasn’t the first. The seed that grew the Silicon Forest was Tektronix.

Howard Vollum and the oscilloscopes, which helped fuel the high-tech revolution. (Courtesy photo)

In the 1940s, the wave of the future was oscilloscopes, which give engineers a visual measurement of everything from radio waves to electronic signals in computer circuit boards. 

“So a good example would be just up the street, Intel,” Chris Loberg with Tektronix said. “Intel would use our equipment to measure the performance of their chips.”

Now on a 150-acre campus near Beaverton, Tektronix developed technology that helped introduce color television and helped send a man to the moon.

“It’s a great feeling, and it’s good to know that Tektronix was the basis of all that,” Loberg said. 

Howard Vollum and Jack Murdock with early Tektronix equipment. (Courtesy photo)

It began with Howard Vollum, a Reed College graduate and Army veteran. He joined Jack Murdock, who owned a radio shop in Southeast Portland, to create a company called Tekrad in 1945. In 1946, they added two partners and became Tektronix. 

It was the first high-tech company in the Silicon Forest west of Portland.

Vollum’s oscilloscopes helped fuel the high-tech revolution.

“It’s where everything begins, and then software starts to build on that,” Loberg said. 

It was also Oregon’s (biggest) first private employer in the 1970s, with more than 10,000 workers.

Tektronix Inc. in its early days. (Courtesy photo) 

Tektroniks spinoffs planted more roots in the Silicon Forest, including Planar Systems, Mentor Graphics and Pixelworks.

Former Tektronix employee and philanthropist C. Norman Winningstad founded Floating Point Systems and Lattice Semiconductor. He’s also credited with coining the term “Silicon Forest.” A theater in the Portland Performing Arts Center is named for his wife, Delores. 

A Tektronix oscilloscope. (KOIN) 

“Someone counted 300 companies that owe their roots to Tektronix over the years,” said Bob Haas with the VintageTEK Museum.  

Vollum and Murdock also started charitable foundations that endure to this day.

“Really, a great legacy for Howard and Mr. Murdock,” Haas said. 

A building at Reed College and a lab at Oregon State University are named after Vollum.

In 2007, Tektronix was acquired by the Danaher Corporation of Washington D.C. Tektronix kept its name and its focus on test and measurement equipment. 

Although Tektronix is regarded as the first high-tech company in the Silicon Forest area, the first successful high-tech company in Oregon is believed to be Electro Scientific Industries, or ESI. It was founded in 1944.

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