Howard Vollum and Oscilloscope

On this day, May 31 in the year 1913, the man who made oscilloscope a commercial success was born in Oregon, USA. His name is Howard Vollum, who was “one of the stars of the electronics industry in the 1960s and ’70s and godfather to succeeding generations of Oregon technology.”

Howard Vollum
Howard Vollum (Credit: reed.edu)

Vollum studied physics at Reed College. Previously, he attended the University of Portland then known as Columbia University. After graduation in 1934, he worked in a store installing and servicing radios and other electronic devices. During World War II, he served in the United States Army Signal Corps working with artillery fire control radar.

After the war, Vollum designed the world’s first triggered oscilloscope which was far more compact and more precise than previously available version. With Melvin Murdock, he founded Tektronix to manufacture and market this product. From 1946 to 1971, he was the company’s president. He remained chairman of the board until 1984 and then became vice-chairman until his death. Tektronix became the leading maker of oscilloscopes and other test and measurement devices.

As a business manager, Vollum was known get involved in every aspect of his company. He knew his employees by first name. His legacy includes philanthropic endeavors such as educational endowment and research. He also funded the construction of a large library in Oregon.

Vollum died in 1986 at age 72. He had 5 sons with his wife, Jean.

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