Tektronix Incorporated

Beaverton, Oregon USA

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 | Company History

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551 Oscilloscope

This working 551 Dual Beam Oscilloscope with external main and probe power supplies sits on the optional Tektronix 202-2 Scope-mobile cart. The main scope sits at a raised angle for ease of viewing and use, and has two Type L (DC-to-30 MHz fast-rise high-gain) plug-ins. Underneath is the plug-in storage section holding a Type D (DC-to-2MHz differential) and Type E (high-gain differential) plug-ins. The cart also has a drawer for holding manuals and probe accessories. On the base shelf is the power supply for the scope, and a smaller portable probe power supply. Incidentally, this model of Scope-mobile cart was originally designed in 1949 by Dick Rhiger to carry the Type 511 scope.

Company History

Tektronix Incorporated was founded in December 1945 in Portland, Oregon, by Jack Murdoch, Howard Vollum (two recently discharged US Coast Guard radar technicians), Glenn McDowell and Miles Tippery. Their stated goals were to develop, sell and support very high quality technical instrumentation. Using newly developed technology and war-surplus resources, new oscilloscopes were developed at a rapid pace, especially the 501, 511, 517 and subsequent designs. By 1949 these were the most advanced scopes for their time, with calibrated amplifier and timebase, triggered sweep, and other technical advances.

By 1954 the company had moved to new production facilities at the Sunset plant in Beaverton, an outer suburb of Portland. With the Korean conflict in progress, Tektronix became a leading supplier of electronic instrumentation to the military, but also experienced difficulties getting parts to keep up with customer demand. Ongoing problems with cathode-ray tubes brought about the decision to start manufacturing them in-house to improve product quality. The first truly portable models, the Type 315 Series, appeared. Also at this stage, a radical new design in scopes was pioneered - the plug-in module for changing the scope's characteristics as required. Field service offices were set up across mainland USA. Competition started to come from another scope company run by some friends of the Tek founders - Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard - and from 1956 onwards, a friendly but strong rivalry with HP was to be an integral part of Tektronix company life.

In the late 1950's, with the Sunset plant now too small, Tektronix moved to its current large Beaverton campus. The Type 575 scope became the first "transistor curve tracer" in 1957, and in 1963 the first ceramic storage-tube scope, the 564, was produced. Tektronix became one of the major high-tech companies involved in the "space-race" of the 50's and 60's, and established its first overseas manufacturing plant...on Guernsey in the Channel Islands. Another European plant was opened at Heerenveen in northern Holland.

In 1961, Tektronix filed suit against the US government for patent infringements by the US Air Force - the famous "D-holes" case. Despite considerable resistance from the US government, the case was finally settled in favour of Tektronix in 1979 (ie. 18 years later), and is considered a landmark case in patent law. By the late 60's, Tek had grown tremendously world-wide, and had developed a radically new scope design - the 7000 series - with smaller, smarter-designed modules and plug-ins. It also launched the hand-held Type 422 portable which proved to be extremely popular, and the first of its graphic storage display terminals - the T4000 series.

Also in 1961, Tektronix Australia Pty Ltd opened its doors, in Forster Street, Sydney. In 1969 a completely new site was built in North Ryde. Field and sales offices were set up in all state capitals except Hobart and Darwin. In the mid 1980's, the Australian office was used as the pilot site for Tektronix's first international email system.

In 1971 Jack Murdoch died in a tragic plane accident. Over the next few years Tektronix began a major internal restructuring under Earl Wantland - divisionalisation. By the late 1970's Tek had spread its technology coverage very far indeed: Oscilloscopes, programmable instruments, design automation, information displays, TV test instruments and monitors, desktop computing, and sundry other high-tech product lines.

During the 1980's the popular 4100 terminals, the 2400 series scopes, intelligent workstations (TekXpress series), and new high quality colour printers were produced - the Phaser range. Tektronix continued to be the "Rolls Royce" of test and measurement instrumentation, chiefly to the military and communications industries. However there was also a good penetration into high-end graphical display and printing, including medical and CAD/CAM displays.

In the late 1990's, Fuji Corporation bought out all the Tektronix graphics product divisions, including the Phaser printer technology. Tektronix has since been concentrating entirely on its original product market - test and measurement instrumentation. The Sydney office was sold, and the company moved to new premises in North Ryde.