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Memorial Tributes: Volume 3 (1989)

Chapter: Charles Howard Vollum

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Suggested Citation:"Charles Howard Vollum." National Academy of Engineering. 1989. Memorial Tributes: Volume 3. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1384.
Page 346
Suggested Citation:"Charles Howard Vollum." National Academy of Engineering. 1989. Memorial Tributes: Volume 3. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1384.
Page 347
Suggested Citation:"Charles Howard Vollum." National Academy of Engineering. 1989. Memorial Tributes: Volume 3. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1384.
Page 348
Suggested Citation:"Charles Howard Vollum." National Academy of Engineering. 1989. Memorial Tributes: Volume 3. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1384.
Page 349

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CHARLES HOWARD VOLLUM 1913-1986 BY WILLIAM R. HEWLETT CHARLES HOWARD VOLLUM was an Oregonian to the core. He was born on May 3l, 1913, in Portland, Oregon, where he not only spent his entire childhood but also obtained his education. He received his B.A. in physics from PortIand's Reed College in 1936. Howard Vollum made some of his most notable contribu- tions to science and engineering during WorIc! War II as an officer of the U.S. Signal Corps. In early 1941 he was as- signecl by the Signal Corps to work on problems involving accurate fire control racier at the Air Research and Develop- ment Establishment in England. In recognition of his work while with the Signal Corps, he was awarded the Legion of Merit in 1945 by the U.S. government. Later, for the quality of his subsequent work on a precision mortar locator while stationed at the Evans Signal Corps Laboratories in Belmar, New Jersey, he was awarded the Oak Leaf Cluster of the Le- gion of Merit. One of the abiding interests of Howard Vollum's civilian life was in the cathode-ray oscilloscope. In fact, he clesignecl ant! built one on his own in the 1930s, shortly after cathocle- ray tubes became commercially available. It was this personal project that helped him obtain admission to Reed College. While he was still a student at Reed, he built a second, al- though still primitive, oscilloscope that proved useful in test- ing auctiofrequency amplifiers. 347

348 MEMORIAL TRIBUTES In 1946 he returned to PortIanct in retirement from active military service. In January 1946, along with M. I. Murdock, he founded Tektronix, Inc., in Portland. Vollum became the company's first president and chief engineer. Following Howard's early interests, Tektronix focused on the field of oscillography. During the company's first forty years, its sales volume grew from a meager few thousand clolIars during the first year to an annual volume of roughly $~.4 billion. Interestingly, when Vollum founded Tektronix, he hoped for little more than to offer employment to thirty or forty Oregonians. During the forty years between the company's founding and Vollum's death, however, Tektronix expanded and grew fantastically so that it now has more than twenty thousand! employees worldwide. Howard Vollum's early contributions to Tektronix in- clu(led the development of the Type 5 ~ ~ oscilloscope, which, in eject, revolutionized oscilloscope design; the Type 512, which was the first ctirect-coupled high-gain oscilloscope; the Type 104 generator, which was the first to use square waves for transient testing of scopes; the oscilloscope plug-in unit, a device that, by permitting a scope to accept interchangeable units, gave the user the effect of several instruments in one; and finally, the design of the Tektronix cathode-ray tube. Until his death on February 5, 1986, Howard Vollum con- tinued to participate actively in running the company. At the time of his death, he was vice-chairman of the board. Un(ler his direction, Tektronix won the distinction of becoming the dominant company in the field of oscilloscope development. In(lee~l, in part because of his contributions, Howard Vollum saw the oscilloscope become the universal instrument in the electronics industry, where it is used for a variety of research, development, and maintenance functions. Howard Vollum was constantly concerned about the tech- nical aspects of the company's products. He insisted upon a combination of innovation and quality. Many concepts inte- gral to modern-clay oscilloscopes are traceable directly to his work.

CHARLES HOWARD VOLLUM 349 In his own quiet way, he contributed much to the PortIanct area and to the state of Oregon that he loved so much. For example, he set up a foundation to channel the corporate donations of Tektronix into innovative programs. He se- lected projects that perhaps did not have great public appeal but that were all the same characterized by considerable le- verage and great benefits to society. He served as a trustee or board member for Reed College, the University of Portianct, the Oregon Graduate Center for Study and Research, the St. Vincent's Medical Foundation, and the Oregon Health Sci- ences University. In addition to the Legion of Merit aware! from his own country, Howarc! Vollum received the Awarc! of the First Of- ficer of the First Order of the White Rose, presented by the Government of FinIanct. He also received the Medal of Achievement Award from the Western Electronics Manufac- turers Association, the Distinguished Service Award of the University of Oregon, the Howard N. Potts Medal of the Tranctlin Institute, and the Morris E. Leeds Award of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, of which he was also a fellow. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1977. Howarc! Vollum received a number of honorary degrees from institutes of higher education. These included the doc- tor of science degree from the University of PortIanct anct from the Oregon Graduate Center, the doctor of laws degree from Lewis ant! Clark College and from Reed College, and the doctor of humane letters from Pacific University. His later innumerable institutional honors, however, shouIct not obscure Howard Vollum's greatest contribution, which was in the fielct of engineering: the perfection of the precision oscilloscope.

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