Charles Howard Vollum (May 31, 1913 – February 5, 1986) was an American engineer, scientist, and philanthropist in Oregon, United States. He was the co-founder of Tektronix Corporation, and endowed the Vollum Institute.
Howard Vollum was born on May 31, 1913, in Portland, Oregon. He attended Portland's Catholic Columbia University (now University of Portland) from 1931 to 1933, but transferred to Reed College in 1934, where in 1936 he received a Bachelor of Arts in Physics. His undergraduate thesis was the creation of a new kind of cathode-ray oscilloscope.
Upon graduation from college, he spent several years servicing and installing radios and experimenting with electronic devices. From 1940 to 1941 he was Supervisor of the Radio Project, NYA, in Portland. Vollum served as an officer in the United States Army Signal Corps from 1942 to 1946, serving in England and New Jersey on artillery fire control radar. He was later awarded the Legion of Merit for this work.
Vollum died on February 5, 1986. His wife, Jean Vollum, continued to serve on the Tektronix board of directors until mandatory retirement at age 70, and continued philanthropy until her death in 2007. Vollum was survived by his five sons.
In 1946, Vollum co-founded Tektronix with Jack Murdock, stating its purpose in the articles of incorporation as: "to install, repair, service and sell, purchase, manufacture and otherwise acquire and deal in radio and other instruments." By 1951, the company had 300 employees and sales of $4 million; by 1959, there were 3,000 employees with sales at $32 million. Tektronix had become the leading oscilloscopes and test equipment manufacturer, a position that held up until the 1970s. Vollum served as president of the company from 1946 until 1971. He remained on its board of directors until his death, and was board chairman until 1984 and then vice chairman.
The Vollum Institute
Vollum's innate interest in science also drew him to the neuroscience laboratories at the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) where he knew his oscilloscope could be applied to healthcare research. He developed an interest in experiments measuring bio-electrical phenomena, and this ultimately provided his philanthropic motivation and led Vollum to endow an institute for advanced biomedical research at OHSU.
Vollum supported many other Oregon educational institutions including Reed College in Portland, Oregon where he has a prominent academic building and student activity program in his name. Vollum helped found the Oregon Graduate Institute (now part of OHSU) in 1965 with a $2 million grant, and upon his death in 1986, he bequeathed $14.8 million to the college as an endowment.
Howard and Jean Vollum also funded the construction of the Library Building at Mount Angel Abbey in Mt. Angel, Oregon. This award winning building was one of very few buildings in the United States designed by the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto and remains today a remarkable architectural accomplishment.
- Vollum interviewed by the Oregon Historical Society. The transcription is posted by their permission at campevans.org