Biography of a Northwest innovator
The late Melvin J. “Jack” Murdock, co-founder of Tektronix, Inc., was an innovative, entrepreneurial leader with business interests throughout the Pacific Northwest. Upon his untimely death in 1971, his will directed three Trustees to establish a charitable trust “to nurture and enrich the educational, cultural, social and spiritual lives of individuals, families and community.” Here, we share a bit of background on his life and the legacy he built that has helped shape the Pacific Northwest.
Melvin J. “Jack” Murdock was born in Portland, Oregon, on August 15, 1917 and graduated from Franklin High School. A natural knowledge-seeker with an entrepreneurial spirit, Jack chose to forego college and go straight into business.
With the help of his parents, he purchased a small shop to sell and service radios and electrical appliances. Within the walls of the Murdock Radio and Appliance Company on 67th and Foster, in 1936, Jack began a long-term working relationship with his friend and technician, Howard Vollum, which 10 years later resulted in the pair becoming principal co-founders of Tektronix in 1946 in Beaverton, Oregon — a development interrupted only by Jack’s service to the country in the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II.
Jack first served as Vice President and General Manager of Tektronix. In 1960, he was elected Chairman of the Board, a position he held until his death in 1971. The company was acquired by Danaher Corporation in 2007 and is now headquartered in Beaverton, Oregon. Since its founding, Tektronix has been one of the world’s prominent electronic instrumentation companies and a major employer in Oregon. (While the Murdock Trust is proud of its Tektronix heritage, it is an independent private foundation with no connection to the company.)
Jack had a number of interests beyond Tektronix, including Oregon Bulb Farms, which grew high-grade Asiatic/Oriental lilies commercially. An avid pilot whose favorite plane was the Piper Super Cub, he also operated a Piper Aircraft distributorship for the Pacific Northwest, based at Pearson Field in Vancouver, Washington. Jack was intensely interested in aviation safety and initiated a number of aircraft modifications to make planes safer and more serviceable to pilots. Tragically, his love of aviation brought him to an untimely death at age 53 in a float plane accident on the Columbia River.
Jack Murdock was both an idealist and a realist, and relentlessly sought new insights in all areas of his life. He believed in science as a main source of knowledge — and in knowledge as a key ingredient to addressing and solving our world’s issues and challenges. He was thoroughly unpretentious, soft-spoken and a considerate listener, possessing a rare combination of good judgment, hard work, tolerance, commitment to life-long learning and scrupulous honesty. During his lifetime, Jack practiced philanthropy through his own private foundation, which was later merged with the Murdock Trust.
Jack Murdock was an avid learner, innovator and entrepreneur. The special importance Mr. Murdock placed on education continues to lead Trust support of many colleges and universities across Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington. Inspired by our founder’s strong belief in science and technology, the Trust has long been a leading private supporter of scientific research and innovation. We also welcome organizations that advance culture and the arts, as well as projects that elevate human services and health care in the region, including community- and faith-based organizations, particularly those that serve youth.
We’re proud to carry on the spirit of Jack Murdock’s life well-lived through the work of the charitable trust that bears his name.
Jack’s Words & Thoughts
Autobiography – Age 16 — Written March 23, 1934, by Jack Murdock
“Work & Human Satisfaction” — Speech presented at a 1966 Portland Chamber of Commerce Seminar
Oregon Public Broadcasting special on Tektronix — Original air date: May 3, 2010