Every year, the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust celebrates Founder’s Day, a day to pause and thank its benefactor, Melvin Jack Murdock.
“Who would have known that a young Franklin High School graduate and co-founder of Tektronix would be impacting our communities today?” said the trust’s executive director, Steve Moore.
Murdock was born Aug. 15, 1917, in Portland. An only child, he became fascinated with electronics at an early age. He grew skilled enough to become Franklin High School’s resident electrician even as a student there.
After graduation, his parents gave him some money and said he could use it to go to college or start a business. Murdock used the money to begin selling radios and appliances and was soon joined by Howard Vollum, a radio technician and engineering graduate from Reed College. The two of them worked together for years — splitting up to do radar and radio operations work during World War II.
“They learned everything they could while they were in the military about technology and the kind of new revolutionary things that were happening,” Moore said.
The pair joined forces again to found Tektronix in 1946, a company known for building a smaller, more portable oscilloscope. When the company went public nearly two decades later, those who had been there from the beginning became millionaires, Moore said.
Murdock believed in flexible work hours, profit sharing and having a healthy workplace, and he let employees use work equipment after hours if they were working on an invention. Besides Tektronix, Murdock had invested in and helped start other businesses, which helped build his wealth. Moore said more than 300 companies were spun off of Tektronix and started by former employees.
“He knew that when cities and states were friendly and supportive of business and of entrepreneurship, it helped create jobs. And it helped communities to be able to thrive because it helped build up all of the other sectors within a community,” Moore said.
While alive, Murdock donated money to a variety of causes such as faith-based groups, universities, Boys & Girls Clubs and mental health organizations.
An outdoorsman, he loved to ski, fish, hunt and be outside in the Pacific Northwest. Although he was an introvert, Murdock still loved people and would host barbecues at his house.
“He just believed in people and the potential that every person had to make a contribution in the world,” Moore said. “He was the kind of guy who wanted to see people really fulfill their dreams and do well.”
Murdock never married or had children. He eventually moved to a home in Vancouver and had offices at Pearson Field and was an amateur pilot, which eventually led to his death at age 53 in 1971.
He was piloting a seaplane, attempting to take off from the Columbia River, when strong wind flipped the plane onto its back. A companion made it to shore, but Murdock’s body was never found. Forming a charitable foundation was part of his last will and testament, which was just a few months old when he unexpectedly died, Moore said.