Skip to content


In this section we gather short blurbs about the history of innovation in the Willamette Valley. We will be adding links to the resources and in some cases there are links to longer post we’ve done in the main section of Innovational Musings.

If you have suggestions for people or innovative organizations please let us know by posting a comment below. Thanks!

History of Innovation in the Willamette Valley

“The fertile richness of the valley provided a home for more than 10,000 years to the region’s native tribes. The name Willamette is believed to derive from a Kalapuya Indian phrase meaning “west bank.”  See: Geologic History of the Willamette River Basin. The Willamette Valley took its name from its major river.  Lewis and Clark in 1804. blazed the way to the Oregon Territory and their reports of the region’s beauty and wealth of resources began a migration of Euro-Americans.

“The first trading post in the Willamette Valley was located on the Prairie Knoll just east of this point. The post was established in 1811 by the Astor Company to trade for furs and to take game which was cured and sent by canoe to Fort Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia.”

In 1834 missionary Jason Lee came to the Oregon Territory to establish a Methodist mission for Native Americans living in the Willamette Valley. One of the mission’s primary operations was a school designed to “educate and civilize” the Native children. It later became the Oregon Institute. It housed the first session of the legislature to meet in Salem and sheltered the first court in the territory under the auspices of the United States. It is this institute that finally became Willamette University in 1842.

Thompson’s Flouring Mills, circa 1941

In 1847, Richard Finley established a mill on the Calapooia in what became Crawfordsville. In building it he became indebted to almost everyone in the region.  See: Saga of the Old Boston/Thompson Mill. The Boston Mill is an agricultural and architectural landmark of the Willamette Valley.

The first woolen mill in Salem was the Willamette Woolen Mill, built near the confluence of the Willamette River and North Mill Creek in 1847 by Joseph Watt. That mill was destroyed by fire on May 3, 1875. The mill had been Salem’s leading industry for almost twenty years and employed 100 people. Salem did not have another woolen mill until Thomas Lister Kay, Squire Farrar, and C. P. Bishop founded the Thomas Kay Woolen Mill in 1889. The Bishop family later went on to form Pendleton Woolen Mills.

“The California Gold Rush provided an instant and burgeoning market. The Willamette Valley of Oregon with its rich alluvial soils was the closest populated farming and wheat-growing area. Waterpower from the streams and creeks flowing out of the Cascades added to the ideal situation for the development of grist and flour mills.”

An innovation in Willamette River steamboating was witnessed in 1874, when the steamer Ohio made her appearance at Portland. She was built by Capt. U.B. Scott, a practical steamboatman, who had recently arrived from the Ohio River. Capt. Scott was not overburdened with wealth, and endeavored to secure employment on some of the steamers of the People’s Transportation Co. and of the Oregon Steam Navigation Co. The managers of these companies were inclined to be skeptical in regard to his abilities, and would not employ him. Undismayed by this lack of appreciation, Scott interested two or three Portlanders, secured some machinery from an old dredge, and proceeded to build the Ohio, the first light-draft steamer in the Northwest. See: Willamette River Steamer Ohio.

Oregon became the 33rd state on February 14, 1859. Salem is the state’s capital.

Photo and caption from: The Macovich Collection of Meteorites

“In 1902 Ellis Hughes discovered the 15 1/2 ton Willamette Meteorite. At that time the land was owned by the Oregon Iron and Steel Company. Hughes recognized the meteorite’s significance, and in an attempt to claim ownership, secretly moved it to his own land. This involved 90 days of hard work to cover the 3/4 mile distance. The move was discovered, and after a lawsuit, the Oregon Supreme Court held that Oregon Iron and Steel Company was the legal owner.” See our JULY 15, 2009 post The Willamette Meteorite and the man who stole it and turned it into a peep show freak.

Agriculture and trapping were the important industries in Oregon’s early days. Lumber became more important as the American West surged in population. The Willamette Valley Lumber Company was founded in 1906 by Louis Gerlinger.

In 1858, what would become Oregon State University began as Corvallis College as it was formally incorporated by members of the Freemasons.  October 27, 1868 is known as OSU Charter Day, the day that the Oregon Legislative Assembly designated Corvallis College as the “Agricultural College of the State of Oregon”

The University of Oregon, the second oldest public university in the state, was founded in 1876 in Eugene. Both OSU and UO have made significant contributions to innovation in the state and will have major sections in our History of Innovation series.

The Corvallis Gazette-Times was first published on July 2, 1909.

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1954. Copyright © The Nobel Foundation

Linus Pauling was born on February 28, 1901 in Portland, Oregon.  He received his Bachelor’s degree from Oregon State College in 1922. He received a doctorate from the California Institute of Technology in 1925. Dr. Pauling won a Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1954 and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1962. Linus Pauling is the only person to ever receive two unshared Nobel prizes.

In 1942, the U.S. Bureau of Mines established a research center on the old Albany College campus, focusing on the development of new metallurgical processes. First known as the Northwest Electro-development Facility, the name of the center was changed in 1945 to the Albany Metallurgy Research Center.”

Morrow Radio Manufacturing Company was a developer of radio equipment in Salem. It manufactured and sold receivers, fixed-tuned receivers, power supply units, converters, and speakers. Started in 1955 by company founder and entrepreneur Roy F. Morrow, Jr. He went on to form many other companies, including; II Morrow, American Blimp Corporation, Morrow Snowboard, SkyTaxi and others.

White’s Electronics is a world leader in the design and manufacture of metal detectors. The Sweetwater based company started in 1950 during the uranium craze. When all the country was looking for uranium, so were Olive and Ken White, Sr. The only Geiger Counters available used headphones and Mr. White quickly learned that headphones created a problem in rattlesnake country.

A-dec has a long list of milestones reveals some of the industry’s most revolutionary dental equipment solutions. It’s no wonder. Ken and Joan Austin never strayed from a single focused, purpose: make the best better. Whether it’s advancing ergonomics, elevating infection control or integrating delivery-system technologies, the results have added calm, efficiency, and reliability to the world of dental care since A-dec’s founding in McMinnville in 1964.

In July of 1974, HP purchased a 145 acre property in Corvallis Oregon as the future site for the Advanced Products Division. In August of 1975, HP began construction of the 154,000 square foot Corvallis plant.

Stanford University classmates Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard founded Hewlett-Packard. Bill and Dave formalized their partnership January 1, 1939. They decided whose name came first with a coin toss. The company’s first product, built in a Palo Alto garage, was an audio oscillator—an electronic test instrument used by sound engineers. One of HP’s first customers was Walt Disney Studios, which purchased eight oscillators to develop and test an innovative sound system for the movie Fantasia. See our post: HP Corvallis History

The term Silicon Valley was coined by Ralph Vaerst, a Central California entrepreneur. Its first published use is credited to Don Hoefler, a friend of Vaerst’s, who used the phrase as the title of a series of articles in the weekly trade newspaper Electronic News. The series, entitled “Silicon Valley USA,” began in the paper’s issue dated January 11, 1971. Valley refers to the Santa Clara Valley.  An irony for those in Corvallis known as “ Heart of the Valley”. Santa Clara’s nickname used to be the “Valley of Heart’s Delight.”

While strictly not a part of Willamette Valley history until they opened their McMinnville Division making medical devices in the early 1970s, HP later moved its Advanced Products Division, from Palo Alto to Corvallis in October of 1975. This became a critical turning point and a big boost for innovation in the Willamette Valley.

Textronix was incorporated in 1946 in Portland, later moving to Wilsonville. Its founders, C. Howard Vollum and Melvin J. “Jack” Murdock invented the world’s first triggered oscilloscope. For many years Textronix was Oregon’s leading high-tech company and along with Electro Scientific Industries the seed stock for what became known as “Silicon Forest.”

The term Silicon Forest can refer to all the technology companies in Oregon, but usually is in reference only to those in Washington County on Portland’s west side. First used in a Japanese company’s press release dating to 1981.

1946, Cascade Printing opened in Corvallis.  In 2000, the company changed its name to CORE Communications to reflect the changes in advanced technology integrated customer solutions.

In January 1946, the post-war economy was ripe for qualified, experienced engineers, and four OSU men were eager to help fill that need. They established a partnership in Corvallis that swiftly gained momentum—and the firm of Cornell, Howland, Hayes, and Merryfield became known as CH2M. In 1971, they merged with Clair A. Hill, becoming CM2H Hill.

Doug Engelbart invented the computer mouse in 1963

In 1948, Douglas Engelbart earned a BS in Electrical Engineering from Oregon State and a Ph.D. in EECS from UC Berkeley in 1955. In 1968, Dr. Engelbart and a team at the Stanford Research Institute (now SRI International) gave the first public demonstration of the computer mouse, windows, and networking.

Mater Engineering automated a complete saw mill in 1955. Milt Mater established Mater Machine Works and Mater Engineering in Corvallis, pioneering and inventing sawmill automation equipment. He was named the 1965 Oregon Engineer of the Year.  His wife and partner Jean Mater earned a doctorate in forest products chemistry from OSU. In 1974, she was named President of the Corvallis Chamber of Commerce, the first woman to hold such a position in the state.

1962, Delford “Del” M. Smith founded Evergreen Aviation.  Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum started in 1991 as the Evergreen Museum. Mr. Smith is one of the true Valley Innovators and an inspiration to airmen and entrepreneurs. See the first in our series of posts about Evergreen: A Valley Treasure.

Blue Ribbon Sports, the progenitor to Nike was founded in 1964. Phil Knight and his former track coach, Bill Bowerman, each invested $500 to start the company. See our post Nike Story on CNBC.

The Gordon House, built in 1963 for Evelyn and Conrad Gordon, is a prime example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Usonian” architecture which he began designing in the 1930’s. The home was saved from destruction in 2000.  It was dismantled and moved  to  Silverton.

Oregon Freeze Dry was incorporated in 1963, when the company began drying fruit for breakfast cereals. Later, Oregon Freeze Dry worked with the Department of Defense to develop and produce military rations. In 2009, Oregon Freeze Dry and Seattle-based EnerG2 will produce carbon-based battery materials in Albany.

Based in Newberg, Climax Portable Machine Tools, Inc. is a strategic world-class provider of comprehensive, on-site machining solutions. Climax pioneered the portable machine tools concept in 1966.

In 1969, PSC Inc. was founded as Photographic Sciences Corp. in Eugene, making photographic reproductions for microfiche. The company later was known as Spectra-Physics Scanning Systems, it makes automatic data-collection solutions for the retail supply chain, warehouse, and distribution sectors. It manufactures and markets fixed-position and handheld bar code scanners, mobile and wireless data-capture terminals, warehouse management software, self-checkout systems, and other data capturing equipment.It changed its name to PSC Scanning, Inc. in 1996. In October 2005, Italian bar-code scanner manufacturer, Datalogic SpA announced an agreement to buy PSC for $195 million.

Versalogic started in 1976 by Len Crane. It designs and manufactures embedded computers for military, medical, scientific, industrial and other applications. The privately owned company has grown over the years to 70 people and recently moved to a new building in Eugene.

Videx began its business in 1979 by creating a video card enhancement solution for Apple computers. Videx increased the line of Apple and Macintosh enhancement products to Include microprocessor- based keyboard enhancers, advanced printer interface cards, and productivity software.

In 1979, Steve Schaberg started  Kalatel. It manufactured a wide range of closed-circuit television (CCTV) and digital video storage equipment for security and safety applications.

1984 Intelledex brochure cover

Intelledex an industrial robotics and vision company was founded in Corvallis by Stan Mintz, in Sept. 1981, with five other former HP engineers. Original funding was supplied from long-time Mintz friend, Steve Wozniak. The company was the first tenant in 1983 in the Sunset Research Park. The company grew thanks to its superior technology but failed in 1986 along with other U.S. robot companies during an industry downturn.

Palo Alto Software is the worldwide leader in business plan software and marketing plan software. The company was founded in 1983 by Tim Berry, despite the company’s name it is headquartered in Eugene.

Rich Carone is a serial entrepreneur. He was one of the founders of Intelledex. He currently is CEO of Korvis Automation, Inc. Rich began his career with Hewlett Packard in the late seventies, and was the manager of the software group that produced the HP 12C calculator. In 1985, Rich co-founded Accu-Fab Systems, and for 10 years was General Manager of this highly successful producer of custom robotic systems. In 1994, Accu-Fab was sold to ATS Systems.

ENTEK began the research and development of Polyethylene Battery (PE) Separator production in 1984. Commercial production began in 1987 when the primary manufacturing plant opened in Lebanon.

Corvallis, 1987- Tripod Data System (TDS) founded by two HP Corvallis engineers. They began making software for HP calculators, including land surveying applications. September 2000—entered into a definitive agreement to be acquired by Trimble.

Symantec Corporation opened its Eugene Service Center in 1993. In three short years, they more than tripled in size and improved customer satisfaction through a combination of complimentary telephone support, premium paid services, and innovative new online programs that are helping to reshape the software support market. Today there are over 1,000 workers work at Symantec’s Springfield Center.

ViewPlus Technologies story begins with Dr. John A. Gardner, a world renowned solid-state physicist who went blind at age 48 due to complications from eye surgery. Gardner encountered enormous barriers when he returned to his job as a physics professor and researcher at Oregon State University. In 1996 he founded ViewPlus in Corvallis to make science and math more accessible to people with sensory and learning disabilities.

Sanda Communications a high-tech marketing, advertising and PR firm began in January 1998, in Corvallis in the Corvallis, Business Enterprise Center.

ONAMI, the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute, was the first Oregon Signature Research Center. Started in Corvallis in 1994 and led by former HP executive Robert D. “Skip” Rung, ONAMI is a cooperative venture among government and world-class nanoscience and microtechnology R&D institutions and industry in the Northwest.  By putting nanotechnology to work in microsystems, ONAMI members are taking these advances from the lab through to commercialization.

Dan Whitaker is a serial entrepreneur and has been involved seventeen start-ups. He was named Entrepreneur of the Year for Benton County 2003.

In 2003, NuScale a Corvallis start-up developed the conceptual design for a small, multi-application nuclear power plant developed with OSU, DOE and INEEL.

Northwest UAV Propulsion Systems, is one of the largest unmanned aircraft vehicle propulsion manufacturers in the U.S. NWUAV was founded in 2005 by President and Owner Chris Harris in an effort to meet the growing demand for the high volume production needs of companies that utilize Unmanned Engine Systems required in Air, Land and Sea vehicles. NWUAV is headquartered in McMinnville.

The South Korean company Uni-Chem announced in September 2009 that it is buying Hynix’s, Eugene computer chip plant.

Arcimoto introduced its “Pulse” a three-wheeled electric vehicle in September 2009. The company is based in Eugene and founded in 2007 by Mark Frohnmayer.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: