A history of oscilloscope development in Vilnius

& -February 14, 2014

During the Soviet era that ended in 1991, trade between the Soviet Union and the outside world was largely blocked. Some test equipment managed to get in or out but by and large, the Soviet Union developed and manufactured its own oscilloscopes. The center of oscilloscope design and manufacturing was, for many years, in Vilnius, now the capital of Lithuania. Through the following photos, we've assembled a history of oscilloscopes designing and manufactured in Vilnius, both during and after the Soviet era.

Before WWII: Poland

The first electronics company in Vilnius was established in 1925. At that time, Vilnius was a provincial capital of Poland. The first Elektrit factory was built in 1934 on Shepticky Street in the Naujamiestis district. Before WWII, this was the largest factory in Vilnius, designing and producing radio receivers for civil use. It occupied 10,000m² and had its own power station, six assembly lines, and 1100 engineers and workers. The plant produced 54,000 radio receivers annually at a total cost of USD 1.2 million. Figure 1 shows a radio and Figure 2 shows the factory.

Figure 1
An Elektrit radio.

Figure 2 The Elektrit factory and workers.

Elektrit was nationalized in 1939, at the beginning of WWII and its equipment dismantled and transported to Minsk where another factory was later established. Information about the history of Elektrit is available in [1]. Even now, these pre-war factory buildings are in quite good condition, but are used for other purposes. The main building at the corner of Shvitrigailos Street and T. Shevchenkos Street stands out, as ever, from the surrounding buildings. Figure 3 shows the building in 1945 following WWII.

Figure 3 The Elektrit building after WWII.

1944−1991: USSR

The factory was restored at the end of the WWII (Figure 4) when Vilnius became part of the USSR and the capital of Soviet Lithuania. It was turned into a plant for the Soviet Union’s aviation industry. The factory was named 555, which people referred to as The Fives, and for five decades it was the flagship of Lithuania’s high-tech industry. All the other Lithuanian electronic companies (such as Elektrografija, Lyra, Nuklonas, Venta and Vilma) were founded afterwards with the help of specialists from the 555 company.

Figure 4 The factory was restored at the end of the WWII.

In March 1949, a new Experimental Design Bureau was created at the 555 factory. The oscilloscope business became one of its main activities. In 1948, the plant's specialists created the industry's first oscilloscope, the C1-1, with a bandwidth of 250 kHz (Figure 5). One year later, the plant produced a 5 MHz oscilloscope, the C1 2, developed by Moscow Research No. 17 (Figure 6). The first oscilloscope designed by the Experimental Design Bureau was the C1-4 (Figure 7) in 1954. At the same time the plant produced thousands of special OK- oscilloscopes that were used in nuclear tests.

Figure 5 The industry's first oscilloscope, the C1-1, with a bandwidth of 250 kHz.

Figure 6 Moscow Research No. 17 developed the C1 2, a 5 MHz oscilloscope.

Figure 7 The C1-4 was the first oscilloscope designed by the Experimental Design Bureau.

In 1960 the 555 factory and Research Institute already existed. They designed and manufactured such products as oscilloscopes, microwave measuring instruments, and pulse generators, then came ultrasonic medical equipment. Both companies were owned by the military-industrial complex, but military applications accounted for only 25% of production. In the 1980s the companies employed 7000 people in total. The turnover exceeded USD 250 million, while USD 80 million was generated from oscilloscope production. The main technical specialists were graduates of the country’s best technical universities.

The stages of oscilloscope development in Vilnius in the period 1945–1991 are listed on the following pages.

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