Arnold O. Beckman and CHF: 
A Brief History

In the 1980s Arnold O. Beckman was personally responsible for raising the ambitions of and expanding the vision for the Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF) and the Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry. In fact, without Arnold O. Beckman, CHF would not exist in its current form. 

In 1986 Beckman presented a generous gift, in the form of a challenge grant, to CHF (known then as the Center for the History of Chemistry). At that time the four-year-old organization occupied two basement rooms on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. One year later Arnold and Mabel Beckman created CHF’s Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry. The Beckman gift led to other major gifts that, by the year 2000, allowed CHF to move to a permanent facility and greatly expand its work. 

Arnold O. Beckman set CHF on an ambitious course. In the academic year 2011–12 and continuing this year, CHF’s Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry is the largest grantor of fellowships in the history of science in the United States. The modest program Beckman created has become the national leader. To date, CHF’s Beckman Center has provided funding for almost 200 fellows working on the history of science, technology, medicine, and industry. And despite its relative youth the Beckman Center is now the largest source of non–university based fellowships for historians of science in the United States.

In creating the Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry, Arnold O. Beckman was most of all motivated by a desire to nurture scientific progress. Beckman looked at the history of chemistry as an important endeavor within the enterprise of chemistry-based research itself. He believed that a research institute that is focused on the history of the chemical sciences would contribute to public understanding of science and to a society in which science would thrive.