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Arnold O. Beckman

Arnold O. Beckman

Portrait of Arnold O. Beckman

  • Born: April 10, 1900, Cullom, Illinois
  • Died: May 18, 2004, La Jolla, California

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0014A
Interview Date: April 23, 1985
Location: University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Interviewers: Jeffrey L. Sturchio and Arnold Thackray
No. of pages: 54
Minutes: 141

  Abstract of Interview

In this interview Arnold Beckman begins with his teenage experience as an industrial chemist at a local gas works in Bloomington, Illinois and the Keystone Iron and Steel Works. This is followed by reflections on his student days at the University of Illinois, with special emphasis on some of the faculty and students. The central portion of the interview considers Beckman as a student and faculty member at Caltech and includes his early experiences with instrumentation, patents, and serving as an expert witness. The interview continues with Dr. Beckman discussing the origin of the pH meter and DU spectrophotometer, and concludes with the beginning stages of manufacturing and sales, emphasizing the principles used to build National Technical Laboratories, the company that would become Beckman Instruments.


1922 B.S., Chemical Engineering, University of Illinois
1923 M.S., Physical Chemistry, University of Illinois
1928 Ph.D., Photochemistry, California Institute of Technology

  Professional Experience

Bell Telephone Laboratories

1924 - 1926 Research Engineer

California Institute of Technology

1926 - 1929 Instructor

California Institute of Technology

1929 - 1940 Assistant Professor

National Inking Appliance Company


Vice President

National Technical Laboratories

1937 - 1939 Vice President

National Technical Laboratories

1939 - 1940 President

Helipot Corporation

1944 - 1958


Arnold O. Beckman, Inc.

1946 - 1958 President

Beckman Instruments, Inc.

1940 - 1965 President

Beckman Instruments, Inc.

1965 Chairman of Board


1960 Illinois Achievement Award, University of Illinois
1964 - 1974 Chairman, Board of Trustees, California Institute of Technology
1965 Honorary Sc.D. degree, Chapman College
1969 Honorary LL.D. degree, University of California at Riverside
1969 Honorary LL.D. degree, Loyola University in California
1974 Scientific Apparatus Makers Association Award
1977 Honorary LL.D. degree, Pepperdine University
1977 Honorary Sc.D. degree, Whittier College
1977 Arnold O. Beckman Conference in Clinical Chemistry, established by American Association for Clinical Chemistry
1980 Arnold O. Beckman Professorship of Chemistry, established by California Institute of Technology
1981 Hoover Medal, American Association of Engineering Societies
1981 Life Achievement Award, Instrument Society of America
1982 Diploma of Honor, Association of Clinical Scientists
1987 Vermilye Medal, The Franklin Institute
1987 National Inventors Hall of Fame, Washington, D.C.
1988 National Medal of Technology
1989 Charles Lathrop Parsons Award, American Chemical Society
1989 National Medal of Science

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Precollege Experiences 1

A home laboratory for industrial analysis. Position with Keystone Iron and Steel Works. Service in the Marine Corps.

Undergraduate Education at the University of Illinois 3

The American chemical industry. Tension between chemists and chemical engineers. Editing the Illinois Chemist. Carl Marvel and Worth Rodebush. Working as assistant toGerhard Dietrichson. Samuel Parr. G. Frederick Smith. The Illinois style of chemistry. Involvement with the Illinois Chemist. Fellow students who became prominent. Fraternities at Illinois.

Introduction to Caltech and Work at Bell Labs 11

Choosing a graduate school. Atmosphere at Caltech. The field of applied chemistry. Roscoe Dickinson. Career goals. Experience in Philadelphia. Early quantum theory. Comparison of Bell Labs with academe. Working groups and individuals at Bell Labs.

Graduate Education at Caltech 19

Research on photochemical decomposition. Interest in instrumentation. Linus Pauling and other faculty members. Relationship between Caltech and Berkeley. Fellow graduate students. Paper on periodic table with Arthur A. Noyes. Thesis research.

Faculty Member at Caltech 24

Early research plans and activities. Graduate students: L. Reed Brantley, Ralph Wenner, and Albert Myers. Caltech in the late 1920s and the 1930s. Consulting work.

Research, Patents, and Other Activities Early patents. 26

The Cox Oil controversy. Expert witness in court cases. The patent filing process. Research on pH measurement. Glass electrode research. Development of the acidimeter.

Early History of National Technical Laboratories 37

Marketing and business relationships. Development of NTL. Relationship with instrument inventors and developers. Development of the DU spectrophotometer. The early instrumentation industry. Other activities of NTL.

  About the Interviewer

Jeffrey L. Sturchio

Jeffrey L. Sturchio is president and CEO of the Global Health Council. Previously he served as vice president of corporate responsibility at Merck & Co., president of the Merck Company Foundation, and chairman of the U.S. Corporate Council on Africa. Sturchio is currently a visiting scholar at the Institute for Applied Economics and the Study of Business Enterprise at Johns Hopkins University and a member of the Global Agenda Council on the Healthy Next Generation of the World Economic Forum. He received an A.B. in history from Princeton University and a Ph.D. in the history and sociology of science from the University of Pennsylvania.

Arnold Thackray

Arnold Thackray founded the Chemical Heritage Foundation and served the organization as president for 25 years. He is currently CHF’s chancellor. Thackray received M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in history of science from Cambridge University. He has held appointments at Cambridge, Oxford University, and Harvard University, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In 1983 Thackray received the Dexter Award from the American Chemical Society for outstanding contributions to the history of chemistry. He served for more than a quarter century on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the founding chairman of the Department of History and Sociology of Science and is currently the Joseph Priestley Professor Emeritus.

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