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Arnold O. Beckman

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

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0014B
Interview Date: July 23, 1985
Location: University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Interviewers: Jeffrey L. Sturchio and Arnold Thackray
No. of pages: 58
Minutes: 151

  Abstract of Interview

In this interview Dr. Arnold Beckman begins with the
National Technical Laboratories in the late 1930s, and includes
details on its policies and operations. Beckman continues with the change from NTL to Beckman Instruments, and emphasizes the development of spectrophotometry instrumentation during the 1940s in the central portion of the transcript. Other projects, including mass spectrometers, Geiger counters, pocket electroscopes, and especially the oxygen analyzer, are also discussed. Following World War II Beckman describes his reinvolvement with Caltech. The interview concludes with Beckman talking about air pollution work in Los Angeles, the formation of Shockley Labora¬ories, and the future of the instrumentation industry.


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

1934 - 1934 Vice President

National Technical Laboratories

1937 - 1939 Vice President

National Technical Laboratories

1939 - 1940 President

Helipot Corporation

1944 - 1958 President

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

The State of Spectroscopy and National Technical Laboratories in the Early 1940s 1

Manufacturers of spectrophotometers. Different typesof spectrophotometers. Interest of scientists in spectrophotometers. Little knowledge of business world at early NTL. Publicity for the spectrophotometer. Development and market research. Creation of sales and service support.

National Technical Laboratories 7

Personnel and their responsibilities. Employees encouraged in their own business ventures. Entrepreneurial environment in Pasadena area. J. Bishop and business techniques at NTL. Philosophy and education for business. Employee relations. Company philosophy. Decision to leave Caltech. Business methods. Advice for scientific entrepreneurs.

Development of the Spectrophotometer 15

Funding for the DU and other research. Government role in funding research and development. Involvement in synthetic rubber project. IR and UV spectrophotometers. Problems in marketing spectrophotometers through dealers.

Other Beckman Instruments, Inc. Projects During World War II 19

Manufacture of mass spectrometers, Geiger counters, and pocket electroscopes. Development of the oxygen analyzer. Problems with manufacture of bulbs for oxygen analyzer. Development of quartz fibers for oxygen analyzer. Merger of Arnold O. Beckman, Inc. and Beckman Instruments, Inc. Organization of the Board of Directors of Beckman Instruments. Income and organization of subsidiaries. Attitude toward post-war plans.

Post-World War II Period at Caltech 25

Personal reinvolvement with Caltech. Changes concerning applied science. Chairman of the Board. Fundraising. Tensions between science and engineering. Impact of changes in federal research and development funding. Classified research.

Air Pollution Work and Other Projects 30

Active in Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. Growing concern over air pollution in Los Angeles area. Incorrect focus on sulfur dioxide as source of pollution. Discovery of auto exhaust as pollutant. Meeting with Henry Ford II. Member of National Air Pollution Board. Setting up Shockley Laboratories. Development of cermets. Future direction of instrumentation industry.

Future Direction of Instrumentation Industry 35

Miniaturization. Competition in the instrumentation field. Involvement in Japan's entry into semi-conductor industry. Electronic instrumentation and the health care field. Need for new methods of education.

Notes 40

Index 42

  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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