Arnold O. Beckman

Born: April 10, 1900 | Cullom, IL, US
Died: Tuesday, May 18, 2004 | La Jolla, CA, US

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. 

Access This Interview

The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.

			

Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0014A
No. of pages: 53
Minutes: 141

Interview Sessions

Jeffrey L. Sturchio and Arnold Thackray
23 April 1985
University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1922 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign BS Chemical Engineering
2016 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign MS Physical Chemistry
1928 California Institute of Technology PhD Photochemistry

Professional Experience

Bell Telephone Laboratories

1924 to 1926
Research Engineer

California Institute of Technology

1926 to 1929
Instructor
1929 to 1940
Assistant Professor

National Inking Appliance Company

1934
Vice President

National Technical Laboratories

1937 to 1939
Vice President
1939 to 1940
President

Helipot Corporation

1944 to 1958
President

Arnold O. Beckman, Inc.

1946 to 1958
President

Beckman Instruments, Inc

1940 to 1965
President
1965 to 1986
Chairman of the Board

Honors

Year(s) Award
1960

Illinois Achievement Award, University of Illinois

1964 to 1974

Chairman, Board of Trustees, California Institute of Technology

1965

Honorary ScD 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 ScD 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, DC

1988

National Medal of Technology

1989

Charles Lathrop Parsons Award, American Chemical Society

1989

National Medal of Science

Table of Contents

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 AB in history from Princeton University and a PhD 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 MA and PhD 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.