Wilbur I. Kaye

Born: January 28, 1922 | Pelham Manor, NY, US
Died: November 27, 2006 | La Jolla, CA, US

Wilbur I. Kaye begins his interview by discussing his early interest in science and instrumentation and his education, which culminated in a PhD in chemistry at the University of Illinois. Kaye took a position at Tennessee Eastman Company after graduation and promptly set up a physics laboratory; Kaye discusses the instrumentation in his laboratory and his publications on gas chromatography. Kaye left Tennessee Eastman for Beckman Instruments, Inc., and reflects on his modifications to the DU spectrophotometer and other instrumentation at Beckman Instruments.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0232
No. of pages: 39
Minutes: 210

Interview Sessions

Arnold Thackray and Gerald E. Gallwas
11 and 27 February 2002
La Jolla, California

Abstract of Interview

The interview begins with Wilbur I. Kaye describing his early interest in science, and specifically, instrumentation. He discusses his decision to study at the University of Illinois, and his own academic experience there as a PhD candidate in chemistry. Kaye met his wife, Virginia (Ginnie, who sits in on the interview) at Stetson University, where they studied as undergraduates, and married her prior to his last year of his graduate studies in 1944. Kaye was then recruited to Tennessee Eastman Company, where he set up a physics laboratory, by Dr. William Hincke. Initially, a PerkinElmer spectrophotometer was the sole piece of instrumentation in Kaye's lab, but he soon procured more instruments, such as a Baird Corporation Model AB2 and Beckman Instruments, Inc. DU spectrophotometer. Having joined the Tennessee Eastman division of Eastman Kodak Company near its inception, Kaye relates the history of the company to the explosion of instrumentation research, and analysis in scientific research. Near the end of his tenure at Tennessee Eastman, Kaye was one of the first scientists to publish work in the United States on gas chromatography. Kaye began modifying the DU spectrophotometer while at Tennessee Eastman, and took this work with him on his move to Beckman Instruments. Kaye's modification to the DU became known as the Beckman DK spectrophotometer, which contributed to the competition and friction between former employee Howard H. Cary and owner of Beckman Instruments, Arnold O. Beckman. Amid shifting management and company organization, Kaye continued to improve upon his instruments, as well as develop new instruments while at Beckman. Kaye discusses the difference between DK1 and DK2, the DU and the DK, and addresses the Beckman line of infrared spectrophotometers. During the company's shift into clinical instruments, Kaye developed a glucose analyzer, which James C. Sternberg continued work on once the company withdrew support. Kaye developed the DKU, which combined aspects of both infrared and ultraviolet instrumentation. In addition to pointing out some of the history of Beckman Instruments in the second half of the interview, Kaye describes the interface between administration and research components of the company. A true scientist with an innovative mind, Kaye decided stay in the research laboratory, improving and developing new instruments, rather than join the management scheme of Beckman Instruments.


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1942 Stetson University BS Chemistry
1945 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign PhD Chemistry

Professional Experience

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

1942 to 1945
Graduate Assistant

Tennessee Eastman Company

1945 to 1949
Research Chemist
1949 to 1955
Research Chemist

Beckman Instruments, Inc

1956 to 1968
Director of Research, Scientific Instruments Division
1968 to 1973
Director of Scientific Research, Corporate Research
1973 to 1980
Senior Scientist
1980 to 1987
Principle Staff Scientist


Year(s) Award

President, Optical Society of America, Southern California Section


Fellow, Beckman Instruments, Inc.


Honorary Member, Society of Applied Spectroscopy


Wilbur I. Kaye Laser Analytical Laboratory dedicated

Table of Contents

Childhood and Education

Early interest in science. Parallels with the life of Arnold O. Beckman. Generation of interest in scientific instrumentation. PhD thesis on x-ray diffraction.

Early Career at Tennessee Eastman Company

Infrared spectroscopy. Instrumentation at Tennessee Eastman. Aluminum beryllium photographic plates and publication. Desire to publish. Instrument maintenance.

Final Years at Tennessee Eastman Company

Meeting C. E. K. Mees. Employee numbers and laboratory organization. Gas chromatography work with Wilson Patton. Use and modification of the Beckman DU spectrophotometer. John F. Bishop.

Career at Beckman Instruments, Inc.

Development of the DK spectrophotometer. Discussion of personal archives. Relationships and responsibility at Beckman. The business rivalries of Howard H. Cary and Arnold O. Beckman. The DU versus the DK.

Instrumentation at Beckman Instruments, Inc.

The competition. Infrared instrumentation. Introduction of gas chromatography in the United States. Development of the glucose analyzer. Aspects of the DKU and infrared spectroscopy.


Decision to remain in the laboratory. The Stubborn Streak. Creation of a pure water still.


About the Interviewer

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.

Gerald E. Gallwas

Gerald E. Gallwas was a member of the original team in the mid 1960s that founded and managed the growth of what became the clinical diagnostic business of Beckman Instruments. As the business grew, he served in many roles from new product development to directing clinical field trials in the United States, Europe, and Japan. This led to an extensive involvement with professional and trade organizations as well as regulatory agencies. He retired after thirty years of service as director of program management overseeing new product development programs.