Max D. Liston

Born: March 16, 1918 | Oswego, KS, US

Max D. Liston discusses his early career and education, including bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from the University of Minnesota, his first job at Chrysler Corporation, and his master's in mechanical engineering from the Chrysler Institute. Liston transferred to General Motors, then Perkin Elmer, and then formed the Liston-Folb company (later Liston-Becker) with Morris Folb, where his projects included three atmospheric-analyzer models for U. S. Navy submarines and the Model 16 capnograph. Liston discusses the Beckman Instruments acquisition of Liston-Becker, his notable projects while at Beckman, including the development of automobile-emissions analyzers for smog tests in Los Angeles, California, and the formation of Liston Scientific. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0252
No. of pages: 82
Minutes: 430

Interview Sessions

19 February 2002 and 22 January 2003
Irvine, California and Fullerton, California

Abstract of Interview

Max D. Liston begins the interview with a discussion of his education. After graduating from high school in Fort Scott, Kansas, Liston attended the University of Minnesota. In 1940, he received a B.A. in electrical engineering with an option in communications. He was hired at the Chrysler Corporation that same year; and he participated in the Chrysler Institute, receiving his M.S. in mechanical engineering in 1941. After transferring to General Motors in 1942, Liston developed the breaker-type DC amplifier while modifying a submarine analyzer developed by Charles Kettering. With the assistance of Morris Reeder, Liston also developed an innovative vacuum thermocouple. In 1946, he was hired at PerkinElmer as the chief engineer. While there, he incorporated the breaker amplifier and vacuum thermocouple in to his designs for the Model 12 and Model 21 spectrophotometers. In 1950, Morris Folb and he formed the Liston-Folb company, which later became Liston-Becker. Together, they developed three atmospheric-analyzer models for the US Navy's submarines, and the Model 16 capnograph. Beckman Instruments acquired Liston-Becker in 1955. When Beckman Instruments consolidated their assets three years later, the Connecticut-based Liston-Becker plant was closed and Liston moved to California to become the corporate director of engineering. One of his most significant projects at Beckman Instruments was the development of automobile-emissions analyzers for smog tests in L. A. Liston is currently the president of Liston Scientific, a company he formed in 1975. His numerous accomplishments since its founding include the development of the Paramax, Digital-Alpha technology, and chemical-luminescence instrumentation. Liston concludes the interview with a brief discussion of his perceived influence on the field of spectrophotometry. 


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1938 Fort Scott Community College AS
1940 University of Minnesota BS Electrical Engineering with Communication Option
1941 Chrysler Institute MS Mechanical Engineering

Professional Experience

Chrysler Corporation

1940 to 1942

General Motors Corporation

1942 to 1946

Perkin-Elmer, Inc.

1946 to 1950
Chief Engineer

Liston-Becker Corporation

1950 to 1955

Beckman Instruments, Inc

1955 to 1958
Manager, Liston Becker
1958 to 1965
Director of Engineering

Liston Scientific Corporation

1975 to 2004
Founder and President

Table of Contents

Family Background and Education

Parent's background. High school grades and experiences. Northwestern University. Interest in science. First radio. Undergraduate studies at the University of Minnesota. Writing of two undergraduate research papers. Sigma Psi honorary.

Early Career

The "Chrysler Institute. " Walter P. Chrysler. Paul Ackerman. The life-testing endurance department. General Motors. Debating Ackerman's job offer. Charles F. Kettering. Gifford G. Scott. Submarine Analyzer. Breaker-type DC amplifier. Triptane development. Professor Harrison Randall. University of Michigan spectrophotometry research. Firestone System. GM engine research. Dr. Ross Gunn. Military applications of the breaker amplifier.

General Motors and Perkin-Elmer

DuPont's Experimental Research Station. Dr. David Frye. Dr. Downing. Dr. August Herman Pfund. Eppley vacuum thermocouples. Dr. E. J. Martin. Morris Reeder. Development of Reeder thermocouples. Problems of the Frigidaire division. GM stops production of the breaker amplifier. Howard Mogey. Richard S. Perkin. Formation of Perkin-Elmer. John U. White. GM's contracts with the Navy. Liston's move to Connecticut for Perkin-Elmer. Optically compacting tank prisms. Dick Perkin's money troubles. The Model 21. W. Brusky. Van Zandt Williams. John White leaves Perkin-Elmer. Dick Perkin's immorality.

Work After Perkin-Elmer

Morris Folb. License for breaker amplifier. Dr. James Elam. Dr. George Saxton. Development of the Model 16 CO2 analyzer. The Model 16 solves respirator problems. The Polio Foundation. The Iron Lung. Dr. John Severinghouse. Liston-Becker. Design description of the Model 16. Dr. Williams. Leeds and Northrup. The birth of non-dispersive IR. Perkin-Elmer's competition with Beckman Instruments. Arnold O. Beckman at Dr. Randall's lab. Liston-Folb. Albert Austin. Richard S. Becker. Liston's early relationship with Albert Austin. Development of CO analyzer. Instrument malfunctions. Liston-Becker's relationship with DuPont. Joseph Guilford.

The Navy and the <em>Nautilus </em>

The Navy's awareness of Liston's gas-analysis work. The Mark III atmospheric analyzer. The Model P oxygen analyzer. The tilt test. The USSN Nautilus. Freon accident aboard the submarine. Mark II analyzer. Agricultural chemists and the CO2 analyzer.

Beckman Instrument's Acquisition of Liston-Becker

Responsibilities at Liston-Becker. John F. Bishop. Dr. Beckman's interest in Liston-Becker. Negotiations for Liston-Becker. Ralph White. John Murray. The Beckman Instruments consolidation. The closing of the Connecticut plant. Liston becomes corporate director of engineering for Beckman Instruments. Robert Erickson. William Wright. Earl Jansen. Liston's relationship with Dr. Beckman. SPID's poorly designed instruments. Dr. Beckman's reluctance to deal with problems. William Shockley. The resignation of Shockley's staff.

Max Liston Leaves Beckman Instruments

William F. Ballhaus. Automobile emissions tests in L. A. Dr. A. J. Hagen-Smith. The CRC. Charles Heinen. Dr. Beckman's interest in air pollution. Max' Liston's feelings of failure. Liston's work with oximeters. Moffitt Field contract. The special projects division. Liston's attempted purchase of the Beckman submarine business. Dr. Miles "Lowell" Edwards. Work with Forrest Bird. Hospital respirator problems. Invention of the Handi-Vent IPPB. Work for SmithKline. Larry Brown. Weston spectrophotometer. SGPT, SGOT, and CPK tests. SmithKline reagent tables. SmithKline's interest in Beckman Instruments. The Alpha spectrophotometer. The Escalab.

Developments at Liston Scientific

Harold Dsenis. Gerald Frison. Ron Matheny. Edward Murphy. SmithKline warehouses the Liston respirator. Ohio Medical and Handi-Vent successes. The success of the Escalab. Digital-Alpha. Theodore Larsen. Description of the ABA-100. Contracts with Abbott Labs. Gene Browning. The Federation meeting in Chicago. Abbott Labs market study. Dr. Richard J. Henry. Abbott's poor quality reagents. Stanley Taylor. The Vickers instrument. The success of the ABA-100. Robert A. Scheollhorn. Abbott Labs tries to break its contract.

The Development of Microprocessor Technology

North American Semiconductor. Incorporation of RAM in to the ABA-100. Chip programming. TI-380 computer. The VP clinical analyzer. The failure of the VP cost-reduction project. The VP's flaws. Liston's development of a multi-channel instrument. The growth of Liston Scientific. The disintegration of Abbott Labs relationship with Liston Scientific. Les Duryea. Description of the Paramax. Baxter's reagent tablets. The Dunes Project. The Spectrum plant. Baxter-Dade. Dade International purchases the Paramax. Applications development for the Paramax. PSA and TSA tests. ELISA tests. The Paddle instrument. The Nichols Institute. ELISA test description. Development of an electrolyte instrument. The new Escalab. Sales to India.

The Formation of Liston-Edwards

Reuniting with Lowell Edwards. Edwards steam engine. TRW. The measurement of hydrocarbons. Development of an emissions analyzer. Capnograph development. Dr. Osborne's theft. The current work at Liston Scientific. CEM's. The chemical-luminescence process. Work with the EPA.

A Review of Max Liston's Introduction to IR Spectrophotometry

Development of the breaker amplifier. Working with Triptane. Dr. Harrison M. Randall. Dr. David Frye. Perkin-Elmer Model 12. GM manufacturing of breaker amplifier. Bowling Barnes. Breaker amplifier in the Manhattan Project. Liston's work with Perkin-Elmer. Liston's thermopile development. Dr. Beckman's work with Dr. Randall. Perkin-Elmer Model 21. John U. White. Vincent J. Coates. Abe Offner.

Liston's Work After Perkin-Elmer

CO2 analyzer. CO analyzer. Dr. Philip Drinker. Dr. Julius Comroe. Industrial analyzer development. Description of the gas analyzers. Flour. Li-Cor Biosciences. Creation and acquisition of Liston-Becker. Competition with MSA. Liston's move to California. The submarine analyzer contract.

Liston Leaves Beckman Instruments

Work with emissions analyzers. Formation of Liston-Edwards. The thousand car test in L. A. Description of emissions analyzer technology. Liston reflects on his achievements in the field of IR spectrophotometry.


About the Interviewer

David C. Brock

David C. Brock is a senior research fellow with the Center for Contemporary History and Policy at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. As a historian of science and technology, he specializes in the history of semiconductor science, technology, and industry; the history of instrumentation; and oral history. Brock has studied the philosophy, sociology, and history of science at Brown University, the University of Edinburgh, and Princeton University.

In the policy arena Brock recently published Patterning the World: The Rise of Chemically Amplified Photoresists, a white-paper case study for the Center’s Studies in Materials Innovation. With Hyungsub Choi he is preparing an analysis of semiconductor technology roadmapping, having presented preliminary results at the 2009 meeting of the Industry Studies Association.