Arnold and Mabel Beckman

Photo of Arnold and Mabel Beckman

Arnold O. Beckman was born in Cullom, Illinois, on April 10, 1900. He received a B.S. degree in chemical engineering in 1922 and a M.S. degree in physical chemistry in 1923.

Arnold O. Beckman

He joined the faculty of the California Institute of Technology in 1928 after receiving a Ph.D. in chemistry from that institution. In 1934, at the request of a friend, Dr. Beckman invented a portable meter for measuring the acidity of California lemons. Scientists working in a variety of fields quickly recognized the importance of the "Beckman acidimeter." The pH meter, as it came to be called, was the first of a series of successful inventions that made possible a revolution in scientific instrumentation. National Technical Laboratories was founded in 1935 (and renamed Beckman Instruments, Inc., in 1950), and pioneering advances in measurement technology soon followed. These included the Helipot, a precision electrical resistance device, and the DU spectrophotometer, which measured visible and ultraviolet light transmission. In 1982, Beckman Instruments merged with the SmithKline Corporation to form SmithKline Beckman.

By 1989, SmithKline had decided that Beckman Instruments’ business did not fit with their corporation, and it was spun off again as Beckman Instruments. In 1997 Beckman Instruments merged with Coulter Corporation of Miami, another leader in biomedical instrumentation, to form Beckman Coulter Corporation. As Beckman’s instrument empire evolved beyond his personal control, he became free to devote more time to his philanthropic activities.

Dr. Beckman and his wife Mabel M. Beckman contributed nearly $350 million to the advancement of research and education. Throughout her life, Mrs. Beckman was deeply involved in Beckman Instruments, Inc., and shared Dr. Beckman's devotion to philanthropic causes. The Beckman Institute is a fine example of their generosity and other testaments to the Beckmans' beneficence can be seen in the creation of the Beckman Institute at the California Institute of Technology, the Beckman Laser Institute at the University of California at Irvine, Stanford University's Beckman Center for Molecular and Genetic Engineering, the Center for the History of Chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania, and Beckman Research Institute at the City of Hope, an institute dedicated to the prevention and cure of life-threatening diseases.