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Arnold Beckman

Arnold BeckmanAKA Arnold Orville Beckman

Born: 10-Apr-1900
Birthplace: Cullom, IL
Died: 18-May-2004
Location of death: La Jolla, CA [1]
Cause of death: Illness
Remains: Buried, Westlawn Cemetery, Cullom, IL

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Inventor, Philanthropist
Party Affiliation: Republican

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Philanthropist who invented pH meter

Military service: US Marine Corps (1918-19)

Arnold Beckman was an inventor, an industrialist, an academic, and a philanthropist. Raised in a family of modest means, he made most of his own toys in childhood, and converted a small shed on his family's property to a chemistry lab before his eleventh birthday. By early adolescence he was working as almost a chemist, conducting Babcock tests to analyze the quality of butter and cream for a local dairy. He took university-level chemistry classes while still in high school, then studied chemistry at the University of Illinois and Cal Tech, where he joined the faculty after earning his doctorate.

In 1935 he invented the acidimeter, now called a pH meter, a device which measures the acidity or pH (potential of Hydrogen) factor in fruit or other materials. His intent was mostly to help a friend who worked for the California Fruit Growers’ Association, and needed a machine to better measure the acidity of lemon juice. When the friend returned, though, and asked for a second acidimeter, Beckman recognized the potential and founded National Technical Laboratories to manufacture the devices.

He soon invented two spectrophotometers, used to analyze substances using light, and quit his day job at Cal Tech in 1940. In 1950 the company changed its name to Beckman Industries, and over subsequent decades its product line included electrical resistors, radar equipment, microcircuitry, heart monitors, and liquid crystal digital displays.

He provided the seed money for William Shockley, inventor of the transistor, to establish Shockley Semiconductor in Palo Alto, California, beginning the transformation of the area south of San Francisco into the high-tech zone that is now called Silicon Valley. In 1977 he and his wife established the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, which supports chemistry-related research and gives large grants to charitable, educational, and non-profit groups. Beckman Industries became Beckman Coulter after its 1997 acquisition of Coulter Corporation, and remains a world-wide leader in scientific instruments.

Beckman died in 2004 at the age of 104, but his name lives on in myriad halls, laboratories, institutes endowed by the Beckman Foundation that bear his name. He is also remembered as the staunch Republican who convinced his friend, Ronald Reagan, to give up show business in 1966, and run for Governor of California.


[1] Scripps Green Hospital, La Jolla, CA.

Father: George W. Beckman (blacksmith, b. 1861, d. 1947)
Mother: Elizabeth Jewkes Beckman (b. 1873, m. 1898, d. 1912)
Brother: Roland Beckman (half-brother by Geo Beckman's first marriage)
Sister: Wilma Blanch Beckman Belser (b. 1903, d. 1984)
Wife: Mabel Stone Meinzer Beckman (b. 1900, m. 10-Jun-1925, d. 1989, two children)
Daughter: Gloria Patricia Beckman ("Patty", b. 1933)
Son: Arnold Stone Beckman (b. 1937)

    High School: University High School, Normal, IL (1918)
    University:
BS Chemical Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (1922)
    University: MS Chemistry, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (1923)
    University: California Institute of Technology (attended, 1924-25)
    University: PhD Chemistry, California Institute of Technology (1928)
    Teacher: Chemistry, California Institute of Technology (1928-40)
    Administrator: Major donor, California Institute of Technology
    Administrator: Major donor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
    Administrator: Major donor, University of California at Irvine

    National Inventors Hall of Fame 1987
    National Medal of Technology and Innovation 1988
    National Medal of Science 1989
    Beckman Coulter Founder & President, Beckman Industries
    Bell Laboratories (1925-26)
    American Association for Clinical Chemistry Major donor
    Boy Scouts of America Major donor
    City of Hope National Medical Center Major donor
    National Academy of Engineering Major donor
    National Academy of Sciences Major donor
    Delta Upsilon Fraternity
    Gamma Alpha Graduate Scientific Fraternity


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