Dr. Arnold O. Beckman, founder of Beckman Instruments, Inc., created devices that revolutionized the study and understanding of chemistry and human biology. Dr. Beckman once said, "There is no satisfactory substitute for excellence." This philosophy, combined with his personal integrity and love for science, guided his life and helped shape both his company and his highly decorated career.
Born in the small farming community of Cullom, Ill., on April 10, 1900, young Arnold Beckman's interest in science was first piqued upon finding a chemistry book in the family attic. Not long after reading Steele's Fourteen Weeks in Science, he converted his father’s tool shed into a makeshift chemistry lab. He began a more serious study of science at the University of Illinois, where he received his bachelor's degree in chemical engineering in 1922, followed by his master's degree in physical chemistry one year later. Throughout his school years, he also tapped into his creative talents by playing piano in silent movies to help support his family and fund his education.
Beckman went on to receive his doctorate in photochemistry at the California Institute of Technology (1928), where he also served as an assistant professor. While he was still teaching, Dr. Beckman invented the acidimeter, which he first produced for a former classmate at a Southern California citrus processing plant. Designed to measure acidity levels in lemon juice, the acidimeter turned out to be a forerunner of the modern pH meter. It quickly became an indispensable tool in analytical chemistry and earned him a place in the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1987, joining other great inventors like Thomas Edison and Alexander Bell. Dr. Beckman once stated, "When you're faced with the necessity to do something, that's a stimulus to invention. If (my classmate) hadn't come in with his lemon juice problem, chances are I never in the world would have thought about making a pH meter."
Dr. Beckman left his teaching position to found Beckman Instruments in 1935, where he continued to develop and manufacture scientific instruments, leading to the release of the Beckman DU Spectrophotometer in 1941. Considered the scientific equivalent of Ford’s Model T, this product not only simplified tedious laboratory procedures, it also increased analytical precision and revolutionized chemical analysis.
These extraordinary contributions led to several national awards: the 1988 National Medal of Technology; the 1989 National Medal of Science for his leadership in analytical instrumentation development and for his deep concern for the vitality of the nation's scientific enterprises; and the 1989 Presidential Citizens Medal for his exemplary deeds of service and for outstanding technological contributions to the United States.
Dr. Beckman's love of science and spirit of invention lived on in Beckman Instruments, a company with modest beginnings that became one of the world's leading manufacturers of instruments and suppliers to the clinical diagnostics and life sciences markets. "The past years have been rewarding for me in many ways," said Dr. Beckman, during the Golden Anniversary celebration for Beckman Instruments, Inc. "Perhaps the greatest reward is the knowledge that Beckman products have contributed and are contributing to the benefit of mankind."
Dr. Beckman died on May 18, 2004 at Scripps Green Hospital in La Jolla, California. He was 104 years old. He is buried next to his beloved wife, Mabel, in his birthplace in Cullom, Illinois.
A chemistry book in the family attic sparks a passion for science and inspires young Arnold Beckman to convert a toolshed into a makeshift lab. At 10 years old, he embarks on a lifetime of discovery and invention.
Dr. Beckman’s Legacy
Arnold Beckman created a billion-dollar, high-tech corporation that employed thousands and revolutionized science. His lasting legacy is the inspiration that he left with all who knew him and all who continue to benefit from his invention and generosity.
Awards and Achievements
Throughout his career, Dr. Beckman received numerous awards and accolades, including the National Medal of Science, the National Medal of Technology, and the Presidential Citizens’ Medal.
Recognized as a brilliant scientist and inventor, Dr. Beckman was also known as a devoted family man, civic leader, and friend.