Arnold O. Beckman

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.

In Memory of Our Founder!
1900 - 2004
"Arnold Beckman exemplifies the meaning of the word humanitarian. Combined with his unwavering enthusiasm for life, his keen sense of humor and his strong moral and ethical principles, he is a national icon. He has been my close, long-time friend and mentor. Simply put, Arnold Beckman was truly one of the great Horatio Alger heroes of the 20th century. He will be sorely missed, not only by myself, but by everyone who has had the privilege to know him, and whose lives have been touched by his intellect, inventiveness and his wonderful vision and generosity."
- Chairman of the Board, Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation Ambassador George L. Argyros

Mabel M. Beckman

Mabel Meinzer Beckman was born on December 20, 1900, in Brooklyn, NY. Her mother, Alice, was from Ireland having immigrated to the U.S. from Castlecomer, a small mining town in County Kilkenny. Her father was from New Jersey. She had an older brother, Walter, and a younger brother, Charlie.

As a young adult, Mabel liked to draw and did some oil painting using photographs and picture postcards as subjects. She went to elementary and high school on Long Island and entered Pratt Institute to study art. She spent one year at Pratt and then got a job as an executive secretary at an insurance company.

Her plans changed forever on Thanksgiving Day 1918, as World War I was ending. Mabel and her mother were Red Cross volunteers, and as they were serving Thanksgiving dinner to the troops at the U.S.O, she met a young marine, Arnold Beckman, who was stationed at the Brooklyn navy shipyard.

Arnold and Mabel went on several dates after the war ended, and then they maintained a long-distance relationship for seven years while Arnold went back to Illinois to enter the University of Illinois and complete his degree in chemical engineering. He accomplished both bachelor and Master’s degrees and graduated in 1922 from the University of Illinois and he began his postgraduate studies at the California Institute of Technology (CalTech). He returned to New York in 1924 to be closer to Mabel.

In 1925, the two were married in Bayside, Long Island, NY in the Episcopal Church where Mabel had attended Sunday school and been confirmed. After marrying, the couple stayed in NY while Arnold worked for Bell Telephone Laboratory. In 1926, they drove out to California in a Model T Ford so that Arnold could complete his Ph.D at CalTech.

Dr. Beckman joined the CalTech faculty and saw his research turn into a new type of entrepreneurial business in chemical instrumentation. Mrs. Beckman was the support that Dr. Beckman needed to start on this unique and uncharted path. She traveled with him across the country as he started his business enterprises and, later, traveled the globe with him as his business became a world-wide leader in the biotechnology revolution.

In 1933, Dr. and Mrs. Beckman adopted two children, Patricia and Arnold Jr., and from this point on Mrs. Beckman was wife and mother. She joined the CalTech Woman’s Club and, later, the Beckman Instruments Women’s Club. As Beckman Instruments grew in size and influence, the family moved from Pasadena, CA down to the Newport Coast in Orange County.

Mabel Beckman had two passionate interests which she pursued all her life – sewing and cooking. She sewed, crocheted, knitted and embroidered both clothing and articles for the house. In her later years she did a great deal of needlepoint while watching TV. She loved to cook and was a good cook, collecting recipes and trying out new dishes. She was also very aware of good nutrition and took time to balance the family diet long before these ideas were popular.

Mabel remained Dr. Beckman’s lifelong confidante and sounding-board. As they began contemplating the formation of the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, she was instrumental in developing the mission of the Foundation and the early gifts to establish the Beckman Institutes at CalTech, University of Illinois, City of Hope, University of California-Irvine, and Stanford University.

Mrs. Beckman passed away after a long struggle cancer in June 1989. She is buried next to her husband in Cullom, Illinois.

Mabel Meinzer Beckman

Mabel Beckman

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Electronic Revolution

pH Meter

What started as a question on how to quickly determine the pH level in lemon juice byproducts became the first commercially successful, electronic glass-electrode pH meter. The result was a new era in chemistry, and the birth of a new electronic instrument industry.

DU Spectrophotometer

Hailed as “perhaps the single greatest instrument” of its era, the Beckman DU forever transformed the practice of chemistry and the life sciences. With speed and accuracy, it detected the “fingerprints” of life’s essential materials and moved chemistry from the academic laboratory directly into commercial production facilities.

IR Spectrophotometer

Launched for critical wartime efforts in the reliable production of synthetic rubber, fuels and medicines, the infrared spectrophotometer became a primary tool for understanding and mass manufacture of novel materials.

Oxygen Analyzer

As a classified military project, the Oxygen Analyzer was intended for use in high-altitude aircraft during WWII. Later, it improved safety in very different settings: the submarine and the neonatal ward.


One of the most important inventions in the development of the life sciences was the ultracentrifuge. Its wide spread use enabled the modern age of molecular biotechnology.


It began as a better mousetrap. Arnold Beckman designed an improved electrical control for his instruments. This “Helipot” became a critical component for radar, for electronic computers, and for the aerospace industry.

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Impacting Life

The World in Your Pocket

Dr. Beckman led the way in the high-tech revolution that has created the technologies and tools we use today. Computers, satellites, and the cell phones we all rely on daily can be traced from innovations that occurred at Beckman Instruments.

Combating Smog

In the 1950s, Dr. Beckman championed research that discovered the true composition and causes of air pollution. With the understanding of the cause in hand, he was able to influence public policy and clear the air for Southern California.

Measurements Make Industries

Dr. Beckman’s life and career were devoted to discovery and invention, giving scientists and engineers the tools to advance medicine and industry, win wars, protect the environment and improve countless lives.

Measurements Make You Healthy

The 1953 discovery of DNA’s double helix was a watershed in our understanding of the molecular basis of life. Arnold Beckman immediately grasped its significance, envisioning a future of instrumentation in this new field.

Establishing Silicon Valley

In 1955, Dr. Beckman established the first silicon electronics organization on the San Francisco Peninsula: The Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory of Beckman Instruments. From this seed, an entire microchip industry grew, establishing “Silicon Valley” as one of the world’s top centers of innovation.

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The Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation

"I accumulated my wealth by selling instruments to scientists, so I thought that it would be appropriate to make contributions to science. That’s been my number one guideline for charity"
-- Dr. Arnold O. Beckman

Dr. and Mrs. Beckman have generously contributed millions of dollars to the advancement of scientific research. In 1977, they made the decision to start the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation with a mission of supporting research in the chemical and life sciences (broadly defined) and especially in innovation in instrumentation.

In the first years of the Foundation, Dr. and Mrs. Beckman made five major institute grants to create new and innovative research centers:


These research centers continue to produce leading scientific breakthroughs and train the next generation of scientists in interdisciplinary research environments.

The Foundation also provided a grant to the National Academies of Science (NAS) to build the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center of the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering in Irvine, CA as a conference center and meeting space for scientific studies and discourse on the west coast.

Today, the Foundation is proud to continue the mission defined by Dr. and Mrs. Beckman to support innovation in science and the next generation of scientists through its grant programs.

Overview of the Foundation

Arnold O Beckman, a humble inventor whose ingenious instruments revolutionized science, earned a fortune in his lifetime. Arnold and Mabel Beckman believed in giving back, and their extraordinary philanthropy has touched countless lives by supporting cutting-edge research in chemistry and the life sciences now, and into the future.


Arnold and Mabel Beckman were true partners in their philanthropic efforts.

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Awards & Recognitions

Throughout his career, Dr. Beckman received numerous awards and recognitions, including the prestigious National Medal of Science, the Presidential Citizens Medal and the National Medal of Technology.


* 1957 Honorary Fellow of the American Institute of Chemists (AIC)

* 1960 "Illini" Achievement Award, University of Illinois

* 1966 Business Statesman Award, Harvard Business School of Southern California

* 1971 Industrialist of the Year Award, California Museum of Science and Industry 

* 1974 Outstanding Achievement in Business Management, Southern California School of Business Administration

* 1974 SAMA Award, Scientific Apparatus Makers Association

* 1974 Service Through Chemistry Award, American Chemical Society

* 1979 Private Enterprise Award, Pepperdine University 

* 1981 Distinguished Community Service Award, Americanism Education League

* 1981 ISCO Award, University of Nebraska

* 1982 Man of Science Award, Achievement Rewards for College Scientists; (ARC's) Foundation

* 1982 Golden Plate Award, American Academy of Achievement 

* 1983 Rock of Free Enterprise Award, Economic Development Corporation of Orange County

* 1983 Public Affairs Award, Coro Foundation 

* 1984 Outstanding Philanthropist Award, National Society of Fund Raising Executives 

* 1984 Vision Award, Luminaires (a support group for the Estelle Doheny Eye Foundation of Los Angeles)

* 1987 Vermilye Medal (the first of the Benjamin Franklin National Medals), the Franklin Institute

* 1987 National Inventors Hall of Fame, Washington, D.C. 

* 1988 The National Medal of Technology, The President of the United States

* 1989 The National Medal of Science, The President of the United States

* 1989 Presidential Citizens Medal, Washington, D.C.

* 1989 Henry Townley Heald Award, Illinois Institute of Technology

* 1989 Charles Lathrop Parsons Award, American Chemical Society

* 1990 High Tech Industry's Good Scout Award, Orange County Council, Boy Scouts of America 

* 1991 Achievement Award for Excellence, Center for Excellence in Education in Washington, D.C. 

* 1991 The Order of Lincoln, the State of Illinois.

* 1992 Bower Award for Business Leadership, The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia

* 1997 Master Entrepreneur of the Year, Ernst & Young, California

* 1997 Treasure of Los Angeles Award

* 1998 Excellence in Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame Award, Chapman University, California

* 1999 Public Welfare Medal, National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C.


Patent Number: Title: 
1,684,659 Signaling Device 
2,038,706 Inking Reel 
2,041,740 Inking Device
2,058,761 Apparatus for Testing Acidity (pH meter) 
2,277,287 Coating Materials such as Paper Bread Wrappers 
2,302,097 Swing Spout Device for Dispensing Liquids 
2,348,103 Soil Surveying for Oil Deposits
2,351,579 Method and Apparatus for Proportioning 
2,351,580 Method and Apparatus for Proportioning 
2,454,986 Variable Resistance Device (Helipot)
2,473,048 Variable Resistance Unit 
2,613,126 Recording Apparatus for Recording Gas Concentrations in the Atmosphere 
2,755,243 Electrochemical Electrode Structure 
3,234,540 Meter Pointer Position Monitoring Means Utilizing Heat Absorbing Vane and Thermistors.
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