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The Start of the Electonic Revolution

A (very) brief history of pH measurements

pH = - log[H+]

The first publication of measuring pH of a solution was in 1909 by Danish chemist Sorenson. Some early applications of measuring pH were in the connection to food processing and safety, specifically how bacterial cultures change depending on pH. However, the determination of pH required experienced chemists and laboratory-based equipment.

Dr. Glenn Joseph's Problem and Call to Dr. Arnold O. Beckman

A former classmate and friend of Dr. Beckman’s from UIUC, Dr. Joseph was working at the California Citrus Growers analyzing lemon juice extracts. His tools for measuring acidity used very fragile glass electrodes, and they were not accurate enough.

Dr. Joseph asked Dr. Beckman if he knew of a better method for measuring acidity of his complex samples:

  • More robust glass electrodes
  • Better signal amplification
  • Field-portable, if possible

Dr. Beckman used his electronics knowledge to make a better amplifier, and his glassblowing expertise to make a better electrode. About a month later, he sent the “Model A” acidimeter to Dr. Joseph for testing, and he kept a replica in his laboratory to experiment with improvements.

Dr. Joseph called again a few months later requesting a second acidimeter because "someone else was always using the first one". Dr. Beckman continued making improvements to his orignial design, and began investigating a potential market and customers for his new device.

Some Early Customer Feedback

Early pH Meter Customer Feedback.jpg

The Start of National Technical Laboratories

In 1935, Dr. Beckman set up a small shop in Pasadena with students from his laboratory to make pH meters, began showing his new instrument to other industrial chemists, placing advertisements in leading technical journals, and traveling across the U.S. by train with his wife Mabel to demonstrate this new instrument to potential buyers. The orders for instruments began pouring in, and Dr. Beckman had to choose between continuing his teaching career and managing the growing business.

Dr Beckman

“At the time, leaving Caltech was a difficult decision to make as anything that smacked of commercialism was frowned upon.”

Dr. Arnold O. Beckman

National Technical Laboratories Staff and Facilities, 1934-1940

First Years of National Technical Laboratories.jpg

From this chance phone call, National Technical Laboratories became a sucessful business, changing it's name to Beckman Instruments and moving the headquarters to Fullerton, CA in the 1940s.

Video about the invention and impact of the pH meter