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Oral history interview with Arnold O. Beckman

  • 1985-Apr-23

Oral history interview with Arnold O. Beckman

  • 1985-Apr-23

This interview, the first of several with Arnold Beckman conducted by the Chemical Heritage Foundation, begins with a discussion of Beckman's teenage experience as an industrial chemist at a local gas works in Bloomington, Illinois, and the Keystone Iron and Steel Works. A recollection of Beckman's student days at the University of Illinois, with special emphasis on some of the faculty and students, follows next. The central portion of the interview considers Beckman as a student and faculty member at Caltech and includes his early experiences with instrumentation, patents, and serving as an expert witness. The interview continues with Beckman discussing the origin of the pH meter and DU spectrophotometer, and concludes with the beginning stages of manufacturing and sales, emphasizing the principles used to build National Technical Laboratories, the company that would become Beckman Instruments.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 48 pages
Rights Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Rights holder
  • Science History Institute
Credit line
  • Courtesy of Science History Institute

About the Interviewers

Jeffrey L. Sturchio is president and CEO of the Global Health Council. Previously he served as vice president of corporate responsibility at Merck & Co., president of the Merck Company Foundation, and chairman of the U.S. Corporate Council on Africa. Sturchio is currently a visiting scholar at the Institute for Applied Economics and the Study of Business Enterprise at Johns Hopkins University and a member of the Global Agenda Council on the Healthy Next Generation of the World Economic Forum. He received an AB in history from Princeton University and a PhD in the history and sociology of science from the University of Pennsylvania.

Arnold Thackray founded the Chemical Heritage Foundation and served the organization as president for 25 years. He is currently CHF’s chancellor. Thackray received MA and PhD degrees in history of science from Cambridge University. He has held appointments at Cambridge, Oxford University, and Harvard University, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 1983 Thackray received the Dexter Award from the American Chemical Society for outstanding contributions to the history of chemistry. He served for more than a quarter century on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the founding chairman of the Department of History and Sociology of Science and is currently the Joseph Priestley Professor Emeritus.

Institutional location

Oral history number 0014A

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Interviewee biographical information

  • April 10, 1900
  • Cullom, Illinois, United States
  • May 18, 2004
  • La Jolla, California, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1922 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign BS Chemical Engineering
1923 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign MS Physical Chemistry
1928 California Institute of Technology PhD Photochemistry

Professional Experience

Bell Telephone Laboratories

  • 1924 to 1926 Research Engineer

California Institute of Technology

  • 1926 to 1929 Instructor
  • 1929 to 1940 Assistant Professor

National Inking Appliance Company

  • 1934 Vice President

Beckman Instruments, Inc.

  • 1937 to 1939 Vice President
  • 1939 to 1940 President
  • 1940 to 1965 President
  • 1946 to 1958 President
  • 1965 to 1985 Chairman of the Board

Helipot Corporation

  • 1944 to 1958 President


Year(s) Award
1960 Illinois Achievement Award, University of Illinois
1964 to 1974 Chairman, Board of Trustees, California Institute of Technology
1965 Honorary ScD degree, Chapman College
1969 Honorary LL D degree, University of California at Riverside
1969 Honorary LL D degree, Loyola University in California
1974 Scientific Apparatus Makers Association Award
1977 Honorary LL D degree, Pepperdine University
1977 Honorary ScD degree, Whittier College
1977 Arnold O. Beckman Conference in Clinical Chemistry, established by American Association for Clinical Chemistry
1980 Arnold O. Beckman Professorship of Chemistry, established by California Institute of Technology
1981 Hoover Medal, American Association of Engineering Societies
1981 Life Achievement Award, Instrument Society of America
1982 Diploma of Honor, Association of Clinical Scientists
1987 Vermilye Medal, The Franklin Institute
1987 National Inventors Hall of Fame, Washington, DC
1988 National Medal of Technology
1989 Charles Lathrop Parsons Award, American Chemical Society
1989 National Medal of Science

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PDF — 2.2 MB

The published version of the transcript may diverge from the interview audio due to edits to the transcript made by staff of the Center for Oral History, often at the request of the interviewee, during the transcript review process.

Complete Interview Audio File Web-quality download

5 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads