Arnold Orville Beckman (April 10, 1900 – May 18, 2004) was an American chemist who founded Beckman Instruments based on his invention of the pH meter, a device for measuring acidity, in 1934. He also funded the first silicon transistor company, thus giving rise to Silicon Valley.
World War I was still raging when Beckman turned 18, and so in August 1918, he enlisted in the United States Marines. After his basic training, he was sent to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, to await transit to the war in Europe. Fortunately for him, the war ended in November, 1918, and he did not have to fight in France. By another stroke of luck, he missed being sent to Russia to fight the Bolsheviks by one space in line. Instead, he spent that Thanksgiving at the local YMCA, where his table was served by 17-year-old Mabel Meinzer, who became his wife.
Having a choice between the University of Chicago, MIT and Caltech, Beckman decided that the Golden State was for him, and decided to go to Caltech for his doctorate. He stayed there for a year, but decided to return to New York and his fianceé, Mabel, who was working as a secretary for the Equitable Life Assurance Society. He found a job with Western Electric's engineering department, the precursor to the Bell Telephone Laboratories.
At Western Electric, Beckman developed quality control programs for the manufacturement of vacuum tubes and learned about circuit design. It was here that Beckman discovered his interest in electronics.
Beckman married Mabel on 10 June, 1925. The following year, the couple moved back to California and Beckman resumed his studies at Caltech. He became interested in ultraviolet photolysis and worked with his doctoral advisor, Roscoe G. Dickinson, on an instrument to find the energy of ultraviolet light. It worked by shining the ultraviolet light onto a thermocouple, converting the incident heat into electricity, which drove a galvanometer. After receiving his doctorate in 1928, Beckman was asked to stay on at Caltech as an instructor and then as a professor.
One of his clients wanted an ink that would not clog. Beckman's solution was to make it with butyric acid, a very noxious substance. Because of this ingredient, no manufacturer wanted to manufacture it, so Beckman decided to make it himself. He hired two Caltech students to help him, and started the National Inking Appliance Company. At first, he tried marketing it as a way to re-ink typewriter ribbons, but this approach was not successful.
Another client, Sunkist, was having problems with its own manufacturing process. The lemons that were not salable as produce were made into pectin or citric acid, with sulfur dioxide used as a preservative. Sunkist needed to know what the acidity of the product was at any given time, and the methods then in use, such as litmus paper, were not working well.
Beckman invented the pH meter in 1935. Originally called the acidimeter, the pH meter is an important device for measuring the pH of a solution.
During his later years, Beckman lived in Corona del Mar near Newport Beach, California. He was an active philanthropist through the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation. To date, the Foundation has given more than 400 million dollars to various charities and organizations. Donations chiefly went to scientists and scientific causes as well as his alma maters. He is the namesake of The Beckman Institute and the Beckman Quadrangle at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is also the namesake of the Beckman Institute, Beckman Auditorium, Beckman Laboratory of Behavorial Sciences, and Beckman Laboratory of Chemical Synthesis at the California Institute of Technology.
Dr. Beckman's history and the unique Heritage Center is located at the Beckman Coulter headquarters in Fullerton, California.