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Beckman Historical Collection

Identifier: 2012-002

Scope and Content

The Beckman Historical Collection contains the corporate records of the American scientific and medical instrument manufacturer Beckman Coulter, Incorporated and the personal papers of American scientist and industrialist Arnold O. Beckman. The collection is arranged into the following fourteen series:

  1. Arnold O. Beckman Files
  2. Business Activities Files
  3. Corporate and Division Histories
  4. Press Releases
  5. Financial Records
  6. In-House Publications
  7. Salvadoran Kidnappings and Negotiations
  8. Clippings and Advertisements
  9. Patent Files
  10. Photographic Materials
  11. Bulletins
  12. Audio-Visual Materials
  13. Oversized
  14. Instructions and Manuals


  • Creation: 1911-2011
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1935-2004


Language of Materials

Collection materials are mostly in English. A small amount of material in German is also included in this collection.

Access Restrictions

The Beckman Historical Collection is open to researchers with the exception of the following materials:

In Series I, all materials in Sub-series 5 - Financial Records are closed to researchers until 2064.

In Series V, selected items in Sub-series 1 - Ledgers are closed to researchers until 2039.

Copyright Information

The Science History Institute does not hold copyright to materials in the Beckman Historical Collection. The researcher assumes full responsibility for all copyright, property, and libel laws as they apply.

Background Note

Dr. Arnold Orville Beckman, the founder of scientific and medical instrument manufacturer Beckman Coulter, Incorporated, was a prominent American scientist, inventor, industrialist, and philanthropist. Born in Cullom, Illinois on April 10, 1900, Beckman first became interested in chemistry at the age of nine, when he found a copy of J. Dorman Steele's textbook, Fourteen Weeks in Chemistry in his family's home. Encouraged by his father, he converted a tool shed into a laboratory and developed his interest in chemistry over the course of his childhood and adolescence. Beckman graduated as class valedictorian from University High School in Normal, Illinois in 1918 and served in the United States Marine Corps during the last months of World War I.

After his discharge from the Marine Corps in 1919, Beckman furthered his education by earning a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering (1922) and a master's degree in physical chemistry (1923) from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He entered the California Institute of Technology as a doctoral student in 1923, but interrupted his studies after one year to work for Western Electric Company in New York City, where he became interested in electronics. Beckman resumed his graduate studies at Cal Tech in 1926. While still a graduate student, he obtained the first of fourteen patents awarded to him in his lifetime. His first patent was for a "signaling device", a buzzer attached to an automobile's speedometer, which was designed to help drivers regulate their speed. Beckman earned his Ph.D. in photochemistry from Cal Tech in 1928.

From 1928 to 1940, Beckman served as a chemistry professor at Cal Tech. He became fascinated with scientific instrumentation and increasingly focused his attention upon this area as his academic career progressed. In addition to his faculty duties, Beckman was retained as a consultant by a number of businesses, and served as an expert witness in a number of legal cases involving chemistry, which included the Church Horse Doping Case and the Cox and Weatherill Oil Swindle Case.

In 1934, while still a professor at Cal Tech, Beckman was retained as a consultant by National Postal Meter Company to develop a non-clogging ink for postal meters. Beckman developed a non-clogging ink, albeit one noted for its rancid odor. He also invented and patented two appliances to apply the ink: an inking reel and an inking device. To manufacture the ink and develop the inking appliances, National Postal Meter set up a subsidiary named National Inking Appliance Company, and named Beckman Vice-President and Manager. Setting up shop in a garage in Pasadena, California, Beckman soon found that there was not much of a market for these products and this venture was not particularly successful.

Around the same time, Beckman was approached by Glen Joseph, a chemist for the California Fruit Growers Exchange, who needed an electrochemical device to measure the acidity of lemon juice. In response to this need, Beckman invented and patented the first commercially successful pH meter. Later named the Model E, Beckman's new pH meter worked so well that he was soon asked to build more of them.

Seeing a line of business that was potentially more profitable than postal meter ink and inking appliances, Beckman shifted his firm's focus to the manufacture of pH meters. To reflect this change, National Inking Appliance Company was renamed National Technical Laboratories on April 8, 1935. Now independent of National Postal Meter Company, with Beckman serving as Vice-President and owning a 10% stake, the company sold eighty-seven Model E pH meters in its first year. By 1939, National Technical Laboratories had experienced significant growth, which led to Beckman being named President of the company. In 1940, Beckman resigned his professorship at Cal Tech to devote full-time attention to his firm. That same year, the company moved into its own building in South Pasadena, California.

National Technical Laboratories expanded its line of instruments during World War II and made a number of notable contributions to the American war effort. Under Beckman's leadership, the firm introduced the Helipot Potentiometer in 1940, which became a vital component in American military radar systems. Beckman also spearheaded the development of the DU Spectrophotometer. Introduced in 1941, the DU Spectrophotometer revolutionized biochemical analysis and found numerous applications during the war, including the development and production of penicillin. In 1942, National Technical Laboratories introduced the IR-1 Spectrophotometer, an infrared spectrophotometer that was used in the development of synthetic rubber. Under Beckman's direction, National Technical Laboratories further contributed to the war effort by building micro-microammeters and dosimeters, both of which were used by the Manhattan Project.

In addition to running National Technical Laboratories, Beckman founded two additional business concerns during World War II. In 1942, he established Arnold O. Beckman, Incorporated to manufacture the Pauling Oxygen Analyzer, an instrument for measuring oxygen levels in submarines and aircraft. This company also built dosimeters for the Manhattan Project. In 1943, Beckman formed Helipot Corporation, a spin-off of National Technical Laboratories, to manufacture Helipot Potentiometers. Both of these firms maintained a close association with National Technical Laboratories after the war.

In the post-war years, National Technical Laboratories continued to experience rapid growth, which prompted the firm to expand its plant space in South Pasadena. During this time period, the company also underwent significant structural changes. In 1948, after briefly considering a merger with Minneapolis-Honeywell Regulator Company, Beckman gained majority control of the firm by purchasing the stake of recently deceased investor, John J. Murdock. On April 27, 1950, he renamed the company Beckman Instruments, Incorporated. Beckman Instruments became a publically traded company in 1952 when it issued its first stock offering on the New York Curb Exchange.

During the 1950s, under Dr. Beckman's undisputed leadership, Beckman Instruments, Incorporated grew exponentially and became a world leader in the manufacture of scientific instruments. Beckman Instruments acquired a number of other companies, including Berkeley Scientific Corporation (1952) and Spinco (1955). In 1953, the firm opened its first foreign subsidiary, Beckman GmbH, in Munich, West Germany. To help accommodate its rapid growth, Beckman Instruments moved its headquarters and principal operations to a new facility in Fullerton, California in 1954. Helipot Corporation and Arnold O. Beckman, Incorporated were formally integrated into Beckman Instruments in 1958.

In addition to expanding in size, Beckman Instruments, Incorporated continued to expand its product line during the 1950s. By purchasing Berkeley Scientific Corporation, Beckman Instruments entered the computer business and was for a time a leader in this field. Through its acquisition of Spinco, the firm entered the biomedical field and became a major manufacturer of centrifuges. In 1955, Beckman Instruments became one of the founders of California's Silicon Valley by establishing Shockley Semiconductor Laboratories. But this operation was not particularly successful and it was sold to Clevite Corporation in 1960.

The 1960s and 1970s saw significant changes at Beckman Instruments, Incorporated. Arnold O. Beckman retired as President in 1965, but he continued to serve the firm as Chairman of the Board. Under the leadership of new President William Ballhaus, the company repositioned itself in the marketplace as a manufacturer of biomedical instruments. This strategy proved successful and Beckman Instruments became a world leader in this field by the 1970s. Helped by sales of its biomedical instruments, including the revolutionary Glucose Analyzer (introduced in 1969), the company continued to expand both in the United States and overseas.

One of Beckman Instruments' international operations was negatively impacted by political and social unrest encountered by corporations doing business in developing countries during the 1970s. In 1979, two Beckman executives were kidnapped by terrorists near the firm's Aplar manufacturing plant in San Salvador, El Salvador. The hostages were safely returned after Beckman Instruments paid an undisclosed ransom to the kidnappers. This incident prompted the company to close down its Salvadoran operation before the end of the year.

In 1981, Arnold O. Beckman sold Beckman Instruments, Incorporated to pharmaceuticals manufacturer SmithKline Corporation. The two companies merged in 1982 to form SmithKline Beckman Corporation. During this short-lived corporate marriage, Beckman Instruments' process instruments and electronic components operations were sold to Emerson Electronics Company. Deciding that it needed to concentrate solely on its pharmaceuticals business, SmithKline spun off Beckman Instruments in 1988. In 1989, Beckman Instruments was reestablished as an independent, publically traded concern.

In 1997, Beckman Instruments, Incorporated purchased Coulter Corporation. Founded in 1958 by brothers Wallace and Joseph Coulter, Coulter Corporation was a well-known manufacturer of blood and cell analysis instruments. The two firms subsequently merged and the new company was named Beckman Coulter, Incorporated in 1998.

Beckman Coulter opened a new world headquarters in Brea, California in 2009. In 2013, the firm was acquired by Danaher Corporation and its common stock ceased trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Beckman Coulter, Incorporated is presently an indirect wholly owned subsidiary of Danaher Corporation.

A firm believer in serving one's community, Arnold O. Beckman involved himself in a number of civic activities. He was particularly active in efforts to combat smog in Southern California. From 1948 to 1952, Beckman served as a scientific consultant to the Los Angeles County Air Pollution Control District, where he helped determine the cause of the area's smog. Working with James McCullough, he developed and patented an instrument for measuring gas concentrations in the atmosphere. In 1953, California Governor Goodwin Knight appointed Beckman as head of the Special Committee on Air Pollution. The end result of this committee's work was "The Beckman Bible", which outlined steps to reduce smog. Beckman was also an active member of the Los Angles Chamber of Commerce, serving as a term as the organization's president in 1956. During the 1960s and 1970s, he served as chairman of the Lincoln Club of Orange County.

In addition to being a successful scientist, inventor, and industrialist, Dr. Beckman was also a well-known philanthropist. He maintained a close relationship with the California Institute of Technology, serving on the university's Board of Trustees (including a stint as Chairman) and funding the construction of the Beckman Auditorium (1964) and the Mabel and Arnold Beckman Laboratories of Behavioral Biology (1974). In 1977, Beckman and his wife Mabel established the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, which makes grants to non-profit research institutions in support of scientific research in the life sciences and chemistry.

Through their foundation, Dr. and Mrs. Beckman provided funding for the following centers during the 1980s:

  1. Beckman Research Institute at the City of Hope National Medical Center, Duarte, California
  2. Beckman Laser Institute at the University of California, Irvine
  3. Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  4. Beckman Center for Molecular and Genetic Medicine at Stanford University
  5. Beckman Institute at the California Institute of Technology

Also through their foundation, the Beckmans donated the following major gifts:

  1. The Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry at the Chemical Heritage Foundation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  2. The Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center of the National Academies of Science and Engineering, Irvine, California
  3. Pepperdine University School of Business & Management's MBA Program

Over the course of his life, Dr. Beckman received numerous awards and honors for his contributions to science, technology, and business, which include the following:

  1. Induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame - 1987
  2. National Medal of Technology - 1988
  3. National Medal of Science Award - 1989
  4. Chemical Heritage Foundation’s Othmer Gold Medal - 2000

Dr. Arnold O. Beckman passed away on May 18, 2004.


Beckman Historical Collection, Chemical Heritage Foundation Archives, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Thackray, and Minor Myers, Jr., Arnold Beckman, One Hundred Years of Excellence, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Chemical Heritage Foundation, 2000.


137.2 Linear Feet (131 Boxes (81 Record Boxes, 10 Hollinger Boxes, 3 Half Hollinger Boxes, 26 Photo Album Boxes, 2 Videotape Boxes, 1 Audiocassette Box, 4 CD-ROM Boxes, and 4 Oversized Boxes))


Business records, correspondence, research files, financial records, photographs, publications, and audio-visual materials of American scientist and industrialist Arnold O. Beckman and the American scientific and medical instrument manufacturer Beckman Coulter, Incorporated.

Acquisition Information

The Beckman Historical Collection was donated to the Science History Institute (formerly the Chemical Heritage Foundation) by Beckman Coulter, Incorporated and the Beckman Foundation in November 2011.

Digitized Materials

To view selected digitized materials from this collection, please see our online Digital Collections:

Related Materials

There is one other known Arnold O. Beckman collection preserved at the California Institute of Technology Archives in Pasadena, California.

Processing Information

The Beckman Historical Collection was processed by Kenton G. Jaehnig in July 2014.

Beckman Historical Collection
Finding aid created and encoded into EAD by Kenton G. Jaehnig
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Revision Statements

  • 2015: Finding aid revised by Kenton G. Jaehnig
  • 8/28/2023: Digitized Materials note added.

Repository Details

Part of the Science History Institute Archives Repository

315 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia PA 19106 United States
215.873.5265 (Fax)