Businessman and philanthropist
Glen Joseph's visit in 1934 led to the development of the pH meter, which in the late 1930s became a commercial
success. When Beckman decided to leave academia and devote himself fulltime to business, National Technical Laboratories
began to manufacture other instruments in addition to the pH meter. Because business was good and because NTL was
branching out, the company moved in 1940 into its new 12,000-square-foot facility at 820 Mission Street in South Pasadena.
NTL's next major advance was the DU spectrophotometer, which used some of the technology first applied in the pH meter. Both
instruments, for example, shared the same amplifier. Both devices lived up to Beckman's motto: "Simplicity for the user is
the keynote in the design of all our instruments."1 The DU spectrophotometer simplified laboratory procedures for
making and recording the ultraviolet spectra of compounds. By helping to determine their molecular structure, the DU has assisted
in the development of drugs and foods. For example, during the Second World War the instrument helped researchers to understand
the chemical structure of penicillin.
National Technical Laboratories aided the war effort in other ways. Beckman was asked to assist in the development of radar,
specifically to develop accurate and reliable potentiometers - control knobs. After some trial and error Beckman developed the
Helipot - which stood for "helical potentiometer" - which precisely fit the military's needs and soon NTL was deluged with orders,
forcing Beckman to create a subsidiary of NTL known as the Helipot Corporation to produce the components. Helipot was the first
company owned directly by Beckman and it also signified that Beckman was interested in producing components as well as instruments.
NTL grew rapidly throughout the 1940s. In 1948 Beckman was able to purchase enough stock to gain control of the company. In 1950 the
company changed its name to Beckman Instruments and two years later it became a publicly traded corporation. Sale of stock brought
an infusion of capital that Beckman Instruments used to buy new, expensive technology and to pursue costly lines of research.
As his business grew, Beckman became more involved in community issues. Southern California was growing rapidly in these years and by
mid-century reliance on the automobile had made smog a regional problem. Beckman was a member of a Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce
scientific advisory group and he encouraged research that identified ozone as the likely cause of smog. He chaired the Special Committee
on Air Pollution; its findings, released in 1953, led to enactment of city and state pollution control measures. In 1970 he was named
to the Federal Air Quality Board.
In 1953 Beckman Instruments broke ground on a huge complex in Fullerton, California, a facility still used by the company's
successor. In 1965 Beckman retired as president of Beckman Instruments, becoming chairman of the board. This change did not
slow the company's growth. In 1969 Beckman Instruments introduced the glucose analyzer and two years later the blood urea
nitrogen analyzer. These were cutting-edge instruments that allowed doctors to make rapid diagnoses. Beckman researchers,
using techniques developed in the company's early years, continued to make medical instruments both more sophisticated but
also simpler to use. Beckman Instruments soon began marketing the STAT Lab, a series of instruments linked to a central
computer that performed quick diagnoses in the emergency room.
Beckman Instruments diversified throughout the last decades of the twentieth century, developing into a leader in the
manufacturing of instruments used in medicine and industry and in research, even space exploration. In 1981 Beckman
Instruments merged with SmithKline Corporation, the huge pharmaceutical company. The new corporation became known as
SmithKline Beckman. In 1989 SmithKline, deciding that the two companies did not fit well, spun off Beckman Instruments.
In 1997 Beckman Instruments became Beckman Coulter, a multinational company with offices in 130 countries and sales in
2002 in excess of two billion dollars.
Having made a fortune, Beckman decided to give it away. Beckman's interest in philanthropy intensified as he was surrendering
control of the business he built. In 1977 he and his wife created the Beckman Foundation with a mission to support basic
scientific research with an emphasis on chemistry. The Beckmans were the staff and the office was their dining room table.
In addition to a number of small grants, the Beckman Foundation gave substantial gifts to the Scripps Clinic and to the
University of Illinois.
In the 1980s the Beckmans made major donations to create five Beckman Institutes devoted to cutting-edge research in the
molecular sciences. The first was the Beckman Research Institute at the City of Hope National Medical Center in Duarte,
California. Shortly after came the Beckman Laser Institute at the University of California at Irvine. In 1989 the Beckman
Center, part of Stanford University's Medical School, opened to foster research in molecular and genetic medicine. There were
also Beckman Institutes at the universities with which Beckman had been associated: the University of Illinois and the
California Institute of Technology. In addition to the five institutes, Beckman gave two million dollars to the Chemical
Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia for the Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry.
1 Arnold O. Beckman, Speech before the Newcomen Society, Los Angeles, November 10, 1975, printed as Arnold O.
Beckman, Beckman Instruments, Inc. (New York, The Newcomen Society in North America, 1976), p. 13