A small town boy who found a book ~ Arnold Beckman


Arnold Beckman’s 7 Rules for Living

1)  Absolute integrity in everything

2)  There is no satisfactory subsitute for excellence

3)  Moderation in everything, including moderation

4)  Hire the best people, then get out of the their way

5)  Don’t be afraid to make mistakes; if you’re not making mistakes you’re probably not doing very much

6)  Acquire new knowledge, and always ask ‘why’

7)  Don’t take yourself too seriously

Headstone Located In West Lawn Cemetery
Cullom, Illinois <click on image to enlarge>

The unassuming headstone for Arnold & Mable Beckman is located in West Lawn Cemetery in Cullom.  Arnold Orville Beckman was born in Cullom, IL in 1900, the son of the local blacksmith, George Beckman and his wife Elizabeth Jewkes.  In 1925 Arnold married Mabel Meinzer.

In 1909, Arnold  Beckman found an old dusty science book in the attic of his parent’s  home, Steel’s Fourteen Weeks in Chemistry He studied this book and his curiosity and passion for science began.  At the age of eleven, Arnold helped his father convert on old tool shed in back of the house for a place to work on his experiments, buying chemicals he needed from the local drugstore.  One of his first experiments was to measure the butterfat content of raw milk for a local dairy.  <Due to the close proximity, I wonder if it might have been for my Great-grandfather Hahn’s dairy>  His mother died when he was twelve and he and his father moved to Bloomington, IL where Arnold completed his education taking university level chemistry classes at University High School in Normal, IL.  He went on to study at the University of Illinois and Cal Tech.

In 1935 to help a friend from the California Fruit Growers Association, Beckman developed what he called an ‘acidimeter’, to test the pH factor of lemons.  When other fruit growers requested the same piece of equipment, Beckman saw the potential and started the National Technical Laboratories to manufacture the devices.

Arnold Beckman is shown with an “acidimeter the first pH meter”

Today, his invention is known as the ‘pH meter’.   It quickly became an indispensable tool in analytical chemistry and earned Mr. Beckman in 1987 a place in the National Inventors Hall of Fame.  In 1988 he was awarded the National Medal of Technology for outstanding technological contributions to the United States.  

Mable, President Reagan, & Dr. Beckman

He was also nationally recognized under the Reagan administration with the 1989 Presidential Citizens Medal for his exemplary deeds of service.  In 1991 he was awarded ‘The Order of Lincoln’ from the State of Illinois.  These are just a few of the honors Beckman received in his lifetime, not bad for a boy from a small town with humble beginnings.

Dr. Beckman with his Son and President George H.W. Bush

In 1942 The U.S. Government hires Beckman to produce Infrared Spectrophotometers for the war effort.  He also develops Ultraviolet Spectrophotometer which was later used in molecular biology, to probe the nature of DNA.

By 1950 he changed his company’s name to Beckman Instruments.  The product line for his company included electrical resistors, radar equipment, micro circuitry, heart monitors, and liquid crystal digital displays.  One invention which became an industry standard were Beckman’s oxygen meters used in incubators for premature babies, helping to prevent retina damage and blindness in newborns.

Always on the cutting edge of innovation and science, in 1955 Beckman provided seed money to William Shockley the founder of Shockley Semiconductor in Palo Alto, CA.   An entire microchip industry grew, establishing Silicon Valley as one of the world’s top centers of innovation. This company was one of the first Silicon Valley businesses, and later was absorbed into Beckman Industries. 

Arnold & Mable Beckman

1977 saw the establishment of the Arnold and Mable Beckman Foundation.  The Foundation has donated over $400 million to advance science, medicine, engineering, and education.

“The past years have been rewarding for me in many ways,” said Dr. Beckman, during the Golden Anniversary celebration for Beckman Instruments, Inc. “Perhaps the greatest reward is the knowledge that Beckman products have contributed and are contributing to the benefit of mankind.”

All this from a boy in a small town who found a book…

Later… Barbara

California Institute of Technology
Beckman Institute for the Chemical & Biological Science

University of Illinois at Urbana
Beckman Institute for Advanced Science & Technology

Beckman Center for Molecular & Genetic Medicine

City of Hope
Beckman Research Institute

Beckman Laser Institute
for Advanced Science & Technology

Beckman Memorial Library
Main Street Cullom, IL


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