Origins: Birth of the pH Meter

Arnold O. Beckman was a Caltech alumnus (PhD ‘28), former faculty member, and trustee. He was also the founder of Beckman Instruments (now Beckman Coulter), a company that began with Beckman’s invention of the pH meter, now one of the most widely used pieces of laboratory equipment in the world.

The pH meter’s story started in 1934, when one of Beckman’s undergrad classmates from the University of Illinois at Urbana, Glen Joseph—who was then working for the California Fruit Growers Exchange—came to Beckman’s Caltech office with a lemon problem. Here is how Beckman recalled that encounter during a 1978 interview with Mary Terrall for the Caltech Oral Histories Project.

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Begin at the Beginning

“ As this, the first issue of the Caltech Alumni Review goes to press we feel like the
frosh who has just purchased a bright new beanie and is trying it on in front of
his mirror. Admiring his reflection he is happy at the thought that he is now old
enough to be a college man and proud of his new colors—when the terrible thought
occurs to him that as soon as he steps from the privacy of his room he will be
laughed at, criticised, and paddled by the sophs, ignored by the upperclassmen.”

So began the “Foreword” of the enterprise that begat the E&S magazine in your hands—or on your computer screen or tablet or smart phone. Edited by Albert W. Atwood Jr., BS ‘32, and published by the Alumni Association of the California Institute of Technology, the very first issue of the Institute’s very first magazine—published in June of 1937—was not that very different from the E&S of today.

Click here to read the entire story.