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Beckman Instruments

History of Beckman Coulter

Since 1935, the Beckman name has been synonymous with technologies that simplify and automate complex biomedical testing. Decades later, our organization expanded to include the Coulter name—widely recognized as part of the foundational Coulter Principle. Read on to learn more about the fascinating history of the company known today as Beckman Coulter Life Sciences…


Highly respected Caltech Professor Arnold Beckman founded National Technical Laboratories (NTL) in Pasadena, CA, and sold 87 of his patented pH meters, grossing more than $11,000.


NTL introduced Models G and M Beckman pH meters, and continued experimental work on a recording pH meter, oxygen regulator, chemical thermometer, and other technologies.


Dr. Beckman left Caltech to devote himself full-time to developing and manufacturing scientific instruments. He moved his company into its first “headquarters” building in South Pasadena, and introduced a new product that would help grow the company: the Helipot® Precision Potentiometer, a device that regulates the flow of electricity, much like the volume dial on a radio.


As World War II continued to escalate, MIT’s Radiation Laboratory asked NTL to produce Helipots for its then-secret RADAR systems.


Dr. Beckman redesigned the Helipot to meet specific needs of the U.S. military, and created the Helipot Corporation to help keep up with demand.


With sales increasing by a factor of 10+ since 1941 (to more than $2.6 million), Dr. Beckman began building a new 27,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in South Pasadena.


Debut of the Model E Ultracentrifuge!


National Technical Laboratories officially changed its name to Beckman Instruments, Inc.

Debut of the Model L Preparative Ultracentrifuge!


Beckman Instruments, Inc. acquired Helipot Corporation and Berkeley Scientific Corporation, the latter being a manufacturer of instruments for measuring radioactivity. The company also made its first public stock offering, making 371,553 shares available for $12.50/share.


Established the 1st overseas subsidiary—Beckman Instruments, GmbH, in Munich, Germany.


Beckman Instruments stock was listed on the Los Angeles and San Francisco Stock Exchanges, and its headquarters and principal operations were moved from Pasadena to a new facility in Fullerton, California.


Beckman Instruments stock was listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), and, in what would prove to be a pivotal decision in the company’s history, Dr. Beckman acquired Specialized Instruments Corporation (SPINCO), a manufacturer of centrifuges.


Debut of the Pocket pH Meter!


Established Beckman Instruments, Ltd., in Glenrothes, Scotland.


Acquired Tool Lab, Inc., as well as Kruger Instruments Co. (Pasadena, CA), a manufacturer of air quality instruments.


Established Beckman Instruments International, S.A., in Geneva, Switzerland.

Debut of the Microfuge Centrifuge for clinical lab samples!


Acquired Offner Electronics, Inc. (Schiller Park, IL), a manufacturer of direct-writing oscillographs and electroencephalographs.


Established Beckman-Toshiba, Ltd. to manufacture and distribute its products in Japan.


Established Beckman Instruments (Pty.) Ltd., in Cape Town, South Africa, and Beckman Instruments France, S.A., in Paris.

Debut of the 1st Titanium Ultracentrifuge Rotor!


Debut of the 1st Zonal Ultracentrifuge!


For the first time ever, company sales surpassed $100 million. Dr. Beckman was named Chairman of the Board, and Dr. William Ballhaus joined the company as its new President. Also this year, the company acquired General Instruments Co., Ltd., London, a manufacturer of analytical instruments/accessories.


Formed a new subsidiary firm: Beckman Instruments de Mexico, S.A. de C.V., Mexico City, and established Beckman Instruments (Puerto Rico) Inc., in San Juan.


Established Beckman Instruments, GmbH in Vienna, Austria, Beckman Instruments, Nederland, N.V. in Amsterdam, and LKB-Beckman Instruments, AB, in Stockholm, Sweden.


Launched Beckman Instruments Italiana S.p.a., in Milan, Italy, and established Diagnostics Operations to develop/produce clinical reagents.

Debut of the J-21 High-Speed Centrifuge!


Established Beckman Instruments (Ireland) Inc., in Galway, as well as a new Science Essentials Operations to distribute laboratory instruments and other equipment produced by Beckman and other manufacturers.


To expand production of clinical reagents and other biochemicals, Beckman Microbics Operations occupied a new Carlsbad, CA plant. In addition, the company acquired Sperry Rand Corporation’s Sperry Information Displays Division (Scottsdale, AZ), a manufacturer of planar gas discharge displays.

Debut of the L5 Preparative Ultracentrifuge & the Model 4500 Digital pH Meter!


Completed a new plant in Irvine, CA, for its Scientific Instruments Division, and acquired Greiner Scientific Co., (New York, NY) a distributor of laboratory instruments and supplies.


Debut of the Airfuge Ultracentrifuge!


Acquired Altex Scientific Inc., (Berkeley, CA), a manufacturer of high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) systems.


A year of soaring highs and tragic lows. In addition to opening a new plant in Brea, CA, for its Clinical Instruments Division, the company discontinued its component manufacturing operations in El Salvador, following the kidnapping of two American executives by a revolutionary group in that country. Both executives were returned safely after the company met the terrorists’ demand for ransom payments.


Established Beckman Instruments AB, in Bromma, Sweden, and Beckman Instruments (Hong Kong) Ltd., Kowloon, Hong Kong. The company also acquired SpectraMetrics, Inc., (Andover, MA), a manufacturer of plasma emission spectrometers.


Established Beckman Technical Center in The People’s Republic of China, Beckman/CSIMC, Beijing, Beckman Instruments Singapore (Pte.) Ltd., and Beckman Instruments (Australia) Pty. Ltd., in Melbourne.


Beckman Instruments merged with SmithKline Corporation (Philadelphia, PA), to form SmithKline Beckman (SKB) Corporation, with Dr. Beckman elected as a director of SKB.
Beckman Instruments subsequently became an SKB subsidiary, and, after the retirement of Dr. William Ballhaus, Louis T. Rosso was named the company’s new President and COO.


Acquired Micro-Media Systems, Inc., (Potomac, MD), a producer of clinical microbiology products, and Computer Inquiry Systems, Inc., (Waldwick, NJ), a manufacturer of digital computer systems for analytical laboratory automation.


Debut of the TL 100 Tabletop Preparative Ultracentrifuge!


Debut of the Biomek 1000 Automated Laboratory Workstation!


Representing 16% of SmithKline Beckman, Beckman Instruments was re-listed as a public company on the New York Stock Exchange, and Louis T. Rosso was named President/CEO.

Debut of the Biomek SL Robotic Arm!


After a partial spin-off from SmithKline Beckman the previous year, Beckman Instruments is once again established as an independent corporation.

Debut of the L & XL Optima Series Ultracentrifuges!


Debut of the XL-A Analytical Ultracentrifuge and tabletop OPTIMA Ultracentrifuge!


Facilities in Allendale, NJ, and Palo Alto, and Porterville, CA, were registered as ISO 9000 sites in compliance with EC 1992 quality standards. Likewise, Beckman subsidiaries in the UK, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, and Switzerland earned ISO 9000 registration. This was the 1st year Beckman Instruments was able to put the coveted CE Mark on six of its scientific instruments.


Debut of the Avanti 30 Tabletop Centrifuge!


The National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) recommended Beckman South Africa operations for ISO 9001 certification, bringing to 23 the number of facilities with ISO 9000 registration. The company also establishment Beckman Eurocenter S.A. in Nyon, Switzerland.

Debut of the Biomek 2000 Laboratory Automation Workstation!


Beckman Instruments introduced its first site on the World Wide Web.

Debut of the Avanti J-25 High-Performance Centrifuge and the Optima XL-100 Ultracentrifuge!


Announced a distribution agreement with SAGIAN, Inc. (Indianapolis, IN), for its ORCA robot system and SAMI software, in combination with Beckman’s Biomek® 2000 Lab Automation Workstation. Later that year, Beckman Instruments acquired 75 employees and the net assets of SAGIAN’s laboratory robotics division in Indianapolis.


Acquired Coulter Corporation, the leading manufacturer of systems for cell analysis. The acquisition created a $1.7 billion corporation capable of providing 75% of the most commonly used tests for clinical diagnostics. In addition, the company announced plans to acquire the ACCESS® immunochemistry product line in Chaska, MN, from Sanofi Diagnostics Pasteur.


The company changed its name to Beckman Coulter, Inc., CEO Lou Rosso retired, and John P. (Jack) Wareham was named new President and COO.

Debut of the Optima MAX Ultracentrifuge (1st to surpass 1 million x g of force)!


Debut of the COULTER Hematology Analyzer!


Debut of the Biomek FX Liquid Handling Workstation!


Moved the Coulter Corporation’s cellular analysis instrument manufacturing from Hialeah to Kendall, FL, and announced the formation of three new divisions: Life Science Research, Specialty Testing and Clinical Diagnostics. In addition, the company acquired Anthos Labtec Instruments, GmbH, an Austria-based manufacturer of microtiter plate readers, washers and shakers.

Debut of Span-8, 384-well & 1,536-well pipetting options for the Biomek® FX system!


Debut of the Vi-CELL™ Cell Viability Analyzer, Avanti® J-E Centrifuge and Optima™ L-XP Ultracentrifuge System!


Acquired the technologies of Peoples Genetics, Inc., which could be used to analyze large pooled samples of patient DNA, as well as purchasing the assets of Q3DM Inc., which included a cell imaging platform, software and cell imaging applications.


The world lost a scientific giant, as Dr. Arnold O. Beckman died at age 104.

Debut of Biomek 3000 & Biomek NX Liquid Handling Workstations, the FC 500 CXP Flow Cytometry System and Allegra X-15R Refrigerated Benchtop Centrifuge!


Scott Garrett named Chief Executive Officer, and the Beckman Coulter board named Betty Woods as non-executive Chairman. In addition, the company acquired Agencourt Bioscience Corporation, known for its nucleic acid sample preparation technology.

Debut of Genfind DNA Isolation Kit!


Signed an agreement to acquire Lumigen, Inc., a leading manufacturer of novel detection chemistries for high-sensitivity testing in clinical diagnostics and life science research.


Announced relocation of the centrifugation division from Palo Alto, CA, to Indianapolis, and also acquired the flow cytometry business of Dako Denmark AS.


Acquired the lab-based clinical diagnostics business unit of Tokyo-based Olympus – by most reports the first time an American company had acquired a Japanese manufacturer of this scale. The company also consolidated its Orange County, CA facilities and opened its new world headquarters in Brea, CA.

Debut of the Gallios flow cytometer (research markets) & the Navios flow cytometer (clinical markets)!


Danaher Corporation completed its acquisition of Beckman Coulter, Inc., making it an indirect wholly owned subsidiary. Subsequently, Beckman Coulter’s common stock ceased trading on the New York Stock Exchange.


Merged cell-counting/analyzing business with the particle-counting division of Hach Co. (Loveland, CO).


Acquired Xitogen Technologies (Suzhou and Dalian, China), maker of flow cytometers.

Debut of CytoFLEX & AQUIOS flow cytometers!


Debut of the Vi-CELL MetaFLEX bioanalyzer and the Optima AUC analytical ultracentrifuge!


Debut of the Biomek i-Series Automated Workstations!


Debut of FormaPure Total reagents for DNA & RNA isolation, the LS 13 320 XR Particle Size Analyzer, and Kaluza Analysis software!


Acquired Cytobank cloud-based software for flow cytometry analysis, and Labcyte, Inc. (San Jose, CA), maker of Echo Acoustic Liquid Handlers.

Debut of the Vi-CELL BLU cell viability analyzer!


In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the company received an FDA emergency use authorization for the RNAdvance Viral XP reagent kit, which can be used for SARS-CoV-2 research.

Debut of the MET ONE 3400+ Air Particle Counter!


Debut of the CytoFLEX SRT benchtop sorter, Biomek NGeniuS workstation, SuperNova Polymer Dyes, and the BioLector XT Microbioreactor! (So far…)

Photos courtesy of the Science History Institute