During its first half-century, Beckman Instruments grew from two employees in a tiny garage in Pasadena to nearly 12,000 around the world. Sales mushroomed from $60,000 in 1936 to more than $618 million in 1981. That was the last complete year before Beckman Instruments, which had moved to Fullerton in 1954, merged with SmithKline Corp. Beckman later spun off on its own again and eventually acquired Coulter Corp., becoming Beckman Coulter.
That company employs 10,000 worldwide, about a fourth of them in California. Its 2003 revenue was $2.2 billion, and more than 200,000 Beckman Coulter instrument systems were in use worldwide.
In his later years, Beckman devoted himself to philanthropy.
Not wanting to leave it to an estate that would be subject to inheritance taxes, the Beckmans decided they could "be a little more effective than the bureaucrats in Washington."
Their idea was to give away their entire fortune in their lifetimes but, although they donated $200 million together, they could not reach their goal before Mabel died in 1989. After her death, Beckman reconfigured his foundation to be a foundation in perpetuity. He retired from it in 1993.
Among the many beneficiaries of the ongoing Beckman largess, which has been estimated at more than $400 million -- were numerous smaller endeavors, including the Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry and the town library in Cullom, his birthplace.
But the majority of the gifts went to major institutes at the University of Illinois, Stanford University, the City of Hope and Caltech.
Decades after Beckman had left his teaching job, he kept in close touch with the Pasadena institution. He was the first alumnus named to its board of trustees. He served as chairman from 1964 to 1974, then as chairman emeritus.
Beckman wanted some of his money to go toward exploring the question of what makes humans tick. His interest led to his support of Caltech's Beckman Laboratories of Behavioral Biology, where scientists attempt to get at this issue in a wide variety of studies, from how songbirds select the song of their own species to how humans recognize a loved one.
Tapping his head, he said: "They've allowed poets to say that love resides in the heart, when we know it is up here in the mind."
Beckman is survived by his daughter, Patricia, and son, Arnold; two grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. Memorial services are pending.
Instead of flowers, donations may be made to the Beckman Young Investigators Fund, c/o the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, 100 Academy Drive, Irvine, CA 92612.
Times staff writer Jean O. Pasco contributed to this report.