The Coulter Story

Wallace H. Coulter

Walter Coulter headshot in black and white

Wallace Coulter's genuine passion was a desire to make improvements to health care available and affordable to everyone. Mr. Coulter dedicated his wealth to continuing to improve healthcare through medical research and engineering. Prior to his death Mr. Coulter established the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation to fund these areas.

Wallace Henry Coulter was also the co-founder, former chairman and president of the Coulter Corporation. He was an engineer, inventor, entrepreneur and visionary.

Born in 1913 in Little Rock, Arkansas Wallace developed a fascination for electricity and crystal radio sets during his childhood. He attended high school in Monroe, Arkansas, and Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. He later studied electrical engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

His early career began in 1934 as a radio station engineer-announcer. In 1937, Wallace joined General Electric X-Ray Corporation as a sales and service representative covering Manila, Shanghai, Singapore and the nearby islands.

From 1942 until the end of World War II, he worked in electronic development for Press Wireless in New York and later participated in electro-medical instrumentation development for Raytheon Manufacturing Company.

An electrical engineer by training, Wallace was passionate about radio technology. Wallace created a device that would become the basis for one of his most notable achievements, The Coulter principle.

The Coulter Principle has become the accepted reference method throughout the world for particle size analysis and is the recommended limit test for particulate matter in large-volume parenteral solutions.

Today, the Coulter Principle remains the accepted reference method for virtually every modern hematology analyzer and is used to count and size a multitude of microscopic particles in a vast range of industries, including healthcare, industrial applications, agriculture, printing and cosmetics. Innumerable physicians and research scientists have extolled the benefits of the Coulter Principle and the innovations it has spawned.

In 1954 the first commercial application of the Coulter principle to hematology was realized in the Coulter Counter Model A. The Coulter Principle became the most extensively utilized method for counting and sizing microscopic particles suspended in a fluid.

His method has been called the first viable basis for flow cytometry and from it grew an industry that forever changed the world of diagnostic medical research. Within 10 years, every hospital laboratory in the United States had a Coulter Counter, and today every modern hematology analyzer depends in some way on the Coulter principle.

After securing a U.S. patent for the Coulter Counter in 1953, Wallace and Joe began the production of the new cell and particle analyzer. Orders and sales continued to increase and, in 1958, the brothers incorporated their company, Coulter Electronics, Inc. and moved operations to Miami, Florida, in 1961.

Walter Coulter in a coat and hat.

Over the years, Wallace Coulter and his brother Joe, who died in November 1995, grew their company out of a Chicago basement to a multinational corporation which has introduced many of the significant diagnostic milestones in the field of blood cell analysis. Today, through their commitment to superior technology and superior customer service, Coulter Corporation is firmly established as the industry leader in the design and manufacture of high-tech laboratory blood cell analysis systems.

In October 1997, Coulter Corporation was acquired by Beckman Instruments, Inc. and the company is now Beckman Coulter, Inc. Located in Fullerton, California, Beckman Coulter's corporate headquarters employs more than 10,000 employees worldwide.

Coulter is best known for its long line of innovative discoveries in hematology analysis and The Coulter Counter. This technology made it possible to develop the most accurate and rapid manner in performing a CBC (Complete Blood Count) analysis. The Coulter brothers continued to expand the company's biomedical research efforts and developed numerous innovations.

Among Coulter's Innovations:

  • New blood parameters
  • Automated platelet counts
  • Automated sample handling features significantly reducing labor
  • Closed-vial sampling to enhance operator safety
  • A routine method for testing for reticulocytes
  • A method for CD4/CD8 hematology analysis

The Coulter brothers were early pioneers in monoclonal antibodies, which have since proven to be exceedingly significant in assisting in the diagnosis of cancer, lymphoma, leukemia and other diseases.

Today, the company offers the widest range of monoclonal antibodies and other cytometry reagents in the industry. Since the early 1980s, Wallace and Joe, and Coulter Corporation, have been leaders in flow cytometry. Using laser technology, these instrument systems identify cells by their signatures and allow for recognition of malignancy and viral activity.

Wallace Coulter received many awards and citations for his achievements as an inventor, scientist and businessman. Learn more on the life and legacy of Wallace H. Coulter.