Pauling’s Freshman Diary, Part 1

Linus Pauling wearing his "freshman beanie," ca. 1917.

Linus Pauling wearing his "freshman beanie," ca. 1917.

Linus Pauling’s childhood and adolescence would not be classified as typical, especially by today’s standards. From a very young age, his life was largely defined by an immense interest in his education and an incredible work ethic. On top of devouring every book he could get his hands on, breezing through his normal school work, and engaging in free-time scientific pursuits, Pauling was also forced to spend his days working. By the end of his high school career, he had worked well over half a dozen different jobs.

Fortunately Pauling was also able to find time to participate in activities that were considered more normal for his age. He enjoyed playing outdoors – especially as a young boy – and wreaked his fair share of havoc in the small wild-west town of Condon, Oregon. He also spent time visiting friends and family. And at the age of 16, he began writing in a diary.

Pauling’s diary, or the OAC diary as it is known here in Special Collections, begins with a single file folder annotated with the word “diary” alongside Pauling’s signature. The first entry, dated August 29, 1917, gives some insight into the reasons why he decided to start recording his thoughts.

Today I am beginning to write the history of my life. The idea which has resulted in this originated a year or more ago, when I thought of the enjoyment that I would have could I read the events of my former and younger life. My children and grandchildren will without a doubt hear of the events in my life with the same relish with which I read the scattered fragments by my granddad, Linus Wilson Darling. This ‘history’ is not intended to be written in diary form or as a continued narrative – rather, it is to be a series of essays on subjects most important in my mind.

Regardless of his intentions, the document does take on diary form, and in the next few pages more entries written by Pauling are intermixed with various items that were apparently of some importance to him. One such item is a newspaper clipping of a wedding announcement for Mrs. Linus Vere Windnagle. Pauling’s rationale for saving this seemingly random clipping is found a few pages later when he writes:

This [is] from today’s Oregonian. I will save all reference to any Linuses or Paulings.

Another notable item is a business card from “Palmon Laboratories,” the independent chemical research company that Pauling and Lloyd Simon attempted to launch with when they were only fifteen years old.

Flipping through the pages of the diary, one finds that Pauling recorded many interesting nuggets of information from his earlier life. One undated page is entitled “Tentative Resolutions” and is comprised of a list of Pauling’s goals for his first year at Oregon Agricultural College.

I will make better than 95 (Mervyn’s record) in Analysis (Math). (I made 99 6/11 % in Analytic Geom.).  [Pauling’s older cousin, Mervyn Stephenson, also attended OAC.]

I will take all the math possible.

I will make use of my slide rule.

I will make the acquaintance of Troy Bogard.

I must go out for track and succeed.

Certain of these resolutions are best explained by looking at other entries in Pauling’s diary. For example, this excerpt from an entry dated Sunday, September 16, 1917, explains why Pauling feels that he must track down Troy Bogard.

Mr. Benedict, of the Pacific Scale and Supply Co., after a trip to a place where he was to set a scale, said that at some town he had seen a young man, with whiskers, dirt, and ragged clothes, whom he had thought to be a tramp, but who was an O.A.C. student working in the harvest fields. He told him about me, and the young man said for Mr. Benedict to tell me to look him up at Corvallis. Bennie could not remember my name, never having known what it was. The young man, whose card is in an envelope marked ‘High School Reminiscences,’ although not belonging there, was named Troy Bogard, of Woodburn, Oregon, and is a Senior in Farm Crops at O.A.C.

Diary entry by Linus Pauling, September 17, 1917

Diary entry by Linus Pauling, September 17, 1917

Pauling’s curious resolution about his slide rule can also be explained by diary notations. In another excerpt from the September 16 entry, he writes:

Early last fall, as I was crossing a field on the way to school with a bunch of boys, I found a slide rule. The other boys had stepped over the box in which it was, but I picked it up. I watched the advertisements in the daily papers for many days, but it was not advertised for. It is a polyphase duplex slide rule, made by Keuffel and Esser Co., and costing about $7.50. Its number is < 4088-3 >. It is 12 inches long and contains 12 scales.

Another entry, this time dated Friday, September 21, 1917, contains a brief mention of the slide rule.

Last winter I found a Keuffel & Esser Co. polyphase duplex Slide Rule < 4088-3 >. I will be able to use it in college.

One of Paulings many slide rules.

One of Pauling's many slide rules (with case).

As it turns out, Pauling did put his slide rule to excellent use – it would quickly become (and remain) his calculating tool of choice, one with which he developed an uncanny proficiency.

And of his other resolutions? As indicated by the addendum to the first, it appears that Pauling was able to handily beat his cousin’s record in Analysis. Furthermore, Pauling also took a great deal of math in his college career. Whether or not it was all the math “possible,” we do not know, though surely Caltech enabled his studies where OAC may have been lacking. As for meeting Troy Bogard, it is unknown whether or not Pauling was ever able to track him down. And finally, Pauling’s single obvious failure of the bunch was succeeding in track. Although he did try out and ran in one meet, he never actually made the team.

Make sure to check back later this week for part two of our OAC Diary post. For more information on Linus Pauling in Oregon, check out our Oregon 150 series. For general information on Linus Pauling, please visit the Linus Pauling Online portal.

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  1. […] part one of our look at Linus Pauling’s Oregon Agricultural College diary, we covered the genesis of […]

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