The Unlikely Makings of a World Tour

Scandinavian Airlines keepsake, December 6, 1954.

[Part 1 of 2]

In 1953 Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru invited Linus Pauling to attend the Indian Science Congress and dedicate a new scientific research institute. It was a fantastic opportunity that Pauling was eager to seize. Prompted by the invitation, he made plans to set out on a broader world tour in late 1953, intending to visit India as well as Japan, Israel and Greece, among other countries.

Pauling’s prospects went sour, however, as he waited, and waited, and waited, but did not hear back from United States passport officials until after his proposed departure date in December 1953. Though disappointing, this lack of cooperation on the government’s part was fairly unsurprising – Pauling had a history, having been under investigation by the FBI amidst accusations of his belonging to the Communist Party.

The center of much of the passport drama was Ruth B. Shipley, the Director of the Passport Office. In 1952 Pauling was accused by various media outlets of being a communist, although he adamantly denied maintaining any ties to the Communist party. The allegations were mostly based on Pauling’s anti-war political stance and his peace activism following World War II.  In January 1952, based on these allegations, Shipley flat-out denied Pauling a passport, a decision that was eventually overturned by the State Department, which granted him a limited passport in July.

Ruth B. Shipley

Nonetheless, Pauling had plans to travel to Europe that year which had to be put off. It was the beginning of a pattern that repeated itself on multiple occasions – Shipley would deny Pauling’s request, and the decision would be overturned just days before his departure date.

(Pauling’s political activities affected not only his passport, but also his research. President Dwight D. Eisenhower entered office in 1953 and appointed Oveta Culp Hobby as Secretary of the new Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, a fledgling administration known to withhold grant money from suspected communists. It wasn’t shocking then, that in late Fall of 1953 Pauling was notified that his research grants from the United States Public Health Service, a subunit of Culp’s department, were being suspended. The grants totaled about $60,000 and helped support Pauling’s work on oxypolygelatin and protein structure. Pauling was advised to reapply for the grants under the names of other individual researchers so his name wouldn’t be attached.)

Despite his lack of success in carrying out his world tour the previous winter, Pauling still hoped that he could sort out his issues with the federal bureaucracy and reschedule his travel plans to make it to the next Indian Science Congress in January 1955.  But by October 1954, Pauling was admitting defeat, writing to the Secretary of State that he no longer planned on traveling during the upcoming winter. This was in response to yet another letter that Pauling had received from Shipley, telling him that he could appeal the decision of the Passport Office to reject his request for validation to the Board of Passport Appeals. Pauling was not interested in a repeat of the previous winter, in which inaction on the part of the Passport Office had caused him “significant financial loss, personal embarrassment, and damage to my reputation.” As a result of the office’s decisions, Pauling had been forced to cancel highly-publicized appearances at a number of conferences on very short notice – he wasn’t willing to repeat a similar episode.

Then, all of a sudden, circumstances began to change rather quickly.  Near the end of the month, just as he was conceding defeat to the State Department, rumors started to cropping up that Pauling was going to receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. On November 2, Pauling’s win became official. The award was granted in recognition of his “research on the nature of the chemical bond and its application to the elucidation of the structure of complex substances,” a commendation of what amounted to his entire life’s work in science. Letters of congratulation came pouring in from colleagues, friends, family and acquaintances. Son Peter, who was working on his Ph. D. at Cambridge and living with his sister Linda, excitedly wrote to his father, asking if he was invited and inquiring if he should buy a new suit.

Headline from the New Republic

Pauling’s heightened profile, combined with the support that he was receiving from the scientific community, gave him leverage in his battle with the government to reestablish his right to travel. Emboldened, Pauling reasoned that if he was going to Sweden in December for the Nobel Prize ceremony, he might as well resuscitate his previous travel plans. He wrote to Caltech President Lee A. Dubridge requesting a leave of absence and, on November 4, sent out an array of letters delegating his duties while away. He assigned important tasks to trusted co-workers: Carl Niemann would serve as acting chairman of the Division of Chemisty and Chemical Engineering, Holmes Sturdivant would prepare and present the Division budget to the President in a satisfactory way, Robert Corey would give a talk on the structure of collagen at the Western Spectroscopists meeting and Dan Campbell was to speak on antibodies and the duplication of molecules.

The newly planned tour would have the Paulings traveling first, with the whole family, to Stockholm on the 7th of December for the Nobel Prize ceremony, followed by a jaunt over to Oslo and then to Amsterdam. After Europe Linus and Ava Helen would move on to Israel where they would spend Christmas, visiting Tel Aviv, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem. On the 28th, the pair would briefly visit Cyprus and then move on to Pakistan on the 30th. By the 31st they were to arrive in India where they would stay for the next six weeks. On February 15th they were scheduled to depart en route to a two-day stop in Bangkok, Thailand followed by a final stay in Japan.

But first, the Pauling clan arrived in Stockholm for the Nobel festivities. Linus, Ava Helen, Crellin, Linus Jr. and his wife Anita flew out of Los Angeles and were greeted at the airport in Stockholm by the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Peter and Linda excitedly joined them there. That afternoon they checked into the luxurious Grand Hotel where they would be staying and where the family enjoyed tea while Linus took part in a press conference. The following days were a nonstop whirlwind of receptions, parties, and speeches. The whole family was invited to a cocktail party hosted by Hugo Theorell of the Nobel Medical Institute, the man who would win the Nobel Prize for medicine the following year. And the day before the prize ceremony, a reception was held for the winners along with dinner hosted by the Royal High Chamberlain.

Peter, Crellin and Linus Pauling, Jr. with their Dad.

The big day arrived on the 10th. It was a busy and eventful affair: a rehearsal, a concert, the prize ceremony and a meeting with the Royal Family followed by dinner, dancing and an informal chat with some Swedish university students. At the banquet that evening Pauling made a lovely speech about Sweden, telling his hosts that

I have found that it is always a great pleasure to come to Sweden. I feel at home in Sweden: even though there may be a snow-covered landscape about us, instead of the green (or sometimes brown) hills of southern California, nevertheless I feel, emanating from the Swedish people, the radiations of sympathy, of homologous character, so strongly as almost to cause me to consider myself to be a Swede.

The next day Pauling visited the Nobel Foundation to collect his prize stipend, a sizable amount at $30,000, (almost a quarter million dollars in today’s money) before delivering his Nobel lecture. The speech focused on resonance and bond concepts; the primary components of the work for which he had been recognized. That evening the Nobel celebration came to an end with a formal dinner at the royal palace hosted by the king and queen, followed by a party thrown by the American embassy.  Equal parts exhausted and delighted, the Paulings went to bed that night knowing that, the excitement of previous days notwithstanding, a grand adventure still awaited them.

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One Response

  1. [...] him to partake in its annual conference in 1954 and Pauling accepted the invitation. However, as we’ve discussed before, his own government did not grant Pauling permission to travel until weeks after the event [...]

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