Look Familiar?

Life magazine has recently published a series of never-before-seen photographs that document Albert Einstein’s environs on the day that he died.  Taken by photographer Ralph Morse, the images and captions presented on the Life website are interesting for any number of reasons. (See, for instance, this canny meditation on the value of a bottle of scotch.) In particular, the image above, which shows Einstein’s Princeton University office in its final state, piqued our interests and got us to thinking about Linus Pauling’s work areas.

Mock-up of the Pauling office, OSU Special Collections.

As reconstructed in the permanent display adjacent to the Special Collections reading room, one notices a few similarities between the two set-ups, the desk and chalkboard chief among them.  Both men also likely shared a fondness for slide rules, though we don’t know if Einstein made as prolific use of Dictaphones as did Pauling.  One important difference:  Pauling, an ardent anti-smoker, would never have included a pipe or an ashtray among his office possessions, as did Einstein.

The display also gives the impression that Pauling was a neat and tidy sort, apparently unlike his colleague and friend Professor Einstein.  This impression is rather misleading.  Though a very precise thinker, an organized researcher and a superb administrator, Pauling didn’t exactly keep his work space in pristine condition.   Note, for example, the large stacks of papers in this 1957 photo of Pauling in his office at Caltech’s Crellin Laboratory. (click to enlarge)

Pauling in his office at the Crellin Laboratory, Caltech, 1957. Photo by Phil Stern.

The situation hadn’t improved much by 1977, though in his defense, Pauling was receiving huge volumes of mail by this time.

Pauling in his Portola Valley office, 1977.

Finally, here’s a shot from 1991, taken at the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine.  It is a good approximation of what Pauling’s office probably looked like at the time of his death, some three and a half years later.

Linus Pauling and a guest in his office at the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine, 1991.

For those who might be interested, the contents of Pauling’s desk contemporary to the end of his tenure at Caltech have been cataloged into box 1.034 of the Pauling Biographical series.


3 Responses

  1. Curious as to the history of the molecular model and photo on LP’s desk:

    Any details?

  2. Not many, unfortunately. We do know from a label on its top that the model, which is of the alpha-helix, was given to Pauling as a gift during Pauling’s tenure at Stanford University (1969-1972). There is no indication of who built the model or gave it to Pauling.

  3. Thank you.

    I also just located the photo:


    “Portrait of Arthur Amos Noyes. 1920s.”

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