“These tests show that Oregon cement is not inferior to California cement, nor, in fact, is it far excelled by any. So it is not a hardship in this case to ‘Patronize Oregon Industries.’ The cement industry has come to stay.”
-Linus Pauling, 1920.
In December 1989, the Oregon State University Special Collections received a rather run-of-the-mill letter from Linus Pauling, who had donated his papers some three years earlier and was in the habit of regularly corresponding with the repository. In this letter, Pauling noted
In early 1920 I wrote a paper on the manufacture of cement in Oregon, published in The Student Engineer (Oregon Agricultural College) . . . I am sending the copy of The Student Engineer under separate cover.
Considering the fact that Pauling published over 1,100 papers during his lengthy and illustrious career, a publication such as this normally would not be given any special attention. However, it turns out that this short article – officially entitled “The Manufacture of Cement in Oregon” – is Linus Pauling’s first published work.
In 1920 Pauling was not your typical 19 year old. In normal circumstances, he would have been a junior at O.A.C. (now Oregon State University), but due to financial problems he was not able to return for his third year. Instead, he accepted a job offered to him by the college’s chemistry department (one that was unexpectedly short a few faculty members), and spent the year as a full-time assistant instructor in quantitative analysis – a course that he himself had taken only the year before. Despite his age, it was evident that Pauling’s academic maturity clearly had risen far above his peers. He quickly proved an able “boy professor.”
In the 1989 letter, Pauling provided further insight into his introduction to the science behind cement.
When I was about 14 years old, the Oregon Portland Cement Company built a plant at Oswego, Oregon. I spent the weekends in Oswego, where my grandparents lived. I immediately began to spend much time in the laboratory of the cement plant. The chemist was a man who was not very interested in chemistry, but who served as scoutmaster and who was willing to talk with me and to answer my questions.
It seems then that while many of his classmates were likely going to great lengths to avoid learning on a weekend, Pauling willingly spent his free time gobbling up new information from any source that he could find. Clearly, his passion for furthering his knowledge in any subject that caught his interest began very early in his life.
(It is also worth noting that, overlapping his employment with the O. A. C. chemistry department, Pauling spent the better part of three years working off and on for the Oregon Department of Transportation as a pavement inspector – another example of an early practical application of his interest in scientific topics.)
Understandably, the time that he spent at the Oswego plant made Pauling very knowledgeable on the subject of how cement is manufactured, a fact that is immediately clear upon reading his article. The young author writes with authority on the subject, simplifying a process that is undoubtedly considered not-so-common knowledge. And although the processes involved are not as complicated as, say, the manner in which a protein configures itself into an alpha helix, the procedure requires a fair number of steps, all of which Pauling methodically describes with his signature precision and thoroughness – skills that he had begun to refine even in his adolescence.
Although Pauling’s first publication may not be his most interesting and is undoubtedly nowhere near his most prominent, its genesis is certainly a fascinating story. Scans of the full text of this article are included below.