Chairing the Division After the War: Pauling Shifts His Focus to the Big Picture

Linus Pauling, 1949

[Pauling as Administrator]

As Chairman of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at the California Institute of Technology, searching for funding and developing Division projects took up a lot of Linus Pauling’s time. On top of this, at the end of the Second World War, Pauling began to focus more intently on speaking to public audiences on the perils of nuclear weapons and the need to work for peace.

While these activities would eventually catch up with Pauling as a public figure, his colleagues at Caltech were already noticing that he was pulling back from some of his administrative responsibilities. Rodman Paul, who joined Caltech’s History department in 1947, later recalled that Pauling, by that time, had delegated oversight of day-to-day operations to Carl Niemann, and everyone at the Institute knew it.

At the end of 1947, Pauling set sail for England to begin a nine-month residency at Oxford, a move that further convinced some of Pauling’s colleagues that his main priorities no longer centered on chairing the Division. That year, Caltech colleagues John Kirkwood, George Beadle, and Holmes Sturdivant authored the Division’s ten year plan, passing it along to Pauling for his comments while he was overseas. After reading over the document, Pauling’s main suggestion was that the authors add as a possibility the creation of a nuclear chemistry program within the Division.

This suggestion was in keeping with Pauling’s attitude toward administrative work at that point: while his engagement with day-to-day affairs appeared to be fading, he remained passionate about his vision for the Division and for his profession as a whole, a vision that relied on dependable sources of funding.


Pauling served as President of the American Chemical Society in 1949, and in this capacity he penned an editorial for Chemical and Engineering News that bemoaned the lack of industry support for “pure chemistry” and other areas of “pure science.” This dearth of engagement had been felt in his own division and had slowed progress toward fulfilling his vision for fundamental research in biochemical medicine. Traditional sources of funding like endowments were not doing well at the time because of higher rates of inflation. And while other sources of support – including UNESCO fellowships and the newly formed National Science Foundation – had come online, their resources were not enough to make up the difference, since they only provided the minimum needed to keep research going.

While government entities, private endowments and foundations were capable of providing more, Pauling called out industry in particular, writing that

The industrial corporations, the chemical industries that depend upon fundamental science for their success, are, I believe, failing to do their part in the support of pure chemistry.

Pauling believed that the benefit that these companies received from basic research was such that they should fund up to 30% of the work being done – a number far higher than the 1% they did support – and that they should do so without placing restrictions on patenting or publication.

The editorial made an impact. In one instance, University of Chicago administrator Theodore Switz reported using the piece as a component of his fundraising campaign with chemical companies like Sinclair Refining. Another apparent response to Pauling’s call came from the DuPont Company. Over the previous three years, the company had funded a single postgraduate fellowship for a Ph.D. in chemistry at Caltech, providing $1,200 for a single man or $1,800 for a married man, with an additional $1,000 going directly to the Institute. After Pauling’s article was published, DuPont revised the annual donation to $10,000, made generally to the Division for distribution as it saw fit.

Caltech’s internal response to the evolving funding climate was to create a group called the Industrial Associates of the Institute. The first meeting of this collective, held in November 1950, brought in research executives and staff from companies like DuPont, Douglas Aircraft, Lockheed Aircraft, North American Aviation, Shell Development, Socoy-Vacuum, Magnolia Petroleum, General Petroleum, Union Oil, and Standard Oil. In the meeting, Caltech put forth a great many research areas where the interests of the Institute and industry might overlap. These areas included heat transfer in fluids, fluid mechanics, the influence of shock loading on design, soil mechanics and engineering structures, radioactive tracer usage, x-ray usage, and molecular structure influences on material properties.

Pauling never assumed a leading role in the association, but did take part in affiliated conferences, visited industry labs, and hosted industry guests in his own lab spaces. By 1957, Caltech President Lee DuBridge made a point of noting how successful the program had been in opening up communications between Caltech and industry.


As his focus turned increasingly towards bigger picture ideas, Pauling relied more and more on Division colleagues to keep the unit running on a daily basis. In the spring of 1949, Pauling asked Carl Niemann, Howard Lucas, and Laszlo Zechmeister to form a committee to recommend “likely young organic chemists” for permanent staff appointments, a shift from past practice where Pauling had often comprised a search committee of one. Even more broadly, two years later, Pauling asked the entire faculty in Chemistry to recommend a “young man” who could be appointed “in some field of work that is not strongly represented” in the Division.

Sometimes Pauling would reach outside his administrative unit to look for recommendations, as was the case in the winter of 1949. The previous fall, Pauling had made an internal announcement of the need to fill the physical chemistry vacancy created by the death of Roscoe Dickinson. Pauling had hoped that Michael Szwarc at Manchester would accept the position. Four months later, Pauling asked John Kirkwood, a Physics professor, to chair a committee on behalf of the Division and to make the appointment in physical chemistry. By then, Pauling had in mind Wilhelm Jost from Germany. Ultimately, both Szwarc and Jost remained in Europe.

As he had always done, Pauling continued to look out for the existing staff whom he had helped to shape, and worked to ensure that those whom he especially liked would stick around. In June 1946, Pauling offered an instructor position in chemistry to Norman Davidson, whose prior research had focused on molecular biology. It was Pauling’s hope that the instructorship would turn into a permanent tenured position at some point.

That point came closer in 1949, when Pauling recommended to his dean that Davidson be appointed Assistant Professor for two years as part of a general round of raises being considered for five chemistry professors. Pauling further asked that, within a year, Davidson be offered a permanent position within the Division. This all came to pass. Davidson received tenure in 1952, and spent the rest of his career at Caltech.


Not all of Pauling’s staffing decisions revolved around faculty and research; he was also interested in building up staff to support the work of others. One instance involved the possibility of hiring a chemistry librarian, an idea that Pauling first floated in the fall of 1949. After some discussion, it was decided that this position should be put on hold until a new facility was built — the chemistry library was split between two buildings at the time. The following year, Pauling signed off on library director Roger Stanton’s suggestion that chemistry and biology share a librarian. That never happened. Furthermore, it would be nearly twenty years until a new library facility was built at Caltech.

A new chemistry and biology building, however, would come sooner. Fundraising was well underway at the beginning of 1949, with Pauling reporting to the Division that they had already raised $700,000 toward their goal. Potential locations had also been identified, either near the north end of Crellin or by adding onto the Kerckhoff Laboratory. Pauling favored the latter, since an extension of this sort had always been envisioned for Kerckhoff. And as progress moved forward, a new truth about Pauling’s administrative work continued to take form. While it appeared to some that he was pulling back from his duties as division chair, he clearly retained an active interest in some of the details and all of the long-term objectives.

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