Chairing the Division After the War: Organizing the Peace

Linus Pauling, 1946

[Pauling as Administrator]

As the government’s demand for research and development projects began to wane following the end of the Second World War, the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at the California Institute of Technology began a period of reorganization. One early change was a shift in policy for graduate studies wherein only those able to attend full time were admitted. The division also instituted a requirement that graduate students from the Biology division working under someone in Chemistry receive permission from their Biology adviser first.

But amidst these and other changes, one very important continuation remained: the division’s involvement with military research. One such activity that ultimately involved Linus Pauling was led by two division members from the Chemical Engineering group, B. H. Sage and Dean Lacey, who had assumed a post-war contract from the Bureau of Ordnance on improving double-base propellant processing. This classified work to develop “smokeless powder” was less pure chemistry and more straight up engineering. As such, the contract was in potential conflict with the division’s policy on accepting funding that restricted publication.

Noting this, Sage went to Pauling for his approval. And as the division chair, Pauling judged the research to be worthy of an exception, telling Sage, “I do not see how you can avoid doing work of this sort; it seems to me to be clearly your duty, in view of your experience.”

Typical of the administrator’s burden, Pauling swiftly turned his attention to mediating a dispute between Sage and J. Holmes Sturdivant over shared responsibilities at the Chemistry Shop. The problem came to Pauling’s attention in November 1946 when Sturdivant informed Pauling that the Chemical Engineering group had “contributed essentially nothing toward the maintenance of the Chemistry Shop facilities” despite spending 10% to 17% of their time using the shop. Sturdivant subsequently requested that Pauling require Chemical Engineering to contribute at least 5% of their time over the course of a year towards maintenance. To make up for past indiscretions, Sturdivant also suggested that the engineers allocate 100 hours to shop maintenance over the next month.

Sage, speaking on behalf of the Chemical Engineering group, expressed annoyance with Sturdivant’s requests, and claimed that the engineers had in fact done routine maintenance and housekeeping, while also taking “complete responsibility for the maintenance of the small so-called Chemical Engineering Shop.” (Pauling, apparently puzzled by Sage’s reference to a Chemical Engineering Shop, underlined this line of text with a question mark next to it.) Sage also pointed out that the extra amount of time that Sturdivant wanted the engineers to spend on maintenance would accrue to an additional 17% of their time spent in the shop. Sage concluded with a request that the group receive $50 a month more to help cover shop-related overhead costs paid to the division, something that they had not been asked to pay in the past.

In response, Sturdivant told Pauling and Sage that the increase in overhead charges had to do with changes made during the war as research shifted to other areas. Specifically, the Committee on Institute Shops had recommended that all campus shops charge overhead to the groups that used them. Sturdivant, seeking to appease Sage on some level, then recommended lowering the Chemical Engineering group’s overhead charge to $20 per month for the next 18 months. Pauling agreed that this was a reasonable compromise and the dispute was settled.

Anticipating future disputes of this sort, Pauling inquired with upper administration about the possibility of devoting new space on campus to chemical engineering. As it turned out, nothing major was to happen for another decade — not until 1956 did Caltech break ground for a new building dedicated to the division’s engineers.

Lee DuBridge, 1948

As a member of the Institute’s Executive Committee, Pauling was well-positioned to work with the incoming Lee A. DuBridge, the first person to officially hold the title of President of Caltech. Before starting in Pasadena, DuBridge had spent six years as the first director of the radiation laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. And though he officially became Caltech’s president in the fall of 1946, he began working with Pauling before then to begin implementing his vision for the Institute.

DuBridge and Pauling shared a similar point of view on faculty pay: to recruit and retain the best, the Institute had to offer high salaries. With this idea in mind, they first worked together to hire John G. Kirkwood as Professor of Chemistry, meeting in Washington, D.C., (DuBridge hadn’t yet moved to California) in April 1946 to discuss the best way to attract him. At the end of their meeting, they decided that $10,000 per year would do it.

Once Pauling was back in Pasadena, he wrote to DuBridge that the Executive Committee thought the amount was too high, as only a “few people” – including Pauling – made that much at the Institute. DuBridge was disappointed by this news, writing that

My first reaction is to say a salary of this amount has got to come as a fairly common figure in the near future if we are to get and keep good men – and therefore lets go ahead in this case.

Thus emboldened, Pauling reached out to Kirkwood, who replied that he would need to think about the offer. DuBridge had not expected this response and was also a bit perturbed at Pauling, since he had meant for Pauling to merely inquire with Kirkwood about his potential interest at that salary level. In the end, Kirkwood accepted the position, but only remained at Caltech until 1951, leaving to take up the Sterling Professorship at Yale.

Membership on the Executive Committee also obligated Pauling to spend time filling positions outside of his own division. While at Cornell, John Kirkwood had worked closely with physicist Hans A. Bethe, whom Pauling had tried to persuade to come to Caltech to replace Robert Oppenheimer in 1946. The previous fall, Caltech had offered Oppenheimer $10,000 to return to Pasadena now that his war-time service at the Los Alamos Laboratory had concluded. Not long after, the Institute tried to sweeten the deal by offering him the chairmanship of the Division of Physics, Mathematics, and Electrical Engineering.

These offers were not enough to convince Oppenheimer to stay, and he ended up as Director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Bethe was likewise not convinced that Pasadena would make for a good fit and suggested that Pauling make an inquiry with Robert F. Christy, who had worked with Oppenheimer at Los Alamos and had been involved with the Manhattan Project at the University of Chicago as well. Pauling heeded this advice and Christy went on to spend the rest of his career at Caltech.

Bringing in new faculty members and keeping the peace between current employees consistently occupied Pauling’s time as a division chair. The imperative to reorganize research objectives following the end of World War II only made those tasks more urgent and weighty.

Taking the Division Beyond the War


[Pauling as Administrator]

In the fall of 1944, Linus Pauling took some time to formally reflect on both the past and the future of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at the California Institute of Technology, which he had chaired for the past seven years. In doing so, Pauling acknowledged the role played by his predecessor, Arthur A. Noyes, in developing a robust and highly esteemed research staff in physical and inorganic chemistry.

Organic chemistry, which had evolved largely under Pauling’s leadership, was approaching a similar position and, Pauling thought, would continue to gain in prestige. In Pauling’s view, physical chemistry, inorganic chemistry and organic chemistry had each arrived at an optimum point in their development and would not be in need of expansion anytime soon.

But Caltech’s greatest contributions to chemistry were located in Pauling’s own field of structural chemistry. Comparing Caltech with peers like London’s Royal Institution and Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory, Pauling opined that

…the California Institute of Technology may well have made more contributions to the field than any other single laboratory in the world.

Maintaining and building upon the Institute’s stellar reputation following the end of the war would require increased financial support to make up for the eventual expiration of the Rockefeller Foundation grant that had propelled so much work since the late 1930s. In his report, Pauling did mention that the foundation was ready to fund “an intensive attack on the problem of the structure of proteins and related substances.” But in the meantime, Pauling suggested that Caltech increase its annual support for structural chemistry research from $5,000 to $7,500.

One area in obvious need of improvement was applied chemistry. Most notably, the division had been without a professor in applied chemistry since prior to the onset of the Second World War. Pauling made a goal of addressing this, expressing a desire to hire an instructor, expand facilities for graduate research, and tailor undergraduate and master’s degree programs in metallurgy.

As part of his larger vision, Pauling also revived his 1942 proposal that Caltech start a major new research program focusing on the fundamentals of medicine. Pauling saw the application of chemistry to physiological processes as a field that was coming into its own, and guessed that the discipline would continue to rapidly advance over the next handful of years. The research agenda that Pauling proposed centered around the structural chemistry of substances like drugs, hormones, enzymes, and poisons; investigations into their physiological properties; and explorations of their genetic and pharmacological applications. In putting forth these ideas, Pauling wrote,

I believe that it can be predicted safely that work along these lines will in a few years lead to great advances in the fields of physiology, bacteriology, immunology, and even medicine.

Pauling very much wanted Caltech to be an important player in this future, but felt that the Institute was far too understaffed to achieve this objective. As a corrective, he suggested they hire a bacteriologist, physiologist, enzyme chemist, and virologist ideally possessing backgrounds in biology, chemistry, and physics. As with the 1942 proposal, Pauling once more suggested that the Institute raise funds for a new building that would house these researchers, and that the group collaborate with local hospitals.

The war had demonstrated to Pauling that scientific research could be conducted efficiently if personnel were organized in a hierarchy, a style that had concerned A.A. Noyes back when Pauling was originally considered for the division chairmanship. Emboldened by the successes of the scientific war effort, Pauling expressed his desire to apply this approach to researching protein structures, envisioning a research team of about twenty. Absent such an intensive approach, he feared, the structures of most proteins would not be solved in his lifetime.

To strengthen his proposal, Pauling hinted that the Rockefeller Foundation might be inclined to fund such work, as they had already provided $433,000 to the division to support research in structural, organic, and immunochemistry over the previous twelve years, and had also set up a $1,000,000 organic chemistry endowment. And as 1944 neared its conclusion, Pauling felt ready to bring his postwar plan to the foundation.

Pauling’s first conversations about the proposal were with Frank Blair Hanson, who oversaw the foundation’s immunological funding. Pauling then went to Warren Weaver who directed natural science research and who had worked closely with Pauling for the duration of the foundation’s engagement with Caltech. Weaver thought Pauling’s ideas to be important but unrealistic, particularly as concerned the number of qualified researchers who would be available after the war.

While he largely agreed with this assessment, Pauling still pushed his case, drawing Weaver’s attention to a new technique for measuring the absorption of isotherms in water vapor that he could apply to the structure of proteins. Pauling wanted to pursue this technique and asked for six to eight years of funding at $25,000 to $40,000 a year. The foundation wasn’t ready to make this investment at the time.

Close to a year later, Pauling and George Beadle, the new head of the Division of Biology, approached the foundation once again, this time asking for a whopping $6,000,000 to cover fifteen to twenty years of work on the use of chemistry to investigate fundamental questions in biology. But the response from the foundation remained the same: Pauling and Beadle would have to wait.

In addition to keeping the money flowing in, Pauling also focused on taking care of his fellow chemistry faculty, making sure that their pay stayed commensurate with their accomplishments. Pauling’s ability to do so was enhanced in 1945, when he began a three-year term as a member of Caltech’s Executive Committee. Service on this committee provided Pauling with sway over the shape of his own division and the institution as a whole. In this capacity, Pauling pushed for salary increases for his colleagues in chemistry, finding a way to give raises to Verner Schomaker and Carl Niemann by readjusting spending from the Molecule Structure Fund and the Rockefeller grant. Pauling likewise worked with the committee to negotiate a salary increase for Don Yost, whose annual pay was boosted substantially from $5,000 to $8,000.

Pauling also had to deal with appointing and retaining the division’s staff. In the summer of 1945, the division extended assistant professorship appointments to Richard Dodson and Charles Coryell, but both turned down the offers down, Coryell going to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Dodson leaving two years later for Columbia University.

Having learned from this experience, Pauling went to the Executive Committee and implored that they act “without delay” to make sure that Cornelius Rhodes of the Cancer Memorial Hospital in New York – soon to be paying a visit to Pasadena – not “entice” Dan Campbell to head a laboratory group on the East Coast. Specifically, Pauling wanted Campbell to receive an assurance that his position at Caltech was permanent as he was central to Pauling’s plans for the division’s future, especially regarding the Rockefeller funding. Campbell ultimately did stay, securing a $3,000 grant from Wescar Investment Company within a year. Pauling moved to offer him a full professorship in 1950.

Occasionally, Pauling had to do the tough job of making decisions about which staff would receive external funding. One such instance came about in December 1945 when Joseph Barker, Chairman of the Executive Committee and Acting President of the Research Corporation in New York City, asked for Pauling’s opinion on proposals submitted by three different researchers within the division. Don Yost had requested funds to support work on nuclear chemistry and the chemistry of metals; E. R. Buchman was interested in thiamine; and James Bonner wished to explore flowering plant hormones.

Barker told Pauling that the corporation preferred to award only one grant to a specific institution and asked Pauling to provide direction on a worthy recipient. While he was initially hesitant to favor one of the three, Pauling ultimately leaned towards Yost, since biochemical work was already well-funded. Having done so, Pauling also put forth the notion that Barker might prefer Buchman, since he had already established a relationship with the Research Corporation. Pauling’s deflection left the final decision up to Barker, which may have been Pauling’s intention all along. As an administrator who was constantly on the lookout for ways to fund and support his colleagues, Pauling almost certainly would have preferred that grant monies go to all three.

Chairing the Division During the War: Maintaining Security and Revising the Curriculum

Linus Pauling, 1942

[Pauling as Administrator]

As chairman of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at the California Institute of Technology, Linus Pauling was tasked with focusing, administratively, on the big picture while also maintaining and protecting ongoing research. This was especially so with confidential work being conducted during the Second World War.

One early incident that required Pauling’s input came about near the end of Fall 1942 when Foster Strong, a physics instructor, observed an undergraduate student using a master key to enter unauthorized rooms in the Crellin Laboratory. Upon catching him, Strong broke the key while giving the student, according to Pauling’s subsequent report, a “severe lecture about the seriousness of the offense.” As it turned out, the lecture did not take.

The following February, Elizabeth Swingle, the division’s stockroom keeper, saw this same student using a key to enter the stockroom. The first time she caught him, the student claimed that he was only able to get in because Swingle had left the door open. When Swingle later walked in on the student – this time accompanied by others – in the stockroom after hours, Swingle went to Pauling. She described this second encounter in a formal report, noting that “a look of surprise and a flush spread over [the student’s] face when he saw me.”

When confronted by Pauling, the student originally said that he had copied another student’s key to obtain entry. Later he admitted that this was a lie, and that he had originally had two keys made. Being in possession of an unauthorized master key was, in Pauling’s judgement, a “serious offence” because of the “confidential nature of some of the work being done” at the labs as part of the war effort. Pauling directed that the student no longer work in the Crellin facility any more.

Just over a month later, Swingle found the Crellin stockroom unlocked on a Monday morning, despite having locked the door on her way out the previous Saturday. Upon inspection, she found that sixty liters of an anesthetic, absolute diethyl ether, and 150g of vanillin, an extract of vanilla, were missing. A few weeks later, Swingle found two keys left on a table by the stockroom; one would permit entry into the room.

At the next division council meeting, it was decided that this series of events was serious enough as to merit the hire of a security guard to keep an eye on both Gates and Crellin during nights and weekends. It was also decided that identification cards would be issued to those with clearance to access the building after hours. Master keys would be restricted to faculty members only, and the provision of additional master keys to others would be up to Pauling. Elizabeth Swingle, along with two other women, had their master key privileges revoked.

At the beginning of June, the Institute also came to a decision on a just punishment for the undergraduate whose activities had caused such concern. It was found that the student had violated Caltechs honor system and that he would be placed on disciplinary probation for the remainder of his time as an undergraduate. This meant that he could not hold elected office or work on campus.

Three days after the decision had been rendered, Swingle reported to Pauling that someone had left the stockroom a mess. “Some chemical had been spilled on my desk leaving the finish injured,” she wrote. In addition, “there was a yellow colored chemical on the floor, in the waste paper basket, and on two towels.” Upon further examination, Swingle determined that the yellow chemical was quinone, and subsequently found that 100 grams of the substance was missing from the stockroom’s inventory. Pauling asked around, inquiring if any research groups had been using quinone and if any lab workers may have removed it without filling out a charge slip. None of the colleagues with whom he inquired were using the chemical at the time.

By July the ID badge system had been put into place, restricting access to Gates and Crellin between 6:00 p.m. and 7:45 a.m. on weekdays, and between 1:00 p.m. Saturday and 7:45 a.m. Monday. A year passed without incident.

Then, in 1944, Biochemistry professor Arie Haagen-Smit saw a research assistant for the NDRC-Chem-13 project enter a laboratory in the Kerckhoff basement where confidential and secret war work was being carried out. Haagen-Smit confronted the researcher and asked how he got in. He replied that there were “a number of keys around which open practically all the doors on campus.” A friend who was a graduate student in mathematics had given him the key to see if there was any equipment in the restricted lab that he could use for his research in NDRC-Chem-13. In response, Pauling again directed that limitations be placed on master keys and the division encountered little trouble thereafter.

As World War II came to an end, the division recognized a pressing need to reassess its graduate offerings, which had been rapidly updated amidst the pressure to meet wartime demands. One area that had suffered as a result of this update was organic chemistry, a point that was emphasized to Pauling by his colleague Edwin Buchman. Noting that there was a lack of instruction and organization when it came to graduate training in organic chemistry, Buchman requested that Pauling form a committee to define policies around research and teaching in the division.

Pauling also worked beyond the division level to update graduate programs across the Institute through his committee assignments. A member and, on occasion, the acting chair of the Graduate Committee on Post-War Policies, Pauling also served on the Faculty Board and Curriculum Committee. During one meeting, Pauling became especially intrigued by physicist E.C. Watson’s idea that Caltech accelerate its graduate work through the implementation of new teaching methods. By doing so, Watson saw the potential for Caltech to repeat its successes from the 1920s, the decade during which they had initiated their current system, becoming an “excellent graduate school” frequently “copied by other technical schools” in the process. On a practical level, this would mean dropping applied courses for which there had been an urgent deman during the war, such as industrial design. Though expressed with the intention that they be applied across the Institute, Watson’s ideas lined up well with what Pauling had in mind for the division that he oversaw.

Another component of the graduate program requiring scrutiny was Caltech’s masters degree offerings. Differing from many other technical institutes, Caltech’s Master of Science degree was essentially a continuation of undergraduate work, with the degree awarded following the completion of a fifth year. To attract students to the program, Pauling proposed implementing a scholarship program similar to that offered by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which covered tuition and provided a stipend of between $700 to $1,000 for eight months of study. Much later, in the spring of 1953, Pauling suggested further expanding the program by lowering a barrier to entry. Pauling’s idea was that Caltech treat its undergraduate seniors as first year graduate students, thus allowing them to focus more on research and to gain entry to laboratory space.

As part of their fifth year, master’s degree-seeking students at Caltech were required to take one course in the humanities: an introductory survey of English literature, history, philosophy, or economics. During a December 1944 meeting of the Graduate Committee on Post-War Policies in which he was Acting Chair, Pauling pointed out that the addition of a humanities requirement had been made in 1928 as a result of faculty action and was “not a part of the general policies of the Institute as expressed by the Trustees.” Pauling’s comments came on the heels of a previous committee recommendation that the Board of Trustees “abolish” the humanities requirement for the master’s degree.

The humanities requirement was brought up again two weeks later, but no decision could be reached. At the meeting that followed, Pauling put forth an alternative idea — that the Institute consider adding courses in the history and philosophy of science. The committee agreed enough with this sentiment to recommend that the Division of Humanities look into hiring someone in the field. A few years, Caltech brought aboard Rodman W. Paul, whose research interests were in the histories of mining and agriculture. Student enthusiasm for coursework of this kind was such that Caltech eventually created an entire program in the history and philosophy of science.

Chairing the Division During the War: A Balance of Interests

Members of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering seated together at a picnic, 1941. Pauling, the division chair, is at far right.

[Pauling as Administrator]

In the early 1940s, a $300,000 biochemistry grant provided by the Rockefeller Foundation set the tone for research in the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at the California Institute of Technology, but it was not the only source of funds that the foundation was providing. In addition to the large biochemistry grant, the Rockefeller board approved smaller supplementary awards to support a collection of promising immunological projects being pursued by Caltech faculty. This secondary line of funding gradually made a significant impact.

In 1940, geneticist A. H. Sturtevant received the first of the immunology grants, a three-year, $36,000 award. A year later, Linus Pauling was provided with his own three-year, $33,000 grant to support a separate track of immunological research being housed in the chemistry division. Prior to the award being finalized, Rockefeller administrator Warren Weaver suggested that Pauling ask for an additional $20,000 for the second year alone, a request that was quickly approved. As time passed and research in immunochemistry at Caltech grew, several undergraduate and graduate students came to Pasadena, supported by the Rockefeller funds. Well aware of its growing strength, Pauling pushed for immunology to be institutionalized with its own administrative apparatus and advocated that Dan Campbell be placed in charge.

Three years later, as Sturtevant’s immunology grant expired, he and Pauling decided to collaborate on a joint proposal that would combine the work being pursued by the biology and chemistry divisions at Caltech. This new grant would provide an $18,000 supplement to the $11,000 that remained from the last year of Pauling’s immunology grant. The work was also receiving material support from the military, and the Office of Scientific Research and Development expressed its hopes that the project would continue after the war. The Rockefeller Foundation approved the joint request, and Pauling and Sturtevant began their collaboration.

The division’s advancements in immunology also piqued the interest of the private sector, as it increasingly became clear that this proprietary research could eventually be commercialized. One company, Lederle Laboratories, offered to collaborate on the research by providing large amounts of antisera and toxins needed as research inputs. Pauling argued against this collaboration, feeling that the work had not yet progressed to the level of “commercial exploitation.”

Frank Blair Hanson, who was overseeing the grant for the Rockefeller Foundation, recommended against the partnership for a very different reason. It was Hanson’s view that medical applications were imminent and that precautions against any commercial applications needed to be taken. In expressing this point of view, Hanson was protecting the foundation’s proprietary interest in the work and insuring that only Rockefeller scientists would be able to draw upon its data for future applications.

A few years later, in the fall of 1944, Pauling took steps to clarify the division’s position on taking funds from – and working with – large companies, a conversation that would only intensify following the war. Pauling’s clarification arose as an action item following a meeting where division faculty had expressed concerns that industrial interests were being considered separately from basic questions in chemistry. Communicating on their behalf, Pauling noted that the faculty overwhelmingly preferred that no strings be attached to grants offered by large private interests.

Towards the end of 1941, one such private interest, Shell Development Company, offered Pauling a position as its Director of Research. Pauling visited Shell in San Francisco to tour his potential new lab, but never seriously considered accepting the job. Instead, as he had done in the past, Pauling used the offer as leverage with his current employer.

In November, Pauling wrote to J. F. M. Taylor at Shell, indicating that he was waiting for a counteroffer from the Institute that would convince him to stay. Ten days later, Pauling wrote to Taylor once more, saying this time that he would decline Shell’s proposal. In explaining his reasoning, Pauling noted that he likely would have accepted the offer were he earlier in his career, but that now “I have now gone too deeply into fundamental science, including the biological applications of chemistry, to tear myself away.” It appears that the promise of a pay increase may have also helped Pauling with his decision, as Caltech’s Board of Trustees agreed to raise his annual salary from $9,000 to $10,500 a little over a month later.

With Pauling once again firmly in place as division head, he began to focus more intently on maintaining a balance between the Rockefeller-funded biochemical and immunological work, and the new obligations ushered in by the onset of war. In January 1942, Weaver checked in with Pauling, specifically to see if those new responsibilities were interfering with the biochemical work. Hanson also wrote, asking the same question with regards to the immunological program. Pauling replied that, despite losing two graduate students to military service, the activities funded by the grants had remained largely unaffected. There was, however, the potential that the division might lose more student assistants in the near future.

As summer approached, the division appeared to be mostly hitting its targets. In a May progress update, Pauling reported that the biochemical grant had been able to complete many of its projected goals for the year despite the war. That said, personnel turnover had been larger than normal, especially in structural and physical chemistry, since those were areas where a lot of war work was being done. Other projects, however, had not been interrupted at all

The immunological work faced a new challenge when the War Production Board began limiting the division’s supplies. Pauling contacted Frank Blair Hanson to communicate this turn of events, and put forth the idea that they solicit a $1 contract from the Committee on Medical Research so that they could continue to have access to supplies. Pauling further explained that the work being carried out under the grant had become significant to the war, including a line of inquiry on the synthesis of quinine. Hanson agreed that it was a good idea to pursue the contract for the purposes outlined.

Even with all of the distractions brought about by World War II, the Rockefeller-funded research at Caltech moved along briskly; so much so that it began to outpace its budget. The grant was originally set at $300,000 to be spread over at least five years, but for each of the first three years the chemistry and biology divisions had requested $70,000. When that request was repeated for the fourth year, Weaver warned Pauling that there would not be enough money left over to support the final year of the grant.

Nonetheless, the Institute’s Board of Trustees approved an even larger request for year four – $75,000 – in part because Pauling provided assurances that the two divisions would not spend the complete budget due to an increased emphasis on war work. Pauling also told Weaver that the divisions would have no problems addressing his concerns.

Buoyed by stable funding and a string of research successes, Pauling was inspired to formulate a broad-ranging and farsighted biochemical research program in the division that he led. In 1942, Pauling sent a draft of this vision to the Board of Trustees. Noting that no program of the sort existed on the West Coast, Pauling expressed his belief that Caltech could collaborate with the University of Southern California Medical School, the Huntington Memorial Hospital, the Good Hope Hospital and others to launch a “cooperative scientific attack” that drew on existing research in physics, chemistry, and biology.

Pauling went so far as to put forth his idea for a small institute to start with, one that would be staffed by two researchers working on hypertension in existing facilities at Caltech at a cost of $15,000 a year. Eventually, Pauling hoped, this institute would grow in stature to the point where it would require its own building on the corner of campus. While the board did not approve Pauling’s plan, he continued to persist, advocating for it as a component of Caltech’s postwar plan. In 1952, the idea came to realization at last.

The massive amount of attention being given to the application of chemical methods to biological subjects threatened to overshadow the chemical engineering branch of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering. But as with biochemical medical research, there was a lack of fundamental chemical engineering research being conducted on the West Coast. Recognizing this gap, faculty member B. H. Sage decided to stand up on behalf of his chemical engineering colleagues.

In the fall of 1944, Sage wrote to Pauling, advocating for future lines of research to support chemical engineering. In his letter, Sage reported that the chemical engineering faculty were shifting away from research
on unit operations as the basic steps in the chemical engineering process, a topic that had dominated the previous fifteen years. Instead, chemical engineering faculty were now interested in analyzing unit operations themselves.

Pauling listened to what Sage had to say and, the following year, began pushing for new courses in fundamentals of chemical engineering. But Sage’s new line of research would also require time and money, and resources were stretched in other directions.

One source of funds was the Texas Company, now known as Texaco. Sage had helped to maintain a contract with the company that provided funding for investigations on the molecular weight of hydrocarbons in methane and other natural gases. This $20,000 annual award was up for renewal in June 1946, and communications with Texaco led Sage to understand that annual funding could be boosted to as much as $100,000 per year. The range of techniques the project would incorporate was also seen as an attractive foundation for exploring basic research in chemical engineering.

However, Texaco’s patent requirements limited both publication opportunities as well as Sage’s time, and the division ultimately decided to recommend to the Board of Trustees that they not approve the contract unless Texaco allow the Caltech researchers’ findings to be disseminated. The division’s recommendation was also motivated by a secondary fear that the Texaco money could cause an imbalance in chemical engineering research within the division, privileging Texaco’s interests at the expense of the unit operations analyses that Sage wanted to pursue. Ultimately the division argued that, absent the Texaco contract, chemical engineering at Caltech might not be as well funded, but its researchers could follow their own interests more closely, and that this was a sacrifice worth making.

Chairing the Division During the War: Staffing

Pauling’s NDRC authorization papers, 1944

[Pauling as Administrator]

The entry of the United States into the Second World War brought a shift in focus for the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at the California Institute of Technology. As its chair, Linus Pauling was tasked with staying on top of continual staff changes, a student population that had shifted away from pure science in favor of engineering, and an “abnormally low budget” of $2,500 for supplies.

The war also prompted a revamp of Pauling’s own research agenda towards war-time imperatives like explosives, propellants, and medicine; a shift that was reflected across the division. Some of Pauling’s government contracts also required him to coordinate with researchers across the country. One such individual was Villiers W. Meloche at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, with whom Pauling worked to determine the age and stability of diphenylamine compounds used in explosives. At one point, Meloche sent a researcher from his group to Pasadena to review some of their work in person, as their collaboration relied upon confidential details that could not be shared through the mail.

One of Pauling’s main administrative priorities during this time was to track and inform the draft status of all of his division’s researchers, be they graduate students or post-docs. Guidance to this effect was provided by W.V. Houston, who was Acting Dean of the Graduate School at Caltech. Houston informed all of the Institute’s division chairs that they would need to inquire into the draft status of each graduate assistant and teaching fellow working in their area, and that they should ask for deferments “for everybody who is to be depended upon for next year’s teaching.” For Pauling, this meant assessing the contributions of each potential draftee.

To do so, Pauling began by creating a form letter for those eligible for deferment. This letter was meant to influence the perspective of local draft boards by outlining the reasons why researchers in the division should be given deferred status. In addition to the boilerplate contained in each letter, Pauling provided his own tailored thoughts on the work that each individual was conducting, once again for the benefit of the draft board’s review.

Most of Pauling’s comments strongly recommended deferment and argued that the individual in question was already working in support of national defense through their chemical research. But in at least one particular case, Pauling’s argument hinged more on potential. This specific student, Werner Baumgarten, was nearing the end of his Ph.D. in organic chemistry, an area where workers were in short supply. If he was deferred, Pauling told the draft board that Baumgarten would likely stay on at Caltech after graduating and recommended that he be given deferment for a “short period” to see “whether or not his services in scientific work are to be important to the national defense.”

As he compiled his comments for a growing number of students, Pauling leaned heavily on the idea that “chemistry is one of the fields vital not only to the national interest but also to the national defense.” He often used this line to close his letters, including one written for Andrew Alm Benson, whom Pauling also described as “easily one of the more able of the men” who would likely receive his Ph.D. within a year. Six months later, Pauling requested an extension for Benson’s deferment to assure that he could continue teaching, as others were being diverted more and more to research in support of the war. Benson would go on to become a leading plant biochemist, spending his career at the Scripps Oceanography Marine Biology Research Division at the University of California, San Diego.

While Pauling did his best to provide support to the researchers working in his division, it is important to note that he was not simply acting as a rubber stamp in his evaluation of those eligible for the draft. In the case of one master’s degree-seeking student, Pauling judged the individual’s work to be “satisfactory” and projected that he would “probably be a competent chemist.” But unlike most of the other letters, Pauling made no explicit call for deferment. Nonetheless, this student remained at Caltech throughout the war years and later built a career working to combat air pollution in southern California.

Besides making sure that those working in the division remained there, Pauling also needed to bring in new employees. As chair, Pauling received many inquiries concerning possible appointments within the division. These inquiries were not always directly addressed to Pauling, but to other faculty who then passed them along. Pauling also commonly sought input from other faculty concerning aspiring applicants who might potentially work in their research area.

Some of the researchers that were brought on board were former graduate students. Since many of these new hires were a bit rusty on matters related to current chemical research, Pauling arranged for them to attend weekly course lectures in organic chemistry led by Laszlo Zechmeister and others. Pauling requested that the Caltech Executive Council not charge these new hires for attending these lectures, since there was no need from them to earn credit as a result of their attendance.

One especially notable applicant was Margaret Sinay. In a February 1944 letter written to Pauling, Sinay noted that her husband had recently been transferred to Los Angeles for work, and that she too was looking for a position in the area. Sinay described herself as an “analytical chemist with about 15 years experience in medical research and routine biochemistry” who had been a senior chemist at the Vick Chemical Company’s vitamin research laboratory. Pauling replied that the division might have an opening for a “war research job, in which analytical training would be useful,” and asked that Sinay come in for an interview once she and her husband had finished their move.

What became of Sinay is unknown, but it is noteworthy that Pauling expressed an interest in bringing her aboard. While there were no formal policies in place at Caltech forbidding the hiring of women into technical positions, they were still not allowed to take courses at the Institute. World War II made something of a dent in these guidelines as Caltech began allowing women to attend no-credit night courses related to war work. None of these course were in chemistry, but the division began to receive a growing number of inquiries from women expressing a desire to study there. To each of these requests, Pauling was forced to reply that it was against Institute policy to admit women at any level, except for those involved in war work.

Towards the end of the war, in October 1944, the Graduate Committee on Post-War Policies at Caltech discussed the possibility of admitting women as advanced degree candidates. These discussions ended up going nowhere. The possibility was brought up anew in 1948, and again it was set aside. Clearly, while the war ushered in many changes to the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, it did not change everything.

First Years as Division Chair: Making Recommendations, Coping with an Explosion, and Bringing Aboard Zechmeister

[Pauling as Administrator]

With its brand new building and innovative, well-funded research program, the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at the California Institute of Technology, under the leadership of Linus Pauling, was increasingly coming to be recognized as a model for chemistry departments and divisions around the country.

This boost is stature is clearly evident in Pauling’s correspondence. In one instance, John C. Bailar, Jr., Assistant Professor and Secretary of the Department of Chemistry at University of Illinois, Urbana, wrote to ask about ways in which they could follow Caltech’s model to improve their own research and instruction. Likewise, Joseph George Cohen, Director of the Division of Graduate Studies at Brooklyn College, noted his ambition to “pattern [their] administrative practices on those schools which occupy a position of leadership in American Chemistry,” and asked how Caltech ran its laboratories and what responsibilities they gave to their PhDs and graduate assistants. Pauling was always willing to give his advice.

Pauling’s recommendations were also commonly sought by other programs looking to hire new staff. Although his picks were not always a match, Pauling increasingly found himself in a position to influence the shape of research around the country. During the fall of 1938 for instance, Pauling recommended a professional colleague, Gilbert King, to fill a position at Duke University. King ended up going to Yale and then MIT instead. After learning that King would not be coming, Paul Gross of Duke again reached out to Pauling, asking for another name.

Lindsay Helmholz

This second time around, Pauling leaned more heavily on his role as division chair and began advocating for an up-and-comer within the division. This individual was Lindsay Helmholz, whom Pauling described as “one of our best men.” Though he was reluctant to lose Helmholz’ skillset, Pauling worked hard in selling him to Gross, highlighting his research and teaching skills while also emphasizing the range of material that Helmholz was familiar with, including topics in physical, structural, and general chemistry. Pauling further pressed Gross to offer Helmholz a permanent position, as he would be more likely to accept it. For added measure, Pauling noted that “Dr. Helmholtz is married to a very pleasant and attractive young woman, and I am sure you would consider the Helmolzes an addition to your community.”

Helmholz ended up not going to Duke, leading Pauling to recommend him again the following summer to Elden B. Hartshorn of the Department of Chemistry at Dartmouth College. Pauling once more praised Helmholz’ ability to teach advanced courses and lauded his experimental and theoretical research skills. And as with his communications to Paul Gross, Pauling concluded with more personal information

Dr. Helmholz is a pleasant and cultured young man and is married to a pleasant and cultured young woman. His father is head of the pediatrics division of the Mayo Foundation at Rochester.

Hartshorn responded that they were looking for someone for the following year and hinted that they may not have the facilities to support Helmholz’ research. Helmholz ultimately ended up at Washington University after working on the Manhattan Project during World War II.

Pauling saved his second-tier recommendations for less prestigious institutions, like the Department of Chemistry at his alma mater, Oregon Agricultural College. In this instance, F.A. Gilfillan, Dean of the School of Science at OAC, was looking for teaching fellows in 1939 and was eager to receive any ideas that Pauling might have in mind. In response, Pauling recommended Robert J. Dery, who had taught at Caltech for three years but had not completed his doctorate since he seemed “for some reason to lack the ability to carry on experimental research.” Dery, according to Pauling, was also “slow spoken, so that in conversation with him one may become impatient.” This habit did not affect Dery as a teacher however, as he spoke very well in front of an audience and, in Pauling’s estimation, was a good freshman instructor.

By April 1939, as the funding from the Rockefeller grant approached its second year, Pauling and Warren Weaver were still looking for someone to head biochemical research being supported by the grant. Pauling asked Weaver if he might further delay the hiring as no clear-cut match for the position had been identified. That June, the Rockefeller Foundation’s Board of Trustees, while discussing the following year’s budget, noticed that no one had been hired and questioned the need to approve the full $70,000 request for the following year. Ultimately the board agreed to the original request, but their hesitation to do so led Pauling to scramble.

Pauling’s notes on the August 1939 explosion. Note in particular his closing sentence: “Koepfli heard the explosion at his home, nearly a mile away.”

In the meantime, Pauling continued to deal with the more mundane responsibilities that were assigned to him as chair. These included a wide range of hiccups presented by the move into the new Crellin Laboratory. One specific issue was the need to make sure that graduate students could access particular areas of the facility – most pressingly the student shop – that were normally only open during business hours. To solve the problem, Pauling requested that a lock be made for the shop that matched the locks on Crellin’s entry doors so that the students could enter more easily.

A much larger problem came to pass in August 1939, when a spark from a ventilating system motor ignited six liters of spilled ether in Crellin Room 351. Leo Brewer, who was in the room at the time, had been working with a twelve liter flask of ether on a ring stand. When he went to adjust the position of the flask on the stand, the bottom fell out of the flask. Brewer cleaned up the ether as best he could, but about five minutes later, as he wrote in his incident report, “suddenly there was a flash of fire which singed my hair, face, and hands.” He immediately left the room and “five seconds later there was an explosion which rocked the building” as the hoods sucked up the flames, igniting the ten gallons of ether in them. Students and stockroom workers equipped with gas masks and fire extinguishers combated the flames until firefighters arrived. In the midst of it all, a second explosion knocked over acid bottles, leading to reactions that produced poisonous gas. All told, the damage was assessed at $13,924.22 (the equivalent of more than a quarter-million dollars today).

Laszlo Zechmeister with the Pauling family, 1940.

While dealing with all of Crellin’s issues, Pauling also had to respond to increasing pressure from the Rockefeller board to find someone to head biochemistry research within the division. The more he thought about it, the more Pauling leaned toward hiring Hungarian chemist Laszlo Zechmeister, who had visited the previous fall. While current staffer Carl Niemann had shown promise, Pauling thought him too young to head the fledgling biochemical research program. Zechmeister, who was in his fifties, was arguably too old, but Pauling began to see his age as an advantage since he was certain someone would emerge from within Caltech itself to lead the program over the next ten to twenty years.

Zechmeister had maintained a correspondence with Pauling since his visit, keeping him informed in particular of Hungary’s increasingly close relationship with Nazi Germany. Zechmeister also told Pauling that, if there were a position available for him elsewhere, he would take it immediately. Pauling finally offered Zechmeister a professorship in organic chemistry in October 1939, which was quickly accepted. The only sticking point was that the contract needed to stipulate that the appointment was for one year only, as that was the longest period of time that Zechmeister was legally allowed to leave Hungary. Sadly, Zechmeister’s wife became sick before they came to Pasadena in 1940, and died the following year. And ultimately Zechmeister would not return to Hungary, spending the remainder of his career at Caltech.

Just two and a half years into his tenure as Chairman of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at the California Institute of Technology, Pauling saw to completion a variety of plans originally set in motion by his predecessor A.A. Noyes, including the construction of a new building. With the onset of the Second World War, an influx of federal funding would create new opportunities as more researchers and projects filled out the division’s buildings. With observations made and lessons learned along the way, the war would also set the stage for Pauling to build off of what he had inherited and take the initiative in further shaping the division.

First Years as Division Chair: Implementing the Rockefeller Grant and Dedicating Crellin


Image of the Crellin Laboratory taken around the time of its dedication in 1938.

[Pauling as Administrator]

Towards the end of the summer of 1937, Linus Pauling was confident that the Rockefeller Foundation would award a $300,000 grant to both the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering and the Division of Biology at the California Institute of Technology. Indeed, so confident was Pauling that he requested permission from the Caltech Executive Council to leverage the forthcoming funds and begin spending immediately on a combined recording microphotometer, densitometer, and comparator. Once permission had been granted, Pauling secured the services of Fred Henson, who had constructed an apparatus of this sort for J. W. McBain of Stanford. Henson agreed to deliver a similar device to Caltech within one year for $2,600 — a thousand dollars less than he normally charged. Pauling also used $850 from funding provided by the British hydrocarbon company M. W. Kellogg to purchase a different instrument.

These new purchases would be put to use in the nearly finished Crellin Laboratory, and staffing and outfitting the facility was an issue of pressing concern. While Pauling and Rockefeller administrator Warren Weaver were still holding out a sliver of hope that the Scottish chemist Alexander Todd would relocate to Pasadena to head the new laboratory, another Rockefeller-funded hire, Carl Niemann, was in the process of equipping and stocking the facility. As he moved forward with this work, Niemann put forth the suggestion that a “central analytical laboratory for the entire department,” with one person in charge, be identified to save space and minimize redundant equipment purchases. This shared laboratory would cost about $3,500 to $4,500 to outfit, whereas the cost of consumables at comparable four-person laboratories ranged from $1,200 to $8,000. Niemann planned to finalize these arrangements in the fall before leaving for a year-long trip to Europe.

In December 1937, after years of negotiation and coordination, Pauling’s feelings of confidence were validated when the Rockefeller Foundation’s Board of Trustees finally approved the Caltech biochemistry grant. Funds would be dispersed beginning in July 1938, and would coincide with the Chemistry division’s move into Crellin. The proposed budget for the first year of the grant largely followed Warren Weaver’s earlier suggestion of $60,000, though Pauling made a successful push for an extra $10,000 to augment organic chemistry research salaries and equipment. When Alexander Todd, following a May visit, ultimately decided not to come to Caltech, the spending plan returned to $60,000. The following year, Pauling shifted the extra $10,000 allocation into hiring researchers and assistants while also purchasing more equipment.

In February 1938, as plans began to settle, Pauling wrote a letter of thanks to Weaver, expressing his gratitude to the Rockefeller board for approving their grant application, and to Weaver for his ideas on how best to develop organic chemistry at Caltech, an initiative that was going smoothly. Pauling likewise acknowledged his personal indebtedness to Weaver for helping to fund and secure his own research. Colleagues of significant consequence including Robert Corey and Max Delbruck had come aboard under the grant and were doing good work. Pauling himself was also warming up to Weaver’s vision, writing, “I am getting more interested in biological problems every day, and am anxious to see our new program in effect.”


Pauling and Arthur Hill at Yale University, 1947

Amidst all of this progress, a test of Pauling’s commitment to his new position as chair arose less than a year after his official appointment. In March 1938, Arthur Hill, a chemist at Yale University, offered Pauling a Sterling Professorship, the highest professorial rank awarded by the university. Pauling’s proposed salary at Yale would be $10,000 and he would also benefit from the services of a private assistant.

Pauling thought hard about the offer, at first replying that he would need a week to think about it. That week stretched into five, and ended with Pauling’s decision to stay at Caltech. In turning down the opportunity, Pauling explained to Hill that he had only recently become chair of a growing division, a circumstance that not only promised to open up new areas of research for himself, but presented him with “an attractive opportunity for contributing effectively to science” by shaping the development of the division. Hill was disappointed, but admitted that the research capacity available at Yale could not compete with what had been built at Caltech.

Feeling more established in his new position as chair, Pauling wrote to Caltech Executive Council chair Robert Milliken in April 1938 that “The outlook for the Division during the next few years is very attractive, especially for the field of the organic chemistry of biological substances.” That said, Pauling was looking for further backing from upper administration. Pauling already had a promise in hand from Caltech’s Board of Trustees that $40,000 would be made available as a complement to the Rockefeller funds, but he wanted further reassurance from Millikan that the Institute would continue to support the division’s nascent biochemistry research well into the future. Buoyed by the momentum of recent months, Millikan was glad to offer this assurance.

On May 16, 1938, the Crellin Laboratory was formally dedicated at a ceremony featuring addresses from Pauling and the building’s patron and namesake, Edward Crellin. In his remarks, Crellin told the audience,

It is pleasing to note the physical union of this building with the new unit of the great William G. Kerckhoff Laboratories of the Biological Sciences, thus enabling Dr. Thomas Hunt Morgan and Dr. Linus Pauling and their associates literally to join hands in the search for, if not the elixir of life, a better understanding of vital processes, leading to better health and longer and happier lives.

For his part, Pauling gave a largely impromptu address, noting how he would have to restrict himself as he was used to lecturing for an hour and not giving five minute speeches. Later, once the facility was up and running, Pauling asked Arnold Beckman to write about it for Industrial and Engineering Chemistry, Analytical Edition, the predecessor journal of today’s Analytical Chemistry.

With Crellin dedicated and the Rockefeller grant in effect, Weaver and Pauling continued their brainstorming about who best to head research in the new laboratory. In the summer of 1938, Weaver mentioned to Pauling that Laszlo Zechmeister, a biochemist from Hungary who had developed chromatography methods to separate enzymes, was visiting the United States and suggested that Pauling invite him to Pasadena. Pauling obliged, arranging for Zechmeister to give three lectures on chromatography, carotenoids, and polysaccharides in November.

As it turned out, Pauling was impressed by the quality of Zechmeister’s presentations, and began to think more seriously about hiring him following a weekend trip to Mexico that he and Ava Helen took with Zechmeister and his wife. Pauling’s estimation of Zechmeister rose in particular once he had learned more about the extent to which Zechmeister had managed to produce as a scientist despite working in a poorly equipped Budapest lab. Though Zechmeister departed from Pasadena without a formal job offer, he would soon become an important figure at Caltech’s new research facility.