Pauling’s Birthday as a Media Event

bio6-008-026

Los Angeles Mirror, March 1, 1961.

In addition to Albert Einstein and perhaps a small handful of others, Linus Pauling stands today as among the most famous of twentieth century scientists. Strong evidence in favor of this claim resides in the more than 3,000 newspaper clippings related to Pauling that are held in the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers, a corpus of material that is bolstered by an additional 2,700 scrapbook leaves, themselves mostly comprised of newspaper clippings as well.

Today, as we celebrate the 116th anniversary of Linus Pauling’s birth on February 28, 1901, we thought it might be interesting to spend some time with all of those newspaper clippings and trace the evolution of Pauling’s birthday as an item of note to the world’s journalists. In so doing, one is also able to delineate differences in the ways that Pauling, as a public figure, was perceived by the media and its readership over time.


Pauling received national media attention for the first time in 1931, when he won the Langmuir Prize from the American Chemical Society at the age of thirty. Newspaper accounts of that award referred to him as a “Prodigy of American Science,” a headline that was used repeatedly in 1946 following Pauling’s receipt of another ACS award, the J. Willard Gibbs Medal.

As Pauling grew older and far more famous, newspapers across the country became increasingly interested in him as a person. When he turned sixty years old on February 28, 1961, the Los Angeles Mirror published the first birthday article that we’ve been able to find in our collection. The write-up, which describes Pauling as “Caltech’s famous Nobel Prize winner in chemistry” focused mostly on his peace work, with which he was heavily involved at the time.

In 1976, on the occasion of Pauling’s 75th birthday, the San Francisco Examiner produced an article commemorating the day. Thus began what would become an almost twenty-year trend: birthday articles on the popular scientist. The 1976 article described Pauling as “cordial and charming, never vindictive.” It also commented on Pauling’s work with vitamin C, focusing especially on its potential applications with cancer.


bio6-012-032

Chicago Tribune, February 22, 1981

When Pauling’s next big birthday, his 80th, rolled around, the newspapers were there once again to celebrate with him. This time, more than eleven different papers from across the country published articles honoring Pauling. His dedication to widely disparate passions earned him the title “scholar-peacemaker.” Writers also described him as “high energy,” despite having eight decades of a busy life in the rear view mirror. His well-known outspokenness was also frequently commented upon as being a fundamental tenet of Pauling’s personality. One paper, The Fremont-Newark Argus, wrote

He’s always been a bit like a feisty puppy: sinking his teeth into an idea, enthusiastically tossing it around and defying anyone to grab it away. That vigorous and stubborn approach to science – and life – has made Linus Pauling a near-legendary figure.

Four years later, the newspapers were publishing articles to mark Pauling’s 84th birthday. Undeterred by his increasing age, they noted, Pauling was staying as busy ever. He continued with his peace work, notably participating in the Peace Ship Assistance mission to Nicaragua the previous August. Journalists, however, seemed mostly interested in Pauling’s work on vitamin C and the controversy that it provoked, labeling him as both a maverick and a pioneering spirit. Thinking along these lines, The Worcester Sunday Telegram postulated

His unrelenting refusal to admit defeat and his persistent crusades have, over the years, stirred up lingering hostilities of passionate proportions in some scientific and political circles – and a kind of folk-hero reverence elsewhere.

1986n-24

Los Angeles Times, March 6, 1986

The following year, when Pauling turned 85, parties and other gatherings filled his calendar for the weeks around his birthday, and newspapers were once again there to document both the proceedings and the popular view of Pauling. More than ten of them published celebratory articles about the “great dean of science” and wrote of Pauling’s enjoyment at being the center of attention. Multiple reporters likewise noted that, although he had gotten older, Pauling’s humor and self-confidence, not to mention his outspoken habits, had not dissipated.

Pauling was also clearly remaining as busy as a man half his age. As an article in Oregon Magazine pointed out,

It’s hard to argue with a man who keeps up active research, runs his own institute, tours the nation giving dozens of major addresses each year, and has just written a new book – and will celebrate his 85th birthday on February 28.

Though Pauling still conducted scientific research mostly in theoretical chemistry, this component of his life was more frequently mentioned as being a part of his past. Quite clearly, vitamin C was keeping him in the news during the 1980s.


It was 1989 and Pauling was celebrating his 88th birthday by the time the media seemed to realize that he was getting older. Heralded by journalists as one of the most important scientists of all time, Pauling’s good humor and outspoken tendencies continued to intrigue, as did his involvement in discussions regarding nuclear issues. He was also continuing his study, and defense, of vitamin C, and the controversy that his opinions had provoked twenty years earlier had not declined.

1991n-33

Los Angeles Times, February 26, 1991

As he turned 90 years old, Pauling was commonly portrayed as being “the everyman’s scientist.” In 1991, at least forty-seven articles were published in commemoration of his birthday. Newspapers referred to him variously as an “aging guru,” “something of an oddball,” and a patriarch of the very scientific establishment that was so vehemently disagreeing with him. The Chicago Tribune, for one, urged one to consider

a tendency to serious messiness, a devotion to hard work, promotion of a couple of theories hardly anybody else subscribes to, a habit of writing directly to the U.S. president when he’s angry, and a happy delight in discovering things that nobody knew before, and you have the full package: the grand old man of science.

Other papers called him a celebrity, a gadfly, a genius. Scientists and medical professionals interviewed for some of these article disagreed, one of them calling the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine a “den of cracks.” None of this seemed too important to Pauling who was still continuing work on his three passions: chemistry, peace, and vitamin C. The media also seemed inclined to think that, after thirty years of effort, his support of ascorbic acid was paying off – to journalists anyway, the work appeared to finally be gaining some acceptance.

February 28 of the following year, 1992, was Pauling’s 91st birthday, and it did not go unmarked. His maverick tendencies were again noted. Another year older and in the early stages of declining health, Pauling had become more solitary, spending much of his time either at his Big Sur ranch or closer to the Bay Area at the Institute. The newspapers, which had earlier commented on his pleasure at being the center of attention, now described him as being more comfortable when alone. Even still, Pauling remained extremely active. As an article published in the Arizona Daily Star reported, the nonagenarian was “still publishing scientific papers, still working in the laboratory, and still touting the virtues of C.”

Linus Pauling clearly made an impact not only on matters scientific and peace-related, but also on the average American’s view of what a scientist could be. His persona as a celebrity was both reflected and enhanced by the regular media coverage that attended both his professional activities and his personal milestones. Though now gone for more than twenty-two years, his impact is still strongly felt. Likewise, through newspaper articles and more than 4,000 linear feet of additional materials held in his papers, the Pauling legacy will remain carefully preserved for future generations of scholars, admirers and, yes, journalists.

Pauling 115

AC_Birthday_FS

This is where we’ll be today.

This coming Sunday will mark the 115th anniversary of Linus Pauling’s birth on February 28, 1901. While we here at Oregon State University are commemorating the birthday anniversary with cake and conversation at the Linus Pauling Science Center, the Pauling Blog observes the occasion in our traditional manner, by looking back at Pauling’s life 100, 75, 50 and 25 years ago.

1916i.1

Lucile, Linus, Belle and Pauline, 1916.

1916

As a junior at Washington High School in Portland, Oregon, Pauling took his first chemistry class in spring 1916.  That fall he began his senior year at Washington and then, in 1917, enrolled at Oregon Agricultural College, at the age of sixteen and lacking a high school diploma. Pauling did not graduate from high school because he neglected to take a required history course, and back then OAC didn’t require high school equivalency for admission.  Linus was always a good student, of course, but during his junior year at Washington he struggled a bit, earning C’s in English and Latin, alongside the expected A’s in solid geometry and chemistry.

1941i.8

Pauling family portrait taken in 1941. Back of photograph is annotated, “1941. Daddy very ill.”

1941

With the onset of war in Europe, Pauling faced a major personal crisis of his own in 1941. While giving a lecture in New York, Pauling made light of his alarmingly swollen face:

I am happy also that this occasion has brought me in touch with many old friends – with Paul Emmett and Joe Mayer and many others. Several of them said to me tonight that I appeared to be getting fat. This is not so. You know, when I was a boy in Oregon I used to go around a great deal in the green, damp Oregon woods, and I always came into contact with poison oak, which caused my face to swell and my eyes to swell shut, and me to apply so much lead acetate solution that it is a wonder that I didn’t die of lead poisoning. Yesterday I must have bumped into something similar, for my face began to swell, and I began to be afraid that I would have to speak here tonight with my eyes swollen shut – which I could have done, with the practice I have had speaking in the dark. Well, while I was wondering what the responsible protein could have been, I decided that it was a visitation – that I was being punished for thinking wicked thoughts. The other day I said “It is too bad that something doesn’t happen to Senator Wheeler – nothing serious, just something that would lay him up with his eyes shut for two or three weeks” and my wife said “No what you want is something that would keep his mouth shut – his eyes are closed already.”

As it turned out, Pauling’s edema was the result of his having fallen ill with glomerulonephritis, a kidney disease that was usually fatal.  Fortunately for Pauling and for the history of science, he sought out an alternative treatment from Dr. Thomas Addis that saved his life.

Even prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. was shifting gears in response to the outbreak of World War II. This shift made a direct impact on Pauling’s work at Caltech, and he began putting the brakes on his massive program of research on the structure of proteins in favor of new studies funded by government war contracts, including, in 1941, investigations of elastic explosives and rocket propellants.

1966i.14

Linus Pauling, 1966.

1966

Pauling’s life and work took another dramatic shift in 1966 when he made the acquaintance of Irwin Stone, initially through correspondence.  At a talk on “Science and World Problems” delivered in New York, Pauling had made mention of a desire to live another fifteen years, so that he might be able to witness some of the major advances that he foresaw as being on the close horizon.  Stone was in the audience and sent Pauling a hugely influential letter that detailed a “High Level Ascorbic Acid Regimen” that could “help you achieve this goal and possibly tack on a few extra decades.”  Pauling was intrigued and thus began his famous fascination with vitamin C.

1991

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

1991

Now 90 years old, Pauling experienced a difficult year in 1991.  As the year began, the United States was preparing to invade the Persian Gulf, an action that Pauling protested vehemently, taking out a paid advertisement in the New York Times imploring the government to “stop the rush to war.”

Closer to home, Pauling’s friend and close colleague Ewan Cameron, with whom he had published some of his most controversial papers on vitamin C, passed away at the age of 68, a victim of cancer.  That fall, Pauling himself was also diagnosed with prostate and rectal cancer, which he began treating using megadoses of vitamin C and an experimental hormone therapy.  He would live for three more years before passing away on August 19, 1994.

Pauling110

Linus Pauling. Lecturing at the Concepts of Chemical Bonding Seminar, Oslo University, Oslo, Norway. 1982.

Today marks the 110th anniversary of Linus Pauling’s birth, which occurred in Portland, Oregon on February 28, 1901. As has become tradition on the Pauling Blog, we are celebrating this occasion by looking back at Pauling’s life in increments of twenty-five years.

1911

At the tender age of ten, young Linus was already at a crossroads in his life. First and foremost, his father Herman had died of a perforated ulcer the previous summer, thus throwing the Pauling family into something akin to chaos. Herman was a pharmacist and businessman of middling success, and his death was a source of major financial concern for his widow Isabelle and their three children, Linus, Pauline (age 9) and Lucile (age 7). From this point on, Linus’s childhood was certainly informed, if not dominated, by the continual need to contribute to the household income. His mother’s only asset of consequence was the family home, which she boarded out on a regular basis in an attempt to make ends meet. But as time passed and Belle’s own health faded, her only son was frequently called upon to assist with the family finances, leading Linus to assume any number of odd jobs, from delivery boy to film projectionist to grocery clerk.

Young Linus, ca. 1910s.

It was at this same time that the boy’s interest in science was beginning to flower. The previous year Herman had written a letter to the Portland Oregonian newspaper indicating that his son was a “great reader” keenly interested in ancient history and the natural sciences. In 1911 Pauling’s scientific impulses continued to flourish in the form of an insect collection that he maintained and classified using books checked out from the Portland library. Not long after, as with many scientists of his generation, Linus would develop an interest in minerals and begin compiling a personal collection of classified stones that he found.

1936

By the age of thirty-five, Pauling had already established himself as among the world’s pre-eminent structural chemists and was well on his way to making a major impact in the biological sciences. In 1936 Pauling met Karl Landsteiner of the Rockefeller Institute, a Nobel laureate researcher best known at the time for having determined the existence of different blood types in human beings. In their initial meeting, Pauling and Landsteiner discussed Landsteiner’s program of research in immunology, a conversation that would lead to a fruitful collaboration between the two scientists. Importantly, his interactions with Landsteiner would lead Pauling to think about and publish important work on the specificity of serological reactions, in particular the relationship between antibodies and antigens in the human body.

Linus Pauling, 1936.

The year also bore witness to a major change at the California Institute of Technology: in June, Arthur Amos Noyes died. Noyes had served as chairman of the Caltech Chemistry Division for some twenty-seven years and was among the best known chemists of his era. His death ushered a power vacuum within the academic administration at Caltech, by then an emerging force in scientific research. Three of Pauling’s colleagues cautiously recommended to Caltech president Robert Millikan that Pauling be installed as interim chair of the department. Millikan agreed and offered the position to Pauling, but was met with refusal. At the time of the proposal,  Pauling was the object of some degree of criticism within the ranks at Caltech – certain of his peers felt him to be overly ambitious and even reckless in his pursuit of scientific advance – and the suggestion that Pauling assume division leadership was hardly unanimous. Millikan’s terms likewise did not meet with Pauling’s approval; in essence he felt that he would be burdened with more responsibility but would not gain in authority. The impasse would not last long however, as Pauling would eventually accept a new offer in April 1937 and begin a twenty-one year tenure as division chief.

1961

A busy year started off with a bang when the sixty-year-old Pauling was chosen alongside a cache of other U.S. scientists as “Men of the Year” by Time magazine. By this period in Pauling’s life his peace activism was a topic of international conversation and early in the year Linus and Ava Helen followed up their famous 1958 United Nations Bomb Test Petition with a second “Appeal to Stop the Spread of Nuclear Weapons,” issued in the wake of nuclear tests carried out by France. As a follow-up, the Paulings organized and attended a May conference held in Oslo Norway, at which the attendees (35 physical and biological scientists and 25 social scientists from around the world) issued the “Oslo Statement,” decrying nuclear proliferation and the continuation of nuclear tests.

Group photo of participants in the Oslo Conference, 1961.

While Pauling’s attentions during this period were increasingly drawn to his peace work, he did make time for innovative scientific research. Of particular note was his theory of anesthesia, published in July in the journal Science. Pauling’s idea was that anesthetic agents formed hydrate “cages” with properties similar to ice crystals. Owing to the nature of their molecular structure, these cages would impede electrical impulses in the brain, thus leading to unconsciousness. In a review article published one year later, the pharmacologist Chauncey Leake described the theory as “spectacular,” though for reasons that are still unclear it failed to gain traction with the larger scientific community.

1986

By age eighty-five, Pauling’s interests centered largely upon his continuing fascination with vitamin C. Having already published monographs focusing upon ascorbic acid’s capacity to ward of the common cold and the flu, Pauling was ready to put his thinking together into a general audience book that would discuss the path to happier and healthier lives. The result was How to Live Longer and Feel Better, a modest critical and commercial success that helped bolster the reputation and the finances of the struggling Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine.

Pauling at 85.

Many of the recommendations that Pauling made in How to Live Longer… were fairly typical of most health promotion books: a sensible diet, regular exercise and no smoking. The major exception to this moderate approach was the famed author’s stance on vitamin supplementation. In biographer Thomas Hager‘s words

Pauling was now advising between 6 and 18 grams of vitamin C per day, plus 400-16,000 IU of vitamin E (40-160 times the RDA), 25,000 IU of vitamin A (five times the RDA), and one or two ‘super B’ tablets for the B vitamins, along with a basic mineral supplement.

This staunch belief in the value of megavitamins would stay with Pauling until his death eight years later, in August 1994.

The Story of 1985

Linus Pauling speaking at Oregon State University with the United Nations Bomb Test petition. 1986.

[A look back 25 years in honor of the Pauling birthday anniversary on February 28th.]

Even after a long, exhausting and prestigious career, Linus Pauling remained active and engaged throughout the latter years of his life. During the year 1985, he spent an impressive amount of time speaking and traveling around the country. Roughly four years had passed since the death of Ava Helen, and in her absence Linus kept himself busy writing papers, sharing new ideas, and defending old ones. Though he continued to make contributions to the peace movement throughout the 1980s, Pauling scaled back his activism for much of 1985 to defend a growing movement which sought to diminish the legitimacy of his nutrition advocacy.

Over the previous years, Pauling had become a strong supporter of vitamin supplements for the treatment and prevention of illness and disease. Most notable was his insistence that vitamin C could be used to significantly improve the condition of cancer patients. Ewan Cameron, a surgeon from Scotland who had been in contact with Pauling for several years, undertook a study to treat cancer patients with vitamin C. The outcome from the study, released in 1976, reported longer survival rates and a number of other positive effects in terminal cancer patients who had been administered high doses of vitamin C.

A study addressing Cameron’s results was later released by the Mayo Clinic, overseen by a professor of oncology named Charles Moertel. The study refuted conclusions from Cameron’s research, and insisted that the results from his study were not reproducible. According to Pauling and Cameron, this was largely due to Moertel’s unwillingness to correctly match the design of Cameron’s work. Though much of the scientific community was generally unreceptive to Pauling’s promotion of vitamin mega-dosing, this initial Mayo Clinic study did not fully repudiate Pauling and Cameron’s claims.

In 1985 a second study was released by the Mayo Clinic, the intention of which was to more closely replicate the conditions of Cameron’s experiment. The final results of the study countered Cameron’s claims once again, and this time the study was almost unanimously accepted by the scientific establishment. Pauling promptly denounced the second study, and spent a great deal of energy fighting the perceived conclusiveness of its findings.

Perhaps the most substantial objection issued by Pauling was that the Mayo studies were using a different framework to measure the success of vitamin C treatment. The Moertel study stopped testing when no visible tumor recession appeared, whereas a primary emphasis for Cameron’s earlier study involved measuring quality of life improvements for the patients undergoing treatment. Though tumor recession was a goal of Cameron’s study, it was not the ultimate determinant of its success.

Shortly after the release of the second Mayo study, a dip was experienced in mail-in donations to the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine. Pauling largely blamed the Mayo Clinic for these decreases, which partially explains the ferocity of his response. Even with these setbacks however, the Institute remained open, and Pauling was able to carry on with life-as-usual for the most part.

Though most of Pauling’s work during the year was focused on refuting results from the Mayo Clinic study and promoting his vitamin C agenda, he still managed to publish other material that was somewhat unrelated to the controversy. He finished his final book, How to Live Longer and Feel Better, the last of sixteen books written by Pauling. The book offers suggestions for a healthy lifestyle, touching on physical and mental practices, and appeared on the New York Times’ bestseller list when it was first published in 1986.

He also authored several articles addressing chemical bonds, quantum chemistry and crystal structure theory. Several publications involving quasicrystals were perhaps his most notable works for the year in this regard. Upon their classification as such, quasicrystals were a category of crystal that seemed to violate the prevailing crystallographic principles of the time. A number of theories were produced to explain their irregular tendencies, and Pauling formed a hypothesis that received widespread attention among his peers.

Besides his turbulent interactions with the scientific community throughout the year, Pauling was also kept busy by a number of personal affairs. His friend of over 60 years, Paul Emmett, died in April, and Pauling attended his funeral in Portland later that month.

Though the debate over vitamin C absorbed much of Pauling’s attention during the year, he still managed to travel, write, speak for peace and relax at his Big Sur ranch. If nothing else, Pauling’s impressive age and remarkable vigor provide a convincing testament to his behavior and lifestyle advocacy. Throughout the rest of the 1980s, Pauling’s routine and activity would change very little.

The Story of 1960

[A look back 50 years in honor of the Pauling birthday anniversary on February 28th.]

Throughout most of 1959, Linus and Ava Helen Pauling were actively engaged in several peace-related activities, including a nuclear test ban treaty being deliberated in Geneva. Certain developments preceding the New Year made it clear, however, that a full nuclear test ban treaty (atmosphere, water and underground) was unlikely to be negotiated. Richard Lippman, a good friend and ally of Pauling, passed away suddenly around the same time. Quite understandably, the two events had a depressive effect on Pauling. When he and Ava Helen visited their Big Sur ranch the following January in 1960, Pauling decided to go for a walk early one Saturday morning.

After following a deer trail for some time, Pauling became lost and then stuck on a cliff under a large rock formation. He found himself surrounded by slippery blue shale, and the unstable rocks shifted towards the cliff edge every time he tried to move. Ava Helen contacted the Forrest Service in the evening when her husband failed to come back or return her shouts. Pauling heard searchers at one point in the evening, but his voice wouldn’t carry up to the would-be rescuers above him. That night he slept under a map that he had with him, and tried to keep warm in the freezing fog.

He was found the next morning in “high spirits,” but was deeply shaken by the ordeal. He attempted to go back to work the following Monday, but was forced to return home after a short time in his office, fully conscious but unable to speak. He had been terrified by his night on the cliff, and it seems that after years of internalization, the unsettling experience was forcing him to confront many repressed emotions. His physician diagnosed Pauling’s condition as shock, and ordered him to rest for a few days. During the ensuing weeks of recovery, he was more emotionally vulnerable than his family had ever seen him.

Meanwhile, after negotiations had stalled in Geneva, the international moratorium on nuclear testing expired at the end of 1959. The expiration catalyzed a strong re-emergence of proponents for renewed nuclear bomb testing, and the force of the new movement compelled Pauling and his wife back into the nuclear test-ban arena. The Paulings attended several protests and in June Linus gave a speech to the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Afterwards he was handed several fliers, newspaper clippings and an array of other papers which he stuffed into his pockets while answering questions. Back at his hotel room that night, he was sorting through everything when he noticed a subpoena that had been handed to him during the post-speech discourse. It stated that he was to appear before an executive session of the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee two days from then, on Monday, June 20.

Subpeona issued to Linus Pauling by the Internal Security Subcommittee of the United States Senate. June 20, 1960.

Pauling immediately called Abraham Lincoln Wirin, a lawyer who had assisted him with a number of legal disputes, to discuss his options in addressing the subpoena. The day before Pauling was to appear before the subcommittee, he held a press conference, and successfully lobbied to have the first executive session opened to the public. After being sworn in, it became clear why Pauling had been summoned. Several years prior, he had submitted a nuclear test ban petition to the UN with a substantial number of signatures. The petition was initially an appeal by American scientists but was later circulated in many other countries, several of them governed by Communist parties, for an expanded petition response. The subcommittee wanted to know how he’d done it, and if he utilized the help of any communist organizations. Pauling politely answered every question, but when it came to divulging the names of those who had helped to collect more than one signature, he became openly concerned. After some questioning and a short recess, Pauling stood and said:

The circulation of petitions is an important part of our democratic process. If it is abolished or inhibited, it would be a step toward a police state. No matter what assurances the subcommittee might give me concerning the use of names, I am convinced the names would be used for reprisals against these enthusiastic, idealistic, high-minded workers for peace.

The acting chairman, Senator Thomas Dodd, gave Pauling until August 9 to come up with a list of names. Wirin succeeded in getting the deadline postponed to October 11, and Linus and Ava Helen  continued to travel and deliver speeches. Pauling received a great deal of support from many academics, members of the press and fellow Nobel Prize winners as well as a great number of constituents who wrote letters of protest to Dodd and other senators. When asked to relinquish the requested names at the October hearing, Pauling refused. He was not given a contempt citation, as was somewhat expected, but instead subjected to a loyalty inquiry. After five hours of questioning related to his presumed affiliation with the Communist party and party members, Pauling was allowed to leave.

As the Dodd confrontation was entering its final stages, Pauling remained on the offensive. Though it appeared to most that he had won, Pauling took the matter very personally. He continued to attack Dodd publicly and began campaigning for the abolition of investigatory committees, even mounting several libel suits against newspapers and organizations that had released material reflecting allegations and positions taken by the SISS. Pauling came into conflict with past associates and organizations, and became a more open critic of American society generally. He had resigned his chairmanship at Caltech several years before to focus more of his time on personal pursuits, and his political crusades grew more public after years of partial restraint. He was still supported by an array of old associates, though many became concerned with Pauling’s new disposition.

Linus Pauling speaking at a peace march in MacArthur Park, Los Angeles, California. 1960. Photo by Robert Carl Cohen.

Linus Pauling’s rescue from a cliff and his confrontation with the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee – events which were both widely publicized and of enormous import to Pauling’s life – overshadowed most of his other activities in 1960. He made frequent appearances in all forms of media throughout the year, and gave a considerable number of speeches.  He remained very active in the nuclear test ban arena, and even spoke to ambassadors from the U.S., Great Britain and the Soviet Union during a July visit to Geneva.

Though he came out relatively unscathed from his activities, the SISS confrontation soured Pauling in a way, and further radicalized his positions. For the time being however, he remained popular within the establishment. The following year he was among the American scientists honored by Time magazine as “Men of the Year,” received the title of Humanist of the Year from the American Humanist Society, and would participate in a number of high-profile conferences and protests. But despite this series of mostly positive outcomes, 1960 was a difficult year that significantly influenced the direction of Pauling’s ever evolving demeanor.

For more on Pauling’s peace work, see the website Linus Pauling and the International Peace Movement: A Documentary History.

The Story of 1935

Linus Pauling, 1935.

[A look back 75 years in honor of the Pauling birthday anniversary on February 28th.]

In 1935 Linus Pauling turned 34. He continued in his position as a full professor of Chemistry at the California Institute of Technology, and, per usual, stayed very busy for the duration of the year. Now recognized nationally and internationally for his work with structural chemistry, he showed no signs of slowing down his scholarly progress.

Pauling was well aware of the benefits that his presence brought to Caltech, and he used this advantage as leverage to advance his evolving research agenda. As a result, friction began to develop between him and other members of the department. He was a brilliant scientist and theorist at the start of an impressive career, but still comparatively young and impatient. He was traveling, networking with scholars from other institutions, conducting innovative research and making plans for his future. As a result of so many contrasting variables, the year 1935 would prove to be both substantive and challenging for Pauling.

The year also marked the conclusion of a time period renowned as Pauling’s great years of achievement in structural chemistry. During a trip to Berkeley in the spring, Pauling formulated a theory that explained the configurational entropy of ice in relation to hydrogen bonds. A paper using the theory was eventually published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, but Pauling would also later use this theory to inform a wide range of other structural work.

Though Pauling still published several crystal structure determinations during this time, his interest began shifting to the field of biology. He published an important paper dealing with the interaction between oxygen molecules and iron atoms in hemoglobin – work which proved, among other things, to be an important development in his budding relationship with the Rockefeller Foundation.

With the help of a former student, E. Bright Wilson, Pauling also managed to publish a book, Introduction to Quantum Mechanics, with Applications to Chemistry. The book was a transformation of lecture notes developed for one of Pauling’s classes, a three-year endeavor in the making. The book initially faced slow acceptance by fellow scholars, but remained in print for thirty years and proved to be a popular textbook for introducing chemists and physicists to the newborn field of quantum mechanics.

Pauling traveled for a little over one month straight during the spring of 1935. He traversed much of the country, making stops in Chicago, New York, Washington D. C. and Atlanta. He was sought after for a number of meetings and speaking engagements, many of which he had to turn down, most notably a September meeting of the British Association in Norwich, Norfolk UK. Around Christmas time of the same year, Ava Helen went for a trip to visit her mother who was ill. As usual, Linus wrote to her every day during the length of her absence.

Ava Helen and Linus Pauling, Painted Canyon, California. 1935.

As Pauling’s relationship with the Rockefeller Foundation intensified, he began pursuing research that was generally more in line with the goals of the foundation, and quickly formed a sort of strategic alliance with Warren Weaver, the man in charge of dispensing Rockefeller grants in the natural sciences. This relationship with Weaver would prove to be beneficial for Pauling not just in terms of finances, but later on as well when a dispute at Caltech required special resolution. Around this time Pauling also received the Simon Flexner Award from the Rockefeller Institute for his work in relation to the medical sciences. He met with Simon Flexner, the institute’s president, and arranged for a man named Alfred Mirsky to spend 15 months working with him at Caltech.

Mirsky, a professor of cell biology, worked with Pauling on protein denaturation experiments, and the two spent part of their summer at Caltech’s marine laboratory in Corona del Mar. Mirsky began a number of experiments upon his arrival to Caltech, and Pauling let him handle most of the laboratory work involved.  Once the laboratory data was gathered, Pauling translated the observations into chemical-bond terms, and the two spent a substantial amount of time collaborating and discussing the research. The two wrote a paper that was eventually published in July 1936 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The paper, “On the Structure of Native, Denatured, and Coagulated Proteins,” theorized the relationship between hydrogen bonds and protein structure, and proved to be an important advance in the field of protein analysis.

Though everyday business was being adequately managed around this time, a great conflict was growing at the California Institute of Technology. It had been generally understood that Pauling was being groomed to replace A. A. Noyes as director of the Caltech Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering. However, as the years passed and Noyes’ health deteriorated, it became increasingly clear that Pauling would most likely not be assuming the position in its entirety. There were a number of reasons for this, but foremost among them was opposition from several key Caltech faculty members.

As the ensuing dispute continued, Pauling began looking outside of the Institute for opportunity and leverage. He was presented with a very generous offer from Ohio State University, and it was made clear that there was a place for him at Harvard as well. Pauling was keenly aware of his value, and made it clear to all parties involved that his allegiance would come at a premium. This new strategy was a source of resentment at the Institute, and the resulting conflict would inflict Pauling with a heavy burden. Though Pauling continued much of his normal activity throughout the following months into 1936, he was largely preoccupied and affected by the unsteady turn of events. The conflict would eventually be resolved in a manner satisfactory to most participants, but Pauling paid a heavy political toll for advancement at this stage in his career.

For more on Pauling achievements in chemistry and biology, check out the documentary history series of websites available at Linus Pauling Online.

The Story of 1910

Herman Pauling in his drugstore, early 1900s.

[Ed Note: As we count down the days to the Pauling birthday anniversary on February 28, we’ll be looking back on the life of Linus Pauling as it was playing out 100, 75, 50 and 25 years ago.]

In early 1910, the Pauling family moved to a suburb in East Portland. The move was precipitated chiefly by the destruction of Herman Pauling’s drugstore business in Condon, Oregon. His store had been subjected to a number of difficulties before being severely damaged by fire.

Herman expended a great amount of energy building a new life for his family, subjecting himself to large amounts of stress in the process. After settling into their new environment, he wrote a letter to the Portland Oregonian in May of 1910, requesting advice for his son. Young Linus Pauling was particularly interested in ancient history at that time, and Herman wanted to a few suggestions on comprehensive texts to indulge his son’s new fascination. A reply from the editor recommended Plutarch’s Lives, Thomas Arnold’s History of Rome, as well as a sampling of Herodotus. The editor suggested that when Linus was finished with these texts, he would no longer need further guidance.

A month before the letter was written, Linus Pauling’s maternal grandfather, Linus Wilson Darling, had died from a “valvular disease of the heart.” The following June, only a month after requesting the Oregonian‘s advice, Linus’ father passed away suddenly at the age of thirty-three, a day after falling ill. The official cause was gastritis, though it is very likely that stress was a major contributor.

Linus quietly accepted the news of his father’s passing. Though he was calm and controlled on the outside, one can easily imagine the emotions being kept in check within. This suppression of emotions, and his ability to carry on under difficult circumstances, would prove to be both an asset and a liability for Pauling throughout his life. Though the event was likely the beginning of his inability or unwillingness to deal with unpleasant events and circumstances, it would not last forever. Eventually, Pauling would be forced to deal with these demons.

Belle Pauling, early 1900s.

The death of Linus’ father utterly destroyed the life that the Paulings had known. The family was in a new town, the three children were attending new schools, and the family’s main source of income was gone. Linus’ mother Belle attempted to keep the family business in operation, but had the children to care for and no previous business experience. She was eventually forced to sell Herman’s new store and invested the proceeds into a boardinghouse that would provide the family with a home, and a chance to draw a dependable monthly income. Understandably, Belle herself was not handling the stress well. In two months she had lost both her husband and father, and was forced to become the family’s sole provider. She fell into a deep depression and succumbed to a chronic illness from which she would never recover.

After coping with her initial grief, Pauling’s mother attempted to maintain some scrap of the normality that the family had previously known. In the period immediately following his father’s death however, Linus and his sisters were allowed to “run wild” with little to no supervision from their mother. Belle was unable or unwilling to cope with her new responsibilities and eventually became cold and practical in order to deal with her life’s harsh new realities. She initially hired a woman to help around the house, but was eventually forced to let her go as money grew tighter. Linus and his sisters were expected to do a number of chores for the boardinghouse and eventually compelled to seek outside employment. As would happen again to Pauling later in life, the wages from their jobs were completely utilized by Belle to supplement the family income.

To deal with the unpleasantness that this new arrangement brought to young Linus, he retreated into himself and into books. He absorbed all of the household reading material, and eventually discovered the local public library. A small bit of additional comfort was provided to Linus when school resumed the following Fall. He found that by doing well in school, he could receive some of the respect and acknowledgment that was lacking at home.

For better or worse, it is likely that 1910 most directly shaped the constitution and trajectory of Linus Pauling’s life. Had Linus’ father not passed away, and had he been afforded a stable life of relative comfort, it is difficult to guess what Pauling might have done with his abilities. The tragedies and uncomfortable necessities that plagued Pauling throughout his childhood and adolescence were likely among the motivating factors driving the great man’s success. Had this year been different, Linus Pauling, renowned for his contributions to science, activism and nutrition, may well have applied his energies in a dramatically different manner.

For much more on Linus Pauling’s early years, check out our Oregon 150 series of posts.