Pauling’s OAC, 1919-1920: The Boy Professor

Paul Emmett and Linus Pauling, circa 1919

[Ed Note: Next week, school begins anew here at Oregon State University. And as has become tradition at around this time, we reflect back today on Linus Pauling’s attendance at Oregon Agricultural College one-hundred years ago. In this three-part series, we explore Pauling’s life and the culture of OAC during the 1919-1920 academic year.]

Linus Pauling began the summer of 1919 in a job he detested. Working 60 hours a week, Pauling held a position at Riverside Dairy that was responsible for “monitoring the quality of the bitumen-stone mixes” used in the company’s products. Exhausted and bored, Pauling started his search for a new summer job within only a couple of weeks.

Quickly he found a more desirable job with the Oregon State Highway Department working as a plant inspector at the Wolf Creek-Grave Creek section of the Pacific Highway. Importantly, the position allowed Pauling to work closely with chemicals, and once the new opportunity was confirmed, Pauling left the Riverside Dairy in favor of Josephine County, Oregon, where he would help to oversee the paving process.

The Grave Creek paving plant, 1919

As the end of summer neared, Pauling began to prepare himself to return to Oregon Agricultural College for his junior year as a Chemical Engineering student. However, he soon received devastating news: his mother, who as in dire financial straits, had used all of his savings to keep the family afloat in Portland, meaning that there was no money available to fund his continued schooling.

Defeated, Pauling continued his work as a plant inspector and, once September rolled around, he found himself debating paving techniques with other inspectors rather than attending classes in Corvallis. But even in these debates, Pauling relied upon his scientific training to put forth an informed argument and to contradict the conventional wisdom. Specifically, Pauling claimed that the state’s guidance to lay pavement at temperatures between 225-275 degrees Fahrenheit was not accurate enough; 275 degrees was, in Pauling’s view, necessary for the best outcome.


John Fulton, 1947. Also an OAC alum, Fulton served as chair of the Chemistry Department from 1907-1940.

Fortunately for Pauling, Oregon Agricultural College had seen an unprecedented growth in enrollment that fall and was now confronting a crisis as faculty struggled to meet the needs of a much larger student body. In late October, OAC Dean of Chemistry John Fulton reached out to Pauling – who was by then well-known to the faculty as being an exceptional talent – and offered him a position teaching analytical chemistry. Pauling was 18 years old at the time of the offer.

Though it would come with a $25 pay decrease to $100 per month, Pauling readily accepted the job, returning to campus on November 14 and officially beginning work as an instructor in Chemistry on November 20, 1919. Pauling’s personnel file indicates that this was not his first job within the Chemistry department – the previous academic year he had been employed as a student assistant, charged with mixing solutions for use in general chemistry laboratories.

Despite the pay decrease, Pauling found that his new job did come with a few perks. Nestled in Science Hall (present day Furman Hall) Pauling worked primarily on the second floor, which was dedicated to quantitative analysis, and was assigned his own office. He also enjoyed the services of his own assistant, a Mr. Douglas, who helped prepare solutions for the courses that Pauling instructed (the same job that Pauling had held the year before).

In winter 1920, his debut as a collegiate instructor, Pauling taught three courses: two sections of quantitative analysis for mining engineers, chemical engineers and pharmacy students; and one section of general chemistry for agriculture, home economics, and entry-level engineering students. The courses were listed as Chemistry 244 and Chemistry 102 respectively.  In these three classes combined, Pauling taught 83 students, one of whom was his close friend Paul Emmett, later to become an influential catalysis chemist. Emmett received an A in Pauling’s quantitative analysis course for chemical engineering and pharmacy students.

And as the year progressed, Dean Fulton and Pauling developed a consequential academic relationship and also a friendship. Importantly, it is likely that Fulton referred Pauling to a series of papers authored by Irving Langmuir and G.N. Lewis that became very influential in his later research. Following Pauling’s graduation from OAC, Fulton also supplied $100 and $200 loans to support Pauling’s research during his graduate school years at the California Institute of Technology.


With one term of instruction under his belt, Pauling’s horizons began to expand and his interest in the opportunities offered by an OAC education started to wither. In particular Pauling believed that the land grant curriculum put forth by OAC was lacking, particularly in its attention to theory, and increasingly he found himself drawn to Caltech and its new Gates Chemical Laboratory. As he considered a transfer, Pauling initiated a brief correspondence with Caltech’s Chemistry head A.A. Noyes, and he also secured a letter of recommendation from John Fulton. In the end though, Pauling was simply unable financially to commit to a move to southern California, and decided to stay on at OAC for another term as an instructor.

For spring term, Pauling was assigned two new courses: Chemistry 242 and Chemistry 245. Both were quantitative analysis surveys designed for engineering students and each included at least one lecture, one recitation, and anywhere from three to twelve hours of lab work per week. Each day of Pauling’s schedule had several morning hours blocked out for preparing and delivering the majority of his lectures.

View of the inside front cover of Pauling’s 1920 Quantitative Analysis notebook.

Pauling’s research notebook for that year – annotated with a hand-written “Keep Out! No Admittance” across the front cover – is riddled with student grades, calculations and notes on experimental methods. Pauling was compelled to consult this journal when, after finishing his position at the end of spring term and returning to his pavement inspector job, Dean Fulton contacted him at his Wolf Creek address. In his letter, Fulton requested that Pauling decipher some of the notes on quizzes that he had administered to his students during the previous term. Fulton also needed clarification on unknown solutions that he had produced and used during his classes.

Pauling’s appointment for the academic year ended in June 1920 and by June 11th, when OAC’s students were wrapping up their final examinations, “the boy professor” was returning to his position with the Oregon State Highway Department. He did so having also applied for a job as an assayer at Mountain Copper Company in Keswick, California, but he ultimately decided not to make the move so far south. During the summer months that followed, Pauling worked especially hard to accrue enough savings to support a true junior year at Oregon Agricultural College. Fortunately, he was able to do so and returned to campus the following fall, eager to begin classes after a one year hiatus.

The Lenin Peace Prize: Aftermath

Wire article published in the New York Daily News, April 17, 1970

[Part 2 of 2]

In June 1970, Linus Pauling accepted the International Lenin Peace Prize for Strengthening Peace Among Peoples, an award bestowed by the Soviet Union in the spirit of forging unity with the United States. An acknowledgement of Pauling’s efforts to work towards world peace, the prize also served as a symbolic gesture for many people who were active in the global peace community.

Despite the high profile and prestige of the prize, only a small number of people were invited to attend the ceremony itself, which was held at the Soviet embassy in Washington, D.C. But that did not mean that the prize went unnoticed, and Pauling received a great many letters of congratulation once word of his accomplishment began to receive media attention.

One such correspondent was Romesh Chandra, Secretary General of the World Peace Council, who, on April 17, sent a telegram expressing “hearty congratulations” and specifically recognizing Pauling’s “pioneering work and continued ceaseless action against United States aggression in Vietnam.” A day later, Nikolai Tikhonov, the chairman of the Soviet Peace Commission, wrote a similar telegram in which he commended Pauling for his “indefatigable activities for peace,” and his “courageous denouncements of militarism, especially […] against [the] shameful war in Vietnam.”

Ava Helen and Linus Pauling with Boris Davydov of the Second Department of the Soviet Embasy. Lenin Peace Prize ceremony event, June 15, 1970

That same day, Pauling received another telegram from the president of the Peace Council of the German Democratic Republic, Dr. Guenter Drefahl, congratulating Pauling for his “outstanding struggle for disarmament and peace.” And as the week moved forward the commendations continued to pour in. On April 20, a telegram from the Bulgarian Peace Committee offering their “warmest congratulations”; on April 21 a message from the Hungarian Peace Fighters sending their “appreciation” for Pauling’s work.

Gen. Hugh Hester

The majority of these letters received a warm, if somewhat standard reply. One exception was that of Pauling’s correspondence with a decorated U.S. Army Brigadier General, Hugh Hester. Perhaps because Hester was an outspoken critic of the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, or maybe due to the high Army rank that Hester had attained before he retiring some twenty years prior, Pauling’s reply deviated from the standard acknowledgments that he afforded most others. Notably, Pauling took pains to express his feeling that “this is a terrible time for the world,” and his hope “that Nixon has finally gone too far, and that the Congress will succeed in stopping him.”


The rush of global praise brought about by Pauling’s receipt of the prize did not negate the complications of a somewhat curious incident that preceded the award ceremony. In addition to an engraved medal bearing the image of Vladimir Lenin in profile, the prize came with a 25,000 ruble honorarium. Because rubles were valueless outside of the Soviet Union at the time, an interesting investigation into how the monetary award could be converted into usable currency ensued.

The situation was eventually sorted out when Linda Kamb, Pauling’s daughter, visited the Soviet Embassy shortly before the award ceremony was to take place. Upon arriving, Linda spoke with Henry Kissinger, who was serving as the US National Security Advisor at the time, and who also happened to also be at the embassy that day. Linda met as well with the Soviet Ambassador to the United States.

In these conversations, Pauling’s daughter asked the two men about her father’s unusual problem of not being able to spend or use rubles, a circumstance that effectively rendered the cash prize as useless for non-Soviets. The two men subsequently conferred and decided that the prize money could be converted into US dollars at a rate of one ruble to $1.10, with the exchange happening within the embassy. This quote was apparently satisfactory, and a delve into Pauling’s financial documents for the year 1970 indicates that he did in fact utilize the currency conversion option that his daughter had investigated and communicated to him.

Pauling’s Receipt of the Lenin Peace Prize

Dmitry Skobeltsyn, Linus Pauling, Marilla [?] and Ava Helen Pauling, Lenin Prize ceremonies, June 15, 1970

[Part 1 of 2]

“Now is the time for us to change from our immoral course, from our dedication to the archaic institution of war, to a policy of peace and rationality and morality. I am confident that the Soviet Union would follow our lead, that the conduct of international affairs could be made to find the just solution of international problems, that we can achieve the goal of a world of justice and morality, a world in which the wealth of the world is used for the benefit of human beings, a world of freedom and dignity, a world of which our idealistic young people will be glad to be a part.”

–Concluding remarks of the first draft of Linus Pauling’s acceptance speech, written on the occasion of his receipt of the International Lenin Prize for Strengthening Peace Among Peoples, June 1970

On June 15, 1970, at the Soviet Embassy in Washington, D.C., Linus Pauling gave an acceptance address acknowledging his receipt of the 1968-69 International Lenin Prize for Strengthening Peace Among Peoples. Created in 1949, this award was originally named the International Stalin Prize for Strengthening Peace Among Peoples in honor of then Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin. In 1956, three years after Stalin’s death, the prize was renamed by his successor as premier, Nikita Khrushchev. For most of its history, the prize was awarded annually to non-Soviet citizens who upheld the foundations of world peace. The award was discontinued following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

For Pauling, receiving the Lenin Prize represented, among other things, an opportunity to leverage attention toward his peace-oriented goals. Perhaps most notably, Pauling’s private correspondence reveals that when he heard that he was to receive the prize, his initial response was that he wanted the ceremony to be held at the United Nations building in New York. In a letter to the Soviet Academy of Sciences, Pauling wrote that he felt that the UN headquarters would be appropriate, “especially at this time, when the world is torn by wars and oppressed by militarism[.] [T]he symbolic significance of the presentation of this Peace Prize in the United Nations Headquarters could be very important.”

In addition to being appropriate on its own merits, Pauling also cited precedent in support of his suggestion. The opening ceremony of the 1965 International Convocation on the Requirements of Peace, he noted, was sponsored by the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions and held at the UN Headquarters. Mostly for these reasons, Pauling was convinced that the UN Secretary General, U Thant, would approve of his idea.

It is unclear why the ceremony was not held at the UN headquarters, and instead at the Soviet Embassy in Washington, D.C., but what is clear is that the ceremony was celebrated with much fanfare and adulation for Pauling and his accomplishments towards peace.


At the embassy, the Prize was given to Pauling by Soviet physicist and academician Dmitry V. Skobeltsyn, who addressed all in attendance with a warmhearted, “Comrade Ambassador, Dear Mr. and Mrs. Pauling, Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends.” He then detailed the history of the prize, suggesting that it was established to support some of Lenin’s ideals, including his fight for “true brotherhood, equality, and freedom of peoples.” For Skobeltsyn, Pauling was the true embodiment of these ideals as well as an “ardent fighter for peace.”

Skobeltsyn continued that Pauling was receiving the award for his “personal merits in the struggle for peace and the contribution which is being made to the cause of defending peace by the wide movement of the progressive international community, and among them, by progressive circles in the United States.” He then pointed out that “Pauling is widely known in the world…as the name of an outstanding public figure who is ceaselessly struggling to ensure that the achievement of science serve the cause of peace and that the danger of [nuclear weapons’] use in a new destructive world war, which would threaten mankind with incalculable sufferings, be eliminated.”

From there, Skobeltsyn enumerated several of Pauling’s major peace-related accomplishments, including his 1957 petition to the United Nations “calling for an immediate conclusion of an international agreement banning the tests of nuclear bombs,” and his 1961 establishment (with the help of Ava Helen Pauling) of a conference against the spread of nuclear weapons. He concluded his remarks by expressing his hope that “friendly relations between Soviet and American peoples grow stronger and develop in the interest of peace.”

For his part, Pauling regarded the prize to be fitting and even serendipitous, noting that the day he had become aware of the honor in April 1970 was also the same day that the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks between the United States and Soviet Union had begun. Pauling then traced his work in attempting to end the arms race between the Soviet Union and the United States, and stressed that the beginnings of the SALT talks had marked a turning point in the trajectory of this work. For Pauling, it was a moment of optimism; the talks a source of “more hope on cutting down the armament burden than we have had for a long time.”

The reverse of the Pauling’s Lenin medal. The text reads: “For the Strengthening of Peace Among Peoples.”

Remembering Linus Pauling: The Biographers

A little more than six months after Linus Pauling died, a remarkable gathering took place at Oregon State University. A conference titled “The Life and Work of Linus Pauling: A Discourse on the Art of Biography,” was held in Corvallis over the course of three days and featured presentations by a great many individuals who knew Pauling or had studied his life closely. The keynote address was delivered by Francis Crick on the evening of February 28, 1995; the date that would have been Pauling’s 94th birthday. In the day and a half that followed, reflections were offered by a wide array of former students, family members, and scholars from across the country.

One particular session was devoted to “The Biographer’s Picture of Linus Pauling,” and it is to this set of reflections that we turn our attention today. Included below are observations made by four individuals who, by 1995, had already spent many years researching Pauling’s life and work, and whose insights serve to complicate and sophisticate the scholarly understanding of Pauling as a historical figure and as a human being.


Thomas Hager, author of Force of Nature: The Life of Linus Pauling (1995).

Pauling’s father worked twelve hours a day as a druggist, teaching his son the value of both hard work and the importance of giving a good face to the public, and then died when Pauling was nine. The death of his father was a traumatic and defining event in Pauling’s life, one to which can be traced many of his emotional and intellectual characteristics. He spent a good deal of his life looking for surrogate fathers, father-figures that he at first found among his neighbors — one of whom got him interested in Greek; then his teachers — his high-school chemistry teacher was one; and later among men like Einstein, who served as Pauling’s political father.

It is this nine-year-old boy, bereft of a father, left in the care of a sickly and unloving mother, a mother who did not understand education or science, who constantly nagged her son, and who died in an insane asylum, who became Linus Pauling. It is this boy who developed a steely confidence in himself because no one around him had any. It is this boy, faced with a confusing and heartless world, who would spend his life trying to make sense of things, working to bring order and rationality into the world. It is this suffering boy whose guiding ethical principle was that of lessening suffering.


Ted Goertzel, co-author of Linus Pauling: A Life in Science and Politics (1995).

I believe that the personality patterns which Pauling displayed throughout his life developed in the period after his father’s death when he was nine. He never really allowed himself to express the pain which he felt after his grandfather’s and his father’s deaths, perhaps because his relationship with his mother was not close enough to give him a feeling of security. Her own depression and ill health, coupled with the unfamiliar practical problems of providing support for the family, made it difficult for Belle to be attentive to her son’s emotional needs. She was never as close to him as she was to her daughters. His father had admired him greatly, and encouraged his intellectuality. His mother, because of her illness and vulnerability as a widow, was not able to provide the same degree of support. […]

From nine onwards, Linus channeled his energies into his hobbies and into part-time jobs designed to contribute to the family’s expenses but also to give him a degree of independence from his mother. He was fascinated by the natural sciences, as are many boys of that age, and also discovered that he had a natural aptitude for academic work. He avoided close relationships with adults, whether teachers or relatives, but maintained friendships with other boys who shared his scientific interests and did not pressure him about family obligations.

The preoccupation with science may have had its origins at least in part in a need to sublimate emotional distress, but he was also good at it and realistic enough to recognize that scientific achievement could be an avenue to professional security as well as an absorbing escape from the rigors of everyday life. Whether through death, illness or insensitivity, adults had let him down. He was determined to make his way on his own.

By the age of twelve, Linus Pauling had already developed many of the behavior and personality patterns which he was to maintain throughout his life. He was introverted, intent on pursuing his own interests, and oblivious to conflicting demands from those around him. Emotionally, he was most comfortable when he could rely on a close relationship with one person for intimacy and support. The first special person was his boyhood friend Lloyd Jeffress, the second his wife Ava Helen Miller. His marriage to Ava Helen closely paralleled that of his own parents in its emphasis on closeness between the married couple having priority over parent-child relationships. It was a traditional marriage, with Ava Helen devoting her life to her husband’s career and nurturing their children.

He found that he could use his intellectual brilliance to maintain independence from her and obtain approval from others. He married a woman who gave him the devotion he was unable to get from his mother.

Despite his tremendous success as a young scientist, Linus Pauling was never satisfied. Having won two Nobel Prizes, he felt he deserved a third. When his brilliance as a scientific innovator declined with age, he fell more and more into his second intellectual style [becoming emotionally committed to his ideas and seeking out evidence to support them]. In his later years, his combativeness and defensiveness increasingly triumphed over his brilliance and creativity.


Derek Davenport, chemist and author of “Linus Pauling – Chemical Educator” (1980) and “Letters to F.J. Allen: An Informal Portrait of Linus Pauling” (1996) among other articles.

Pauling had agreed to speak at a G.N. Lewis symposium I had organized for the 1982 American Chemical Society meeting in Las Vegas. Ava Helen Pauling had died shortly before, and Pauling’s secretary called asking that I meet him at the airport. He arrived jaunty as ever and chattered amiably during the short journey to the hotel. We entered the Hilton which was full of gambling, even gamboling, chemists. As we moved to the reception desk the crowd parted and fell silent. It was rather like following Moses across the Red Sea. Linus told the young lady at the counter: “You should have a reservation for Pauling.” After finding the card, she asked sweetly “would that be a Linus Pauling?” “Yes, yes, Linus Pauling.” “How do you intend to pay, sir?” “By VISA card.” “I will need identification, sir.” Pauling was nonplussed. He put on one of his dopiest grins, turned to the silent throngs on the casino floor, threw his arms wide, and implored rather than asked: “Don’t I look like Linus Pauling?” The young lady was unimpressed and insisted on, and got, his driver’s license.

I tell this story for several reasons, but principally to remind us that it was only in later years that he became a legend in his own time and on occasion in his own mind. I first heard him speak in 1948 in London when he was approaching the zenith of his astonishing scientific accomplishments, and half of his long life was already spent. He was the most charismatic chemist I had ever heard but there was no sign of the guru and no evidence of groupies. These came later as a consequence of his political persecution and his advocacy of Vitamin C. We must remember he was a man who did legendary science long before he became the Pauling of legend.


Robert Paradowski, author of The Structural Chemistry of Linus Pauling (1972) and Pauling’s authorized biographer.

At an early stage of the writing of my biography of Pauling, I was having difficulty with what to do about what those close to him saw as his imperfections and failings, but whenever I brought these to his attention, he always defended himself adeptly and managed to mitigate their bite. As time went on, I began to wonder: Did he believe that all these criticisms from family, friends, and colleagues were wrong? So I asked him if he considered himself a saint. He said no, that he was very far from being a saint. I went on to ask what he considered to be his principal faults. He did not want to discuss them, fearing that, because of the subtlety and pervasiveness of human selfishness, the faults he did mention might conceal much deeper ones. I was impressed by his answer, which reminded me of the writings of such great saints as John of the Cross, who saw themselves in a never-ending struggle with their own great selfishness. If Pauling was unwilling to analyze his faults, he nevertheless expected critical analysis from his biographer. As he wrote to me in 1978: “There is no reason why statements critical of me should not be published.” He certainly did not like having his faults pointed out, but when these criticisms were reasonably and compassionately treated, he seemed to accept them, even finding them helpful at times.

A concrete example of these criticisms is Pauling’s egocentrism, which some found charming and others such a pervasive and corrupting part of his personality as to vitiate his worth as a good human being. An example of the first attitude was a member of the Linus Pauling Institute who told me that Pauling had the “knack” of turning whatever anyone said to him into himself in some way. If he could not do this, then he would quickly become bored and uninterested in the conversation. This observer assured me that he did not intend his remarks as a criticism of Pauling; they were simply a matter of objective description. To this person Pauling was, in his vanity, like a child, and no more to be condemned for it than a child would be. It was simply part of his nature, even part of his charm. Another person at the Institute once told me that the reason I got along so well with Pauling was that I was interested in a topic that utterly fascinated Pauling, namely, himself.

On the other hand, Pauling’s self-centeredness was not so attractive to other members of his Institute. One person, whom I interviewed after he had left the Institute, had become discouraged with his relationship with Pauling because he could not get Pauling interested in any of his ideas. According to him, Pauling would pay only perfunctory attention to what he was doing. He recalled that the only time Pauling grew animated in a conversation was when he mentioned molybdenite. Then Pauling’s interest was whetted, and this was, of course, because Pauling had written his first scientific paper on the crystal structure of molybdenite.

Remembering Linus Pauling: A Personal Reflection

Stephen Lawson and Linus Pauling celebrating at Pauling’s 90th birthday party, 1991

By Stephen Lawson

August 19th 1994. Linus Pauling had been ensconced at his ranch on the beautiful coast near Big Sur, California, surrounded by family, for a few weeks, near death from prostate cancer. At the time, I was the chief executive officer of the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine in Palo Alto and relished a quiet summer evening at home. The telephone rang – Linus Pauling Jr. broke the terrible but expected news that his father had died. Trying to overcome grief, I raced to the Institute to start faxing an obituary that had been prepared months earlier to important news sources – The New York Times, major networks, and other media. Almost immediately the phone lines lit up with reporters asking for more details and comments on Pauling’s life and death. I managed to provide some salient information while struggling with my own strong emotions about Pauling’s death.

Many people who met Pauling or respected and admired him even without having had any personal interaction were also grief stricken. In the following weeks, hundreds of condolences – telegrams, cards, letters, faxes, and phone calls – came to the Institute from around the world. People expressed such sorrow that the great humanitarian who had showed them such courteous kindness had died. They admired his work in science, his never-ending efforts for peace, his championing of vitamin C and other micronutrients, his courage in the face of a hostile US Congress, his patriotic work for the United States during World War II, and his devotion to and love for his wife, Ava Helen.

Pauling connected with people in a way that left many feeling love for him. Of course, he was lauded by luminaries – Francis Crick anointed Pauling the major founder of molecular biology, and Arthur Kornberg noted that Pauling, who had won two Nobel Prizes, deserved another for his discovery of the cause of sickle-cell anemia, the first disease to be characterized as a molecular disease. In 2000, the “Millennium Essay” in Nature – one of the world’s pre-eminent scientific journals – ranked Pauling with Galileo, Da Vinci, Newton, and Einstein, among others, as “one of the great thinkers and visionaries of the millennium” and noted that Pauling was responsible for the “extrapolation from physics to chemistry and the articulation of chemistry as an independent subject” and that “Chemistry, then, is utterly different from physics and biology in its dependence, at a primal level, on just one scientist” – Linus Pauling.

But in the weeks following his death, I was especially impressed by the expressions of sympathy and loss from people who had written to Pauling asking about vitamin C and health problems or other matters and received personal responses, probably often to their surprise. Pauling, who believed that scientists, as experts in their fields, have a social responsibility to explain their work to the public, took time to connect with everyone. As the author of several textbooks, one of which, General Chemistry, educated generations of scientists, and others, including No More War!, Vitamin C and the Common Cold, How to Live Longer and Feel Better, and Cancer and Vitamin C that were written for the lay public and health professionals, Pauling practiced what he strongly advocated.


I first saw Linus Pauling when I was on my way to class in the Quadrangle at Stanford University in Palo Alto. It was a tumultuous era in American history – there were strident demonstrations against the war in Vietnam, and students vigorously promoted free speech rights. As I walked to the Quad, I noticed a gaggle of students and faculty outside the office of Stanford’s president, Richard Lyman. In particular, two elderly men, one of whom was Linus Pauling, were holding signs protesting the firing of H. Bruce Franklin, a political firebrand who had been a tenured professor of English at Stanford and an expert on Herman Melville and science fiction. Stanford had had enough of the turmoil associated with Franklin’s behavior and fired him, an act that Pauling was protesting because tenure supposedly protects the expression of ideas, especially controversial ones. I wasn’t very familiar with the details about the issue, but I certainly admired Pauling’s courage, a quality that defined Pauling’s activism throughout the years. Although Pauling was on the Stanford faculty, he wasn’t teaching undergraduates at the time, so I never had the opportunity to see his celebrated performances in the classroom that had famously inspired legions of students at Caltech.

Years later, when I worked at the Linus Pauling Institute in Menlo Park, Pauling would often stop by my office to exchange greetings, ask me to write for publication, or to help out with experimental studies, which is how I became very interested in vitamin C. Still later, in Palo Alto, Pauling approached me about setting up a laboratory with his quantum chemist colleague Zelek Herman to conduct experiments aimed at producing material that he wanted to support his patent application for a novel method of fabricating superconductors. His goal was to license the invention in order to generate a revenue stream to support orthomolecular research at the Institute. Aided occasionally by Ewan Cameron, Pauling’s medical collaborator on clinical vitamin C studies, we finally succeeded in fabricating the material that Pauling had hoped we would, and Zeke and I went to Pauling’s apartment to show him the samples. It was immensely gratifying to see what joy he expressed, and at that moment I understood how he must have felt every time he made discoveries – understanding something that no one else had understood – throughout his long career.   

Pauling lived by an age-old maxim that he humorously amended: “Do unto others 20% better than you would have them do unto you in order to make up for subjective error.” Even in the face of caustic criticism, he remained courteous, usually with his humor intact, and supremely confident – a confidence stemming from his formidable memory and mastery of biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, mineralogy, and other disciplines. He trusted his own intellect and urged others to do likewise – never simply accept what is said without critical examination.

Pauling had reams of papers on vitamin C that the Institute librarian had acquired at Stanford libraries. In that era, most of the original data was presented in the paper, and Pauling usually checked the statistical analysis that the authors employed, sometimes finding errors that compromised their conclusions. I attended a lecture he gave to a group of biostatisticians at Stanford in the late 1980s in which he discussed the application of the Hardin Jones principle to death rates in clinical studies. He argued that it revealed more information about subcohorts than the standard Kaplan-Meier analysis. There he was, in a room with many of the leading statisticians in the country, and none argued against his thesis. Of course, he was famously wrong about a few things, including the structure of DNA, but sometimes only because he didn’t have access to better data.

Linus Pauling made an indelible impression on everyone who met him, and for them and for those who never had that opportunity, he will continue to serve as a unparalleled model of brilliance, integrity, creativity, and courage – truly a man for the ages.

Remembering Linus Pauling: The Obituaries

Linus Pauling, 1988. Image credit: Albert Dadian

The Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers at Oregon State University Libraries include more than 3,000 newspaper clippings that focus on Linus Pauling as a primary subject. Among these, 170 extant clippings are devoted to remembering Pauling in the days and weeks following his death on August 19, 1994. In today’s post, we present a few anecdotes that we came across in reviewing this content, snapshots of a remarkable life.

Keay Davidson, San Francisco Examiner

Professor Pauling has brilliant blue eyes and an infectious grin. He wore a dusty blue beret and always stood to extend an enthusiastic, wrinkled hand to reporters and just plain admirers.

Former students loved to recall his lectures, which have been compared, for sheer entertainment value, to those of the other great showman of modern American science – the late physicist Richard Feynman. In his 1985 autobiography, “Radiant Science, Dark Politics,” former Berkeley scientist Martin D. Kamen fondly recalled a Pauling lecture of the 1930s: “He bounded into the room, already crowded with students eager to hear the Great Man, spread himself over the seminar table next to the blackboard and, running his hands through an unruly shock of hair, gestured to the students to come closer.”

“I remember one of my best friends at Caltech, when we were sitting in a chemistry lecture, looking at me and saying, ‘I don’t know what is more fun – watching Pauling or watching you watching Pauling,” Art Robinson, a former colleague, recalled.

“Linus Pauling Dies at 93,” August 20, 1994

Jeff Gottlieb, San Jose Mercury News

“He’s really a compulsive worker,” said Linus Pauling Jr, a retired psychiatrist. “He had built-in energy. Most people when they leave the office at the end of the day they quit working. He would bring stuff home and he would work. It was really the only thing he did.”

Matthew Meselson, a biochemistry professor at Harvard who was one of the last graduate students to train under Pauling, recalled a story his teacher told him. The great German mathematician Karl Friedrich Gauss, Pauling said, was asked why he was so great in his field. “I don’t know,” Gauss replied, “but maybe it’s because I never do anything else.”

Pauling took the insights he learned in quantum mechanics and brought them to chemistry with his theory of the chemical bond. “He was this country’s first and best ever structural chemist,” [Roald] Hoffmann said. “He pioneered several techniques in this country and he put this country in the leadership of chemistry through his work.”

“Nobel Winner Linus Pauling Dies of Cancer,” August 20, 1994
Linus Pauling at the Grand Canyon, circa 1947

Robin McKie, The Times (London)

All of [his] achievements were made in typical Pauling style – involving displays of astonishing intuition, a phenomenal memory and a willingness to take great intellectual risks. As historian Horace Judson states in his history of modern biology, The Eighth Day of Creation, “Linus Pauling had energy, inventiveness, showmanship and genius enough for a consortium.”

“Linus Pauling: The Century’s Greatest Chemist,” August 21, 1994

Elizabeth Weise, Associated Press

“I consider him to be certainly the most influential chemists of the century, but he really belongs among the most extraordinary scientists of all time,” said Dr. Henry Taube, professor emeritus of chemistry at Stanford. “In a sense he put structural chemistry on the map. He made some of the most important contributions to this field, and his ideas on the structure of proteins stand today,” Taube said.

Dr. Max Perutz, founder of the molecular biology laboratory at Cambridge, England, called Pauling’s 1939 book The Nature of the Chemical Bond a revelation. “I think that’s what he should be remembered for. As a student, chemistry was something you learned by heart but you didn’t understand. Linus Pauling’s book made me and countless others understand chemistry for the first time.”

Pauling was best known in the past two decades for his belief that large doses of ascorbic acid, or vitamin C, could protect people from colds, cancer and cardiovascular disease, as well as extend the lifespan for decades. Despite skepticism over his claims, Pauling retained the respect of his fellow scientists [Horace] Judson said. “There are plenty of scientists who say ‘This has been disproven but if Linus says it’s true, I’m going to take my vitamin C every morning anyway,” Judson said.

“Pauling Chartered Life Itself,” as published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, August 21, 1994
Pauling holding a model of the alpha helix, circa 1980s

Richard Severo, The New York Times

In the early 1950s, Dr. James D. Watson and Sir Francis Crick were constantly looking over their shoulders at the body of the research of Linus Pauling with a mixture of admiration and apprehension. Dr. Watson and Sir Francis were at the time feverishly trying to determine that structure that is crucial to the construction of all living cells – DNA – and Dr. Pauling was pursuing the same goal.

Writing years later in The Double Helix, a book about the discovery, Dr. Watson described Dr. Pauling’s presentation of work, showing, in part, the helical structure of proteins. The passage reveals not only the high esteem in which Dr. Pauling was held by his colleagues but also the intense envy he sometimes engendered.

“Pauling’s talk was done with his usual flair,” Dr. Watson wrote. “The words came out as if he had been in show business all his life. A curtain kept his model hidden until near the end of his lecture, when he proudly unveiled his latest creation. Then, with his eyes twinkling, Linus explained the specific characteristics…that made his model uniquely beautiful. This show, like all of his dazzling performances, delighted the younger students in attendance. There was no one like Linus in all the world. The combination of his prodigious mind and his infectious grin was unbeatable. Several fellow professors, however, watched this performance with mixed feelings. Seeing Linus jumping up and down on the demonstration table and moving his arms like a magician about to pull a rabbit out of his shoe made them feel inadequate. If only he had shown a little humility, it would have been so much easier to take!”

“Linus C. Pauling, Pioneering Chemist, Voice for Peace and Nobel Laureate, Dies at 93,” August 21, 1994

Los Angeles Times

Pauling was a very compassionate individual, by all accounts, and his sympathies instantly sprang to those who had been made to suffer for their political beliefs. “He once hired a lab director,” [James] Bonner said, “whose sole credential for the job was the fact that he had been fired from his previous post for citing the 5th Amendment on his own behalf during some anti-Communist hearings. The man was not a good choice for the job, but still Linus stuck by him.”

Pauling’s greatest strength, said many who knew him through the years, was also his Achilles’ heel: a supreme, unshakable confidence in the correctness of his own judgments. “When he was right, which was more often than not,” said one longtime friend, “he was very, very right. But when he was wrong, which he also was from time to time, there was no way to get him to see it, or to compromise, or to make any kind of concession. This attitude frankly rubbed a lot of people the wrong way.”

In the end, such foibles amount to little when compared to the achievements of Pauling’s remarkable contributions to science and society. “He had one of the most original, creative minds of any scientist in the 20th century,” said Norman Davidson, a longtime colleague. “There is no doubt that he will be the preeminent chemist of this century.”

“A Flamboyant Scientist’s Legacy,” uncredited staff writer, August 21, 1994
Oil painting of Linus Pauling by Giovanella, circa 1970s

David F. Salisbury, Stanford Campus Report

Henry Taube recalls vividly the first time he met Linus Pauling. It was at a seminar held in 1938 at the University of California-Berkeley. “Pauling was already famous,” the Stanford chemistry professor and Nobel laureate says. Following a brilliant lecture, Pauling handled all the questions put to him so readily and deftly that a fellow scientist was moved to remark that Pauling must have a pipeline to God and to jokingly propose that he should be called Pope Linus I. “Pauling responded by informing the person that there had already been several Pope Linuses, so he couldn’t be the first. However, he didn’t object to the fitness of the designation,” Taube says.

“He had a great sense of humor. It was not canned, but spontaneous,” [Harden] McConnell says. He points to a humorous scientific paper that Pauling published about a commercial product that was supposed to combat odors. Because his analysis showed that the product was mostly formaldehyde, Pauling concluded that it worked by embalming people’s noses.

“Colleagues Recall Multifaceted Scientist Pauling,” August 24, 1994

Alexander Rich, Nature

Linus Pauling was widely honored. In addition to two Nobel Prizes he received over 50 medals and awards from a great variety of organizations, and almost as many honorary degrees from universities. The esteem with which he was regarded was vividly illustrated to me in 1951 when, as a postdoctoral fellow of Pauling’s, I visited Albert Einstein in Princeton. Einstein’s comment to me was “Ah, that man is a real genius!”

“Linus Pauling (1901-1994), September 22, 1994

Remembering Linus Pauling: Twenty-Five Years Later

At 7:20 PM on August 19, 1994, Linus Pauling passed away, a victim of rectal and prostate cancer. Twenty-five years later, the Pauling Blog will be devoting the month of August to remembering.

Today’s post features three video clips of local news broadcasts announcing Pauling’s death and commenting on its aftermath. Each of these reports was collected by Oregon State University’s News and Communications Services unit and later deposited with the Special Collections and Archives Research Center at OSU Libraries.

In the first clip below, which aired the day after Pauling died, Portland’s NBC affiliate KGW-8 provides a nice overview of Pauling’s life that includes footage of his last visit to the Rose City in February 1991.

News coverage of Linus Pauling's death, KGW-8 Portland, August 20, 1994

This next clip, which also aired on August 20, 1994, was produced by Eugene station KVAL-13 and features footage of OSU chemist Carroll DeKock as well as Ramesh Krishmurthy, formerly the Projects Director at the OSU Special Collections. Both talk about Pauling’s impact and Krishnamurthy provides a glimpse of the Pauling Papers as they were arranged at that time.

Local news coverage of Linus Pauling's death, KVAL-13 Eugene, August 20, 1994

Finally, this shorter item, which aired on August 23rd, was broadcast on a different Eugene station – KEZI-9 – and focuses on the future of the Linus Pauling Institute. It also includes a few shots of the Special Collections reading room, which was located on the fourth floor of the Kerr Library at the time and demolished five years later as part of a major building expansion that relied, in part, on Pauling’s name to generate private support.

Local news coverage of Linus Pauling's death, KEZI-9 Eugene, August 23, 1994