Mervyn Stephenson: Builder of Bridges

Mervyn Stephenson, ca. 1920s.

Mervyn Stephenson, ca. 1920s.

[Part 2 of our examination of the life of Mervyn Stephenson, Linus Pauling’s cousin.]

Having completed his schooling in 1919, Mervyn Stephenson was quickly hired by Conde B. McCullough, a former college professor known today as Oregon’s most famous bridge engineer. Excited to begin his career, Stephenson moved to southern Oregon shortly after graduation to work as a civil engineer for the Bridge Division of the Oregon Department of Transportation. The first project that he worked on was in Douglas County, but the project was shut down so he returned to Salem to delve into bridge design. Mervyn worked hard, but he still found time for fun and was especially keen on dancing: he attended dance halls on the weekends and saved several of his dance cards to prove it.

At work, Mervyn wasn’t stuck behind a desk for long. One of his first major projects was the building of a concrete arch bridge over Hog Canyon in 1920. In 1921 he worked on the Crooked River Bridge in Prineville, as well as the dam for the Prineville Reservoir, and the Bear Creek Bridge. A year later he assisted with repairing the John Day Highway. It was here that he helped to rehabilitate a stone building that had been the headquarters of a Chinese doctor, Kam Wah Chung, a structure that was transformed into a museum many years later.

The Kam Wah Chung & Co. Museum, Grant County, Oregon.

The Kam Wah Chung & Co. Museum, Grant County, Oregon.

As time passed and his skills became more widely known, Mervyn was offered a job in highway construction in Cuba, but he turned it down, preferring to stay close to home. The Federal Bureau of Public Roads also offered him a job in 1933, but he did not accept, choosing to stay with Conde McCullough instead. In the years that followed, he was a member of the teams that designed and built several of the iconic structures now closely associated with McCullough. These included the Coos Bay Bridge, Rogue River Bridge, Siuslaw River Bridge, Yaquina Bay Bridge, John Day Bridge and other coastal bridges.  In an interview published in the January 17, 1934 Marshfield/Coos Bay Times, titled “Bridge Program Hailed as Major Step in Progress,” Stephenson lent insight into what it was like to work for the famed engineer.

We used to have a lot of fun. [McCullough would] come to look at what you were doing. [He’d] look over your desk and see what you were designing and he’d always reach over and get your pencil and start scribbling, stick [the pencil] in his pocket and walk off. So after we got to know him better, as he’d start to move, we’d reach over and grab [the pencil] out of his pocket, never said anything, just reach over and grab it out of his pocket.

Conde McCullough, ca. 1920s.

Conde McCullough, ca. 1920s.


The Second World War was a source of new opportunities for Stephenson. In 1945 the U.S. Army contacted him asking him to do some highly secretive work overseas in support of the war effort. Stephenson traveled to Washington D.C. for a briefing and then was flown to the Hickam Field base near Honolulu. As Stephenson soon learned, the Army had sought out and gathered civilian scientists and engineers to help plan the U.S. invasion of Japan, and Stephenson was one of the experts called in to assist. As such, he was instated as a colonel and assigned a high pay grade because of his specialized skill set.

While at Hickam Field, Mervyn studied maps and aerial photos, analyzing the roads and bridges that might be encountered in the planned invasion. He also helped to estimate the amount of raw material needed to build bridges and highways as U.S. forces moved across Japan. This work never came to fruition, due to the Japanese surrender on September 2, 1945.

Still of use to the Army, Stephenson was transferred to a unit working on the Philippines Highway Planning Mission and charged with rehabilitating the country’s highway system. For a while he moved with his unit through Japan and the Philippines, inspecting tunnels and bridges. Once this mission was completed, he returned to civilian life as an Assistant Bridge Engineer with the Oregon State Highway Department.


P.M. Stephenson and Linus Pauling at a Darling family reunion, 1983.

P.M. Stephenson and Linus Pauling at a Darling family reunion, 1983.

From 1955 to 1957, Stephenson was the Oregon State Bridge Engineer. Most of the bridge projects that he oversaw, including Winchester Bridge and the Fords Bridge, resided on I-5, the west coast’s main interstate highway. Probably the most important project that Stephenson supervised was the design and construction preparation for significant upgrades to the Columbia River Interstate Bridge, linking Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington.  He retired from employment with the Oregon State Highway Department in 1957, but was soon appointed, by the governor, to the State Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee.

After his retirement, Stephenson and his wife traveled extensively, their favorite destination being Mexico, which they visited several times during the 1960s and 1970s. In 1972 Linus Pauling sent his cousin a letter, asking about the arrowhead collection that Mervyn had inherited from their grandfather Darling. He also took the opportunity to provide Stephenson with an update on his life and burgeoning interest in Vitamin C, and asked that Mervyn and his wife visit him and Ava Helen in California on their next trip to Mexico. This letter is the final record of written contact between Pauling and Stephenson, though we know from photographs that the two saw one another at least one more time, at a Darling family reunion held not long before Mervyn died.

Philip Mervyn Stephenson passed away in Salem, Oregon in 1983. His undated autobiographical manuscript ends with various accounts of his travels in retirement. The piece makes little mention of Linus Pauling, save for the memories that the two shared in their childhood and college years.  Though we can’t know for sure, it is likely that the two young boys who held much in common as they hunted for small critters, searched for arrowheads and caused mischief in their fathers’ stores, gradually grew in separate directions as they pursued their passions and careers with tenacity.

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Cousin Merv

Mervyn Stephenson with his three sisters, Condon, Oregon, ca. early 1900s.

Mervyn Stephenson with his three sisters, Condon, Oregon, ca. early 1900s.

[Ed. Note: The Oregon State University Libraries Special Collections & Archives Research Center (SCARC) is, of course, home to the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers, a collection of some 4,400 linear feet held in 2,230 archival boxes.  Also included among the 1,100 collections held in SCARC is the Mervyn Stephenson Collection, which consists of eight file folders. Stephenson was Linus Pauling’s older cousin and was an important early influence in Pauling’s life. We spend a lot of time sifting through the Pauling Papers as we prepare these posts, but we thought it might be fun to engage with MSS Stephenson for a short while and learn a bit more about a man who, in some respects, served as a kind of surrogate big brother for Linus Pauling.]

Part 1 of 2

If he’s lucky, every young boy has his partner when he plays ‘Cowboys and Indians,’ or when he roams the streets getting into mischief. For Linus Pauling, his cohort in crime was his older cousin, Philip Mervyn Stephenson, also referred to as Merv but who also liked to be called Steve. He was born on March 23, 1898 in Condon, Oregon to a Condon native, Goldie Victoria Darling Stephenson, who married an English immigrant, Philip Herbert Stephenson.

Mervyn was about three years older than Linus, but when they were young school boys, the gap made no difference. The Paulings lived in Condon, off and on, until they moved to Portland for good when Linus was eight years old, and it was in Condon that Pauling and Stephenson spent the most time together. As they wandered the town together and explored its hills and gullies, they hunted rabbits, swam in streams, collected arrowheads and, in the winter, took sleigh rides. In later years, Pauling also recalled watching with his cousin as the area’s wheat was being harvested and bringing water to the farmhands.

Sometimes Mervyn’s father asked him to mind the store that he owned. Stephenson and Pauling looked forward to these occasions because these were times where they could sneak sweet treats and other good things to eat. Being left alone to watch the store also led to a few hilarious run-ins. One day the chewing tobacco was left out. The boys decided to try a small piece, probably swallowed a bit, and both got sick. Needless to say, neither of the boys’ fathers were pleased.

Another time, Pauling was asked by his father to watch the family pharmacy. Stephenson, of course, joined and the two decided to try the port wine—it was used for several prescriptions that Herman Pauling wrote. The boys tried a bit of wine, soon became drowsy, and fell asleep in the back of the store. The two got in trouble, once again, and that was the last of their major stunts. By 1909, after the Paulings moved to Portland, time spent with Mervyn never held the same childhood aura or imagination.


Mervyn and Linus at Kiger Island, 1918.

Mervyn and Linus at Kiger Island, 1918.

The Stephensons bought a family car in 1912 and, at the age of 14, young Mervyn immediately learned to drive. People in town called him a fast driver, and his father had only to call the local store or neighbor to see where his son had gone, because Stephenson would have most likely zipped by in the new car. Stephenson would also frequently hike down a nearby canyon with other kids from Condon and was a big fan of the regional county fairs. He was an adventurous young man and went on numerous excursions, including following local legends in search of a secret lake in the woods.

As he grew up, Mervyn’s parents thought him to be too thin and “understrength” for his own good. To combat this, they would send him, sometimes for a month at a time, to Charles and Nell Underwood’s house, where they would feed him well and work him hard in hopes that he might gain weight and muscle. It was here that Stephenson collected many arrowheads for his collection.

Mervyn was also becoming an upstanding citizen. He was, for one, the lead organizer of the athletic boys club of Condon until he left for college. More importantly, in 1912, (the same year that the family bought their car) he was marked as a town hero for being the first on the scene of a fire in a hotel. Mervyn had heard the siren in the middle of the night, rushed over to the fire station, and then hurried to the hotel to help. The town awarded him with a prize of one dollar for acting promptly and courageously.

Around the time of Mervyn’s graduation from Condon High School in 1915, Professor Gordon Skelton of Oregon Agricultural College (OAC) came to town to recruit students. He met Stephenson and they talked about what he might want to study should he attend OAC. After their conversation, Skelton had convinced Stephenson to give Corvallis a try and to major to civil engineering. Mervyn visited the Paulings on his way to OAC, and he talked with young Linus, at the time fourteen years old, about his plans to study highway engineering. The two also discussed other programs available at OAC and from this conversation Pauling learned that the college offered chemical engineering, which he believed to be the profession that chemists pursued.


Mervyn Stephenson (far right) with OAC classmates, 1917.

Mervyn Stephenson (far right) with OAC classmates, 1917.

Mervyn worked very hard as a freshman. Room and board ran to about twenty dollars a month, and he found a campus job that paid twenty cents an hour. He made it through his first year working full time with a full class schedule. During summer break, he was hired by the county to work on road construction, and that helped to make ends meet.

Stephenson concentrated on his ROTC training during in his second year at OAC; he moved up as a cadet captain and continued to progress forward. This year was also exceptionally tough because, midway through, his parents were divorced. His sister and mother then moved to Portland. That summer he worked on his first bridge, and as the break came to a close he was offered a job to continue to work on bridges. In order to take the job he would have to take a year off college. He would be paid a fair sum, but following the advice of his father, he decided to finish school and then pursue a career.

The United States was in the middle of World War I through Stephenson’s third year at college. As such, Stephenson transferred from the ROTC to the SATC (Students Army Training Corps) to receive training for combat, if needed. This same year, Linus Pauling, though only sixteen years old, began his studies at OAC. The only reason why Pauling’s mother, Belle, allowed him to go to college at such a young age was because she knew that Mervyn would be there for him.

Little did she know that no college junior wanted to spend his time watching over a sixteen-year-old freshman. According to Pauling’s recollection, soon after Belle left to return to Portland, Stephenson gave Pauling some advice about being in college, and then left him to fend for himself in the boarding house where they were supposed to be living together. Pauling did not stay past the first year in the boarding house, due to the cost of rent, and he did not see much of his cousin while in college.

In Stephenson’s handwritten memoir, titled P.M. Stephenson’s Life Stories, he recalled living with Pauling the entire first year and never mentions leaving Pauling behind. On the contrary, the manuscript focuses mostly on Pauling’s brilliance, describing a young man who would finish assignments quickly and then immediately find something more to teach himself. We learn from the memoir that one of the scholarly hobbies that Pauling picked up as an undergrad was teaching himself Greek. Stephenson was impressed, but being a more veteran college student, he spent ample time studying and his free moments socializing. Perhaps it was these diverging interests that led the two cousins to spend so little time together.


Mervyn Stephenson, training at the Presidio, summer 1918.

Mervyn Stephenson, training at the Presidio, summer 1918.

The two young men were very much together in the summer of 1918 when they left for San Francisco for intensive officer training at the Presidio military base. Stephenson recalled Pauling as having been a strong supporter of the war effort while at the camp. With the completion of his officer training, Stephenson was promoted to the rank of cadet major. He was then one of ten men at OAC to receive recommendation for commission as second lieutenant in the Officer’s Reserve Corps. That summer the cousins also worked together when they stayed in Tillamook, on the Oregon coast, with Stephenson’s mother. The two worked in a shipyard for the summer, building wooden-hulled freighters and taking small holidays in their off hours to go with Stephenson’s mother and sister to the resort town of Bayocean.

Stephenson’s senior year looked as if it would begin with a move overseas to serve in the war. Mervyn had received his second lieutenant commission and was notified that he would report to Fortress Monroe, Virginia, but his orders were never received because the war ended on November 11 of that year. He finished his senior year in due course, graduating from OAC’s College of Engineering, and was granted membership in the Zeta chapter of the Sigma Tau engineering honorary society. Mervyn and Linus then parted ways as Pauling continued his studies and Stephenson moved forward in his career as a bridge builder all across Oregon.

Belle Pauling: Hard Times

Belle Pauling, 1910s.

Belle Pauling, 1910s.

Widowed with three kids, Belle Pauling found herself at a major crossroads in life at the young age of 29.  After initially seeking out some measure of continuity by hiring a manager for her deceased husband’s drugstore, Belle was soon forced to sell both the store and her house in order to buy a larger house. Her intent in doing so was to take on boarders, one of the few income possibilities open to her, given that all three of her children were still under the age of ten.

Having never been in charge of the family finances, Belle made some initial mistakes as she overpaid for the house and, in hopes of offering an attractive place for boarders, bought several expensive appliances.  She also hired someone to cook and clean.  Burdened by these expenses, Belle chronically teetered on the edge of being able to make enough rental income to support her and the children.

Belle’s life began to crumble in other ways as well. Her years-long battle with depression only worsened and she was soon diagnosed with pernicious anemia, which left her physically weak.  At first she refrained from telling the children, as she did not want to frighten them with the possibility that they may soon lose their mother.  Left to care for the children by herself, Belle let them run free around the neighborhood well into the night.  She was also unprepared to deal with her maturing daughters.   As Pauline later recalled, Belle made her and Lucile feel that menstruation “was a scourge that afflicted only women in their family.”

Belle found some relief through weekend visits to Herman’s parents, times during which she could reminisce about the days when her husband and their son was still living.  She also fulfilled one of her lifelong dreams of owning a piano. She and the children began taking lessons and would have singing parties:  Lucile, who took the most to the piano, would play as Pauline joined on ukulele and Linus sang.  In 1913 the family was also able to take a vacation to the Oregon coast, staying in the house of a friend.  This was the only time that the family would take such a trip.

Lucile, Linus, Belle and Pauline, 1916.

Lucile, Linus, Belle and Pauline, 1916.

Once Linus was 13, he began to help out more by taking on odd jobs – delivering papers, milk, and letters, selling meat, and projecting movies.  He didn’t particularly enjoy this work, but Belle came to depend on him more and more for income, so after quitting one job he would soon have to find another.  He even found short-term employment resetting pins at a bowling alley while the family vacationed at the coast.

Belle’s dependence on her children, especially on Linus and Pauline, began to wear on them.  After Belle had to let the cook and maid go, she relied even more on the children to take care of the house.  Linus later remembered his mother “issuing requests and orders and browbeating the children, often from her bed.”

On one occasion, Lucile had taken a boy’s bike for a ride without his permission.  Once she was finished, the boy punched Lucile to the ground.  When she came home crying to her brother, imploring him to go beat up the boy, Linus refused.  Belle strongly disapproved of Linus’s decision and admonished him as a bad brother. Unsurprisingly, as he reached adolescence, Linus began distancing himself more and more from his mother.

As Pauline reached her teenage years, she also came under pressure from Belle.  Rather than look for a job to bring in income, Belle wanted Pauline to marry someone wealthy.  When Pauline was seventeen, Belle had found just the man for her.  Pauline did not take well to her mother’s pressure, particularly since the man was thirty years old.  Belle’s persistence became unbearable and Pauline eventually called the police, telling them that her mother was forcing her into marriage with a much older man.

In the fall of 1917, Linus enrolled at Oregon Agricultural College in Corvallis.  Belle’s nephew, Mervyn Stephenson, was already a junior there and so she arranged for Linus to live in the same boarding house.  Had her nephew not been there, Belle would not have let Linus attend college, and she continued to believe that he should keep working to help support the family.  She rode down to Corvallis with Linus to stay with him for his first night there and to make sure that everything was in order.  After she left, any pretense that her nephew would help Linus disappeared; he offered Linus some advice on getting by in college and after that the two saw very little of each other.  Linus moved out of the boarding house soon afterward.

William Bryden and Belle Pauling.

William Bryden and Belle Pauling.

With Linus away and not working as much, Belle began a courtship with William Brace Bryden, a lumberman.  In a manner very similar to her first encounter with Herman nearly twenty years earlier, Belle’s sister Goldie set the two up on a blind date.  By June 1918 they were married, but it did not last long.  Bryden was not helpful and neither Pauline nor Lucile liked him.  Additionally, when Belle came down with the flu, Bryden offered little assistance.  After Belle recovered and was strong enough, the two constantly argued until, one day in September, Bryden left to go to the barbershop and never came back.

While Linus attended college, he continued to work and send money home to his mother.  By the Spring of 1922, Linus was ready to step further away from his mother’s influence.  He and Ava Helen Miller were recently engaged to be married and Linus made plans to attend graduate school in southern California, where he hoped Ava Helen would join him.  Belle and Ava Helen’s mother, Nora Gard Miller, quickly intervened.  Both mothers thought it best that their child finish their educations before getting married.  The young couple gave in and Linus went to California alone.

With Linus nearly 1,000 miles away, Belle kept him up-to-date on life in Portland, and the news was often not good.  As her health continued to worsen, Belle began to see doctors more and more.  One doctor had her fast for three days and then stayed with her all day as he administered one quart of olive oil over four doses.  Belle told her son, “It is a wonderful treatment, takes all the poisons out of your system.  I feel like a new woman.  I am weak yet but will soon feel strong.”  The positive effects rarely lasted long though and Belle continued to seek out different treatments, sometimes against Linus’s wishes.

In October 1922, Linus sent Belle a letter trying to get his debts to her in order.  This shocked Belle as she could not understand why Linus felt that he owed her, preferring that he continue to support her and his sisters out of purer motives.  Nonetheless, her response could not have helped but make him feel either guilty or resentful:

Do you think because I have let you help carry the burden this year that you are repaying me for money I gave you for your education or the cost of your living since you were born or perhaps pay me for the pain I suffered in bring you into this world… You are helping the girls and not me personally… I have never worried when I had money to give you but I have worried a lot because I couldn’t help you more.

Part of Linus’s money was going to support Pauline’s college tuition – she had also gone on to OAC, leaving Belle and Lucile alone in Portland.  Belle and her youngest daughter got along relatively well and the two traveled together and spent days out shopping downtown.  Both of them were also members of the Order of the Eastern Star; Belle was able to join earlier only because she had made Linus join the Masons.  At the meetings, Lucile sometimes sang, which pleased Belle even more.

Linus, however, continued to disappoint his mother.  One year, while in Pasadena, he had forgotten her birthday. Belle did not take this well, writing:

I look around me and I see lots of young men who have mothers (and fathers too) who are lovely to their mothers.  I tell myself over and over that you do not mean to be unkind but even so such a situation is very depressing.

Linus and Ava Helen also began to make new plans to marry and this gave Belle even more to worry about, as she wanted them to hold the ceremony near to her.  Linus, though, did not include Belle in on the planning, giving her another cause for concern.

Linus made up for all of this by sending his mother a birthday card and a letter which made Belle “feel so much better.”  Ava Helen also tried to bring her some comfort by offering to come up to visit her, but Belle claimed she was too busy as she had four boarders to attend to at the time.  At long last, in June 1923, Linus drove up to Salem, where he and Ava Helen were married. The two then drove to Portland to stay with Belle before going down to California for Linus to continue his schooling.  They returned in the summer of 1925 with their first-born child, Linus Jr.

By that time Pauline had married the athletic director of the local Elk’s Club and the two had moved to Los Angeles.  This devastated Belle, causing her to collapse.  From then on Lucile was the only one around to care for Belle, whose health continued to deteriorate.  Belle began to suffer bouts of delusion and loss of feeling and movement in her limbs. She left many of the household decisions and responsibilities up to Lucile, something for which the nineteen-year-old was not well prepared.

Belle with her grandson Linus Jr., 1925.

Belle with her grandson Linus Jr., 1925.

In March 1926, Linus and Ava Helen came to visit on their way to Europe.  They needed someone to take care of Linus Jr. and had arranged to leave him with Ava Helen’s mother.  When Linus saw his own mother, he was shocked by her appearance – her gray hair and poor balance were clear indications that she was not doing well.  He was tempted to cancel the trip, but ended up going, leaving some money behind to help pay for the increasing expenses surrounding Belle’s care.

Two weeks after Linus and Ava Helen left, Belle sold her home to Lucile for ten dollars, who rented the house out so that she and her mother could move to a smaller apartment.  But Belle’s condition only worsened as she became increasingly restless and had trouble sleeping.  Her moods also grew more volatile, moving from suspicion to happiness to fear.  Eventually Belle’s behavior became so unmanageable for Lucile that she called her aunt Goldie to help.  The two decided that it was best that Belle be moved to the state mental hospital in Salem.  Her admittance form summed up Belle’s difficult life:

Natural disposition? ‘Moral character good.  Disposition happy.  Lost husband 16 years ago – raised family through great struggles.’

First symptoms of mental derangement? ‘Worried from illness and too much responsibility.’

Lucy Isabelle (Darling) Pauling passed away in Salem on July 12, 1926.

192-i.114

Pauling’s Freshman Diary, Part 1

Linus Pauling’s childhood and adolescence would not be classified as typical, especially by today’s standards. From a very young age, his life was largely defined by an immense interest in his education and an incredible work ethic. On top of devouring every book he could get his hands on, breezing through his normal school work, and engaging in free-time scientific pursuits, Pauling was also forced to spend his days working. By the end of his high school career, he had worked well over half a dozen different jobs.

Fortunately Pauling was also able to find time to participate in activities that were considered more normal for his age. He enjoyed playing outdoors – especially as a young boy – and wreaked his fair share of havoc in the small wild-west town of Condon, Oregon. He also spent time visiting friends and family. And at the age of 16, he began writing in a diary.

Pauling’s diary, or the OAC diary as it is known here in Special Collections, begins with a single file folder annotated with the word “diary” alongside Pauling’s signature. The first entry, dated August 29, 1917, gives some insight into the reasons why he decided to start recording his thoughts.

Today I am beginning to write the history of my life. The idea which has resulted in this originated a year or more ago, when I thought of the enjoyment that I would have could I read the events of my former and younger life. My children and grandchildren will without a doubt hear of the events in my life with the same relish with which I read the scattered fragments by my granddad, Linus Wilson Darling. This ‘history’ is not intended to be written in diary form or as a continued narrative – rather, it is to be a series of essays on subjects most important in my mind.

Regardless of his intentions, the document does take on diary form, and in the next few pages more entries written by Pauling are intermixed with various items that were apparently of some importance to him. One such item is a newspaper clipping of a wedding announcement for Mrs. Linus Vere Windnagle. Pauling’s rationale for saving this seemingly random clipping is found a few pages later when he writes:

This [is] from today’s Oregonian. I will save all reference to any Linuses or Paulings.

Another notable item is a business card from “Palmon Laboratories,” the independent chemical research company that Pauling and Lloyd Simon attempted to launch with when they were only fifteen years old.

Flipping through the pages of the diary, one finds that Pauling recorded many interesting nuggets of information from his earlier life. One undated page is entitled “Tentative Resolutions” and is comprised of a list of Pauling’s goals for his first year at Oregon Agricultural College.

I will make better than 95 (Mervyn’s record) in Analysis (Math). (I made 99 6/11 % in Analytic Geom.).  [Pauling’s older cousin, Mervyn Stephenson, also attended OAC.]

I will take all the math possible.

I will make use of my slide rule.

I will make the acquaintance of Troy Bogard.

I must go out for track and succeed.

Certain of these resolutions are best explained by looking at other entries in Pauling’s diary. For example, this excerpt from an entry dated Sunday, September 16, 1917, explains why Pauling feels that he must track down Troy Bogard.

Mr. Benedict, of the Pacific Scale and Supply Co., after a trip to a place where he was to set a scale, said that at some town he had seen a young man, with whiskers, dirt, and ragged clothes, whom he had thought to be a tramp, but who was an O.A.C. student working in the harvest fields. He told him about me, and the young man said for Mr. Benedict to tell me to look him up at Corvallis. Bennie could not remember my name, never having known what it was. The young man, whose card is in an envelope marked ‘High School Reminiscences,’ although not belonging there, was named Troy Bogard, of Woodburn, Oregon, and is a Senior in Farm Crops at O.A.C.

Pauling’s curious resolution about his slide rule can also be explained by diary notations. In another excerpt from the September 16 entry, he writes:

Early last fall, as I was crossing a field on the way to school with a bunch of boys, I found a slide rule. The other boys had stepped over the box in which it was, but I picked it up. I watched the advertisements in the daily papers for many days, but it was not advertised for. It is a polyphase duplex slide rule, made by Keuffel and Esser Co., and costing about $7.50. Its number is < 4088-3 >. It is 12 inches long and contains 12 scales.

Another entry, this time dated Friday, September 21, 1917, contains a brief mention of the slide rule.

Last winter I found a Keuffel & Esser Co. polyphase duplex Slide Rule < 4088-3 >. I will be able to use it in college.

As it turns out, Pauling did put his slide rule to excellent use – it would quickly become (and remain) his calculating tool of choice, one with which he developed an uncanny proficiency.

And of his other resolutions? As indicated by the addendum to the first, it appears that Pauling was able to handily beat his cousin’s record in Analysis. Furthermore, Pauling also took a great deal of math in his college career. Whether or not it was all the math “possible,” we do not know, though surely Caltech enabled his studies where OAC may have been lacking. As for meeting Troy Bogard, it is unknown whether or not Pauling was ever able to track him down. And finally, Pauling’s single obvious failure of the bunch was succeeding in track. Although he did try out and ran in one meet, he never actually made the team.

Make sure to check back later this week for part two of our OAC Diary post. For more information on Linus Pauling in Oregon, check out our Oregon 150 series. For general information on Linus Pauling, please visit the Linus Pauling Online portal.

Period of Transition: Pauling in Corvallis

Linus Pauling, age 17.

Linus Pauling, age 17.

Corvallis, the home of Oregon State University, sits adjacent to the Willamette River in the central Willamette Valley. Nestled between Portland and Eugene, and a reasonable distance from both the Pacific Ocean and the Cascade mountain range, Corvallis offers close proximity to a large variety of outdoor activities and big city accommodations while maintaining the feel of a small town lifestyle. Corvallis’ reputation as a green, vegetarian-friendly, and bicycle-friendly community also help to define its place on the map.

However, when Linus Pauling arrived here in 1917, Corvallis was an entirely different place. As opposed to its current population of roughly 50,000, Pauling’s Corvallis housed only about 5,000 people within its city limits. There were certainly no bike-lanes or vegetarian-friendly restaurants, and Hewlett-Packard, a major employer here, wasn’t even an idea yet. Furthermore, Oregon State University, which Pauling chose to attend because of financial necessity, was known as Oregon Agricultural College.

Interestingly enough, Pauling’s entry into the college world was not marked by his characteristic confidence. Because he was only 16, Pauling was worried about how he would compare to his older and (he assumed) more intelligent classmates. Nonetheless, he pushed his fears aside and before long, had arrived for his first year as an undergraduate.

Pauling started out as, more or less, a typical underclassman. He moved into a boarding house with his cousin Mervyn Stephenson, and enrolled in the classes required for the mining engineering field. He also developed a fair amount of school spirit, or ‘beaver pep’ as he called it. He wore the green beanie required of all freshman, attended and cheered at sport events, joined the student military cadet corps, and began searching for romance. Within a few weeks, Pauling had moved out of the boarding house for financial reasons, had developed a clear idea of the classes he enjoyed and didn’t enjoy, and had taken an interest in a co-ed, although their association wouldn’t last very long.

Painting of Oregon Agricultural College, ca. 1912.

Painting of Oregon Agricultural College, ca. 1912.

As might be expected, Pauling’s favorite courses were math and the physical sciences. Not only did he truly enjoy these classes, but he excelled in them as well. In fact, he found that he had no more trouble mastering college level courses than he did mastering his high school classes. However, Pauling didn’t succeed in every class he took. He received a D in mechanical drawing – a subject for which he didn’t have enough patience – and an F in freshman gymnasium after his attempt to work around the rules for taking the class failed.

Pauling’s sophomore year at OAC was much like his first. He continued to outshine his classmates, was given a job in the chemistry department’s solution room, and also joined a fraternity, Gamma Tau Beta. Between his studies and his job, Pauling had very little free time. This set the precedent for the long hours of hard work that would, in part, define the rest of his life.

Pauling’s third year at OAC, however, was as different from the preceding two as could possibly have been the case. As the end of summer was approaching, Linus’ mother Belle told him that she needed to use all the money he had earned to make ends meet at home. Instead of protesting, Pauling agreed, and prepared himself to make the best of a year at home.

However, the chemistry department at OAC had a very different plan. Burdened by unexpected staff shortages, and fearful of losing their prize student, the department decided to offer him a job teaching quantitative chemistry – a course he had taken only a year earlier. Although the job would be a cut in pay from a job that he had found as  paving instructor for the state’s department of transportation, Pauling didn’t hesitate and headed back to Corvallis. He wasn’t able to take any classes, but Pauling enjoyed the job. It gave him good experience as a lecturer and an excellent opportunity to catch up on the latest research in the field of chemistry.

In 1920, after his yearlong stint as a chemistry instructor, Pauling reentered the OAC chemistry program as a junior. By this time, he had gained a great deal of self-confidence. He was closer in age to the rest of his classmates, officially an upperclassman, and was building his reputation as the smartest man on campus. He continued to have no trouble mastering his courses, and began to develop an interest in public speaking, which he took far enough to compete in a school-wide contest (he finished second).

The next year, as Pauling was traveling home for Christmas vacation, OAC offered him a new job teaching freshman chemistry for home economic majors. Thinking the extra money would be useful, he decided to accept the offer. On his first day of class, a young student by the name of Ava Helen Miller caught his eye. As time went on, they began to become more interested in each other until finally, Pauling asked her to go on a walk with him. From there, their relationship grew, and just before the end of the term, Pauling asked her to marry him. She said yes, and he promptly lowered her final grade by one letter to avoid any possibility of favoritism.  The location where Linus and Ava Helen first met, Education Hall Room 201, is now marked by a plaque.

During his senior year, Pauling also began thinking about graduate school. It was clear to him that his goals in life required a higher education than was attainable at OAC. He applied to several schools that offered advanced chemistry programs including Harvard, Berkeley, and of course, the California Institute of Technology. Although Caltech was the youngest and smallest of the schools, they made Pauling the best offer. He decided to accept, and at the end of the summer of 1922, armed with his B.S. in Chemical Engineering, Pauling left his bride-to-be Ava Helen behind in Corvallis and headed for California.

For more information of Linus Pauling in Oregon, check out our Oregon 150 series. For general information on Linus Pauling, please visit the Linus Pauling Online portal.  For more on Pauling’s undergraduate years, see the Pauling Centenary Exhibit or the Linus Pauling at OSU site published by the Department of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering.

Oregon 150

Herman Pauling’s Condon Pharmacy

Obituary of Herman W. Pauling, 1910.

Obituary of Herman W. Pauling, 1910.

Linus Pauling harbored many fond memories of his short time in the small town of Condon, Oregon. Of these memories, a number of them involve his father Herman and his drugstore.

Herman Pauling, born in 1876, began his career in pharmacy as the apprentice of an Oswego druggist. Before long, he was working his way through the ranks of a large Portland pharmacy, and was soon asked to manage a store in Condon. In the summer of 1899, Herman, then only 22 years old, arrived in the small wild-west town. The residents of Condon were overjoyed to have a registered pharmacist, and Herman quickly began to develop a reputation as a skilled and honest druggist.

Unfortunately, his success was short-lived. The investors providing the backing for the store sold out, and Herman was not asked to stay on. Despite his search for another job in Condon and the surrounding area, he and his new bride, the former Lucy Isabelle Darling, were forced to return to Portland in the summer of 1900. It was in Portland that Linus Carl Pauling was born on February 28, 1901.

Despite the early set-backs, Herman’s desire to run his own drugstore was far from gone. He worked hard in the Portland area to save money, and in March of 1905 he returned to Condon, where competition was scarce and economic conditions were improving. When he arrived, he was literally given half a store as well as money to buy supplies by his brother-in-law, Herbert Stephenson. Understandably, this was exciting to Herman and it wasn’t long before Belle and the children had joined him.

A monthly billing statement issued by the Herman Pauling drugstore.

A monthly billing statement issued by the Herman Pauling drugstore.

Herman was very dedicated to creating a successful pharmacy, and it wasn’t long before his hard work began to pay off. Calling himself a “manufacturing pharmacist,” he, like many other pharmacists of the time, created his own pills or solutions to treat various ailments. His store was also founded on a “No Cure, No Pay” policy – that is, if the cure didn’t work for you, you were refunded in full. Fortunately for Herman, his products seemed to do the trick. In 1907, Herman partnered with a young jeweler and opened an improved and expanded store in a prime location of town.

Although Herman’s primary concern was manufacturing drugs, he also had a knack for advertising, which he quickly put to use in full force. His advertisements could be seen on billboards, flyers, painted benches around town, and weekly notices in the newspaper. The advertisements typically consisted of simple announcements of new products, testimonials from loyal customers, and sometimes even poetry written by Herman himself. For example, he promoted his Almond and Cucumber Cream by writing:

When sweet Marie was sweet sixteen / She used Pauling’s Almond and Cucumber Cream / Tho’ many winters since she’s seen, / She still remains just sweet sixteen.

Other products created by Herman included “Pauling’s Pink Pills for Pain,”  “Pauling’s Improved Blood Purifier,”  “Pauling’s Mixture for the Blood, Liver, and Kidneys,” and “Pauling’s Barb Wire Cure.” A few of these products can be seen in the advertisements shown below.

Assorted advertisements for Herman Pauling's drugstore as well as "Pauling & Keene Watchmakers, Jewelers, Opticians"

Assorted advertisements for Herman Pauling's drugstore as well as "Pauling & Keene Watchmakers, Jewelers, Opticians"

An advertisement (center-top) for Herman Pauling's drugstore.

An advertisement (center-top) for Herman Pauling's drugstore.

As his father’s business matured, so too was Linus becoming a curious and intelligent child. While he and his cousin Mervyn Stephenson played together often, young Linus frequently took an interest in the more grown-up world of his father’s drugstore. Linus would, for example, sometimes sit in the back room of the store, watching his father combine various mysterious ingredients into a single medicinal compound. Herman was essentially doing simple chemistry, and although Linus’ interest in chemistry wasn’t fully piqued until later, his time spent in the drugstore could have easily played a role.

In 1908, Herman decided to overtake the jewelry business after his partner’s sudden death from pneumonia. He also imported an optician from Portland and the partnership continued to grow and prosper. Herman’s profile in the community was likewise still on the rise, to the point where he was put in charge of Condon’s Fourth of July celebration for 1908.

Unfortunately, this success would once again not endure. Soon after the Fourth of July festivities, a competing jeweler issued a minor verbal attack against Herman. Herman took the remarks personally and initiated a heated debate in the newspaper that lasted for three weeks with no resolution. From this incident, Herman’s reputation as a pharmacist was tarnished. Not long after, he was arrested on false bootlegging charges and a fire destroyed a portion of the stock in his store.

Herman had finally had enough of Condon. He collected insurance on the store, sold his share of the company, and moved his family back to Portland where he immediately began to work on opening yet another drugstore. Tragically, in June of 1910, only a few months after returning to Portland, Herman Pauling suddenly became very ill and died within twenty-four hours of feeling sick. The official cause of his death was gastritis, but Herman often complained of what he called his “tummick ake”. Linus later contributed his father’s death to a likely cause of this pain, a perforating ulcer – to which stress from his constant hard work could have been a major contributing factor.

For more stories of Pauling in Oregon, see our growing series of posts celebrating Oregon150 or visit the Linus Pauling Online portal.

Oregon 150