Chairing the Division After the War: Progress Toward Pauling’s Post-War Plan

Linus Pauling, 1947

[Pauling as Administrator]

In January 1946, Linus Pauling presented his plan for a joint research program to be shared between the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering and the Division of Biology at the California Institute of Technology. Delivered for the third time to the Institute’s Board of Trustees, Pauling’s vision called for

an expansion of the work of these Divisions during the next fifteen or twenty years, in order that a very promising field of investigation intermediate between chemistry and biology may be cultivated; this field of investigation is also very closely related to medicine.

In putting forth these ideas, Pauling sought to build and expand upon previous research successes that had emerged from support provided by the Rockefeller Foundation.

In his talk, Pauling noted that the past two decades had brought about the development of immunochemistry, chemical genetics, and the use of radioactive tracers. These breakthroughs had made more feasible the potential determination of the “structure and nature” of substances smaller than the cell­­ – enzymes, proteins, genes, and viruses – that are not visible under a microscope. But determining these structures, Pauling told the board, would require

a considerable expansion in chemistry and biology, with the addition to the staff of specialists in fields such as enzyme chemistry, nucleic acid chemistry, microbiology, general physiology, and virology.

In making his argument, Pauling brought Rockefeller administrator Warren Weaver into the mix by sharing “that in his opinion there is no place in the world so well suited for this work as the California Institute of Technology.” If the trustees agreed to go along, Pauling believed that the program could potentially bring in as much as $6 million worth of Rockefeller support to split between divisions and enable the construction of two new buildings.

While he had faith that the Rockefeller Foundation would provide significant external funding for his plan, Pauling also had his eye on other sources. One noteworthy resource in this regard was E. K. Wickman of the Commonwealth Fund, whom Pauling queried about granting capacity at the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. Wickman reviewed the foundation’s assets and earnings, and reported back that they likely had $10 million in their national reserves at the start of the year, and had since established a goal of raising another $25 million through their annual March of Dimes. Wickman added that this was a conservative estimate, and urged that

Considering that the National is now pricked by criticism for large accumulations, that it has just had fresh increases, and that as a relative newcomer in the philanthropic field it may want to establish a reputation in competition with the old foundations, you may well be coming to them at the right moment for a substantial grant.

Thus encouraged, Pauling, along with colleagues George Beadle and Alfred Sturtevant, drew up “A Proposed Program of Research on the Fundamental Problems of Biology and Medicine.” The proposal asked for $6 million over the next fifteen to twenty years and was submitted to the Rockefeller Foundation and the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. The overarching goal of the proposed program was to “uncover basic principles” in the biochemistry of medicine including the structure and mechanism of genes, a general understanding of viruses and antibodies, and the physiological basis of drugs. The authors also expected that plenty of practical discoveries would be made along the way.

The proposal placed special emphasis on the need to attract people trained in biology and medicine as graduate students and post-doctoral researchers. It pointed out that the number of graduate students working in the divisions authoring the proposal had dropped by more than twenty since the end of the war, a trend that would need to be stanched were the Institute to achieve new heights. Fortunately, at least in the authors’ views, Caltech was particularly well-positioned to support a new and ambitious program, one that would usher in “a period of great and fundamental progress, similar to that through which physics and chemistry have passed during the last thirty-five years.”

Once they had evaluated the proposal, the Rockefeller Foundation, as was their custom, asked for assurance that Caltech would continue to support biochemistry and biophysics with its own institutional resources. The foundation was also not prepared to support the construction of new buildings. (With this information in hand, Pauling and Beadle pressed Caltech President Lee DuBridge to earmark other Institute funds for constructing the new buildings.)

Ultimately the Rockefeller trustees agreed to provide a measure of support, but it fell far short of the proposal’s ambitious ask. A semiannual grant of $50,000 was allocated, to be paid out over seven years for a grand total of $700,000 in funding. The National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis also agreed to a partial measure: a five-year grant totaling $300,000.

Pauling, Beadle and Sturtevant were glad to have these pledges of support in hand and saw other routes to arriving at the $6 million original ask; among them a $2.3 million private bequest recently made to the Institute. With funding momentum gathering, Pauling decided that he would shorten his forthcoming Eastman residency at Oxford University so that he could devote more time to creating action items and managing budgets.

Once implemented, it did not take long for the new plan to show fruit. By 1947, Institute researchers had set upon an ambitious research agenda that included studies of the structure, composition and molecular weight of amino acids, peptides, proteins, and viruses; the chemistry of enzymes and nucleic acids; immunochemistry; serological genetics and embryology; chemical genetics; virology; and intermediary metabolism in plants and animals. Nascent and proposed research ideas also included electron microscopy studies of viruses and proteins; the chemistry of nucleic acids; and other topics in microbiology, physiology and biophysics.

And yet, despite the new money, adequate funding emerged as an uncertainty once news of a $240,000 budgeted shortfall began to circulate. As a corrective, the division started to look at other pots of money to cover the gap, including another large grant that had been promised by the Rockefeller Foundation, as well as smaller sources, like a $3,300 award that George Beadle had received from the Eli Lilly Company to work on the biosynthesis of vitamins. Certain funding lines however, including a five-year $75,000 grant that Pauling had secured in 1945 from Union Carbide to support fundamental research on the structure of metals and alloys, remained out of bounds.

The fresh funding coming in for biochemical work aligned nicely with President DuBridge’s emphasis on returning Caltech to its pre-war focus on fundamental research. A return of this sort was needed because the war years had pushed the Institute towards contract work that was funded by the government and private entities. These contracts were particularly attractive to faculty, as the deals often served as a source of extra income on top of their Caltech salaries.

Indeed, more money for individual use was becoming a necessity. Notably, a 1947 report commissioned by DuBridge showed that the cost of living in Pasadena had increased “well over 40 per cent” since the start of the decade. To keep pace with Harvard, Berkeley and MIT, Caltech would need to raise its salaries by 50% above 1940 levels, followed by an additional 75% increase over the next three years. At the time that the report was issued, Caltech had only boosted its salaries by 20% since the start of the war.

One solution that DuBridge found to address this problem that allowed him to also enforce Caltech’s existing restrictions on doing contract work, was to change the salary structure for faculty such that they were paid a twelve month salary at the same monthly rate as their nine month salary. In instituting this change, DuBridge effectively gave his faculty a raise that was equal to three months of pay.

In the meantime, Pauling continued to recruit new faculty into the Institute. He assisted E. C. Watson, Caltech’s Dean of Faculty, in looking for a mathematician and solid state physicist while he was in residency at Oxford. One name that Pauling put forth was Mary Cartwright of Cambridge, who had recently been named the first female fellow of the Royal Society and who came recommended as the “most outstanding younger mathematician in England.”

Pauling had less luck finding good physicists in England, but did recommend Clarence Zener of the University of Chicago’s Institute of Metals. The following month, Pauling suggested that Paul Dirac – then of the Institute for Advanced Study – be invited to Caltech, which Pauling felt he might consider for a professorship. Ultimately none of these suggestions worked out, but Pauling’s grander vision for post-war science at Caltech was unarguably moving forward.

Taking the Division Beyond the War


[Pauling as Administrator]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chairing the Division During the War: A Balance of Interests

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

[Pauling as Administrator]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

[Pauling as Administrator]

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

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

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

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


Pauling and Arthur Hill at Yale University, 1947

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Years as Division Chair: Responsibilities Large and Small


Pasadena Post, May 5, 1937

[Pauling as Administrator]

During the final phase of Linus Pauling’s ascension into the positions of Chairman of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, and Director of the Chemical Laboratories at the California Institute of Technology, the construction of the Crellin Laboratory lurked in the background with several adjustments to the building plans needing to be made. In May 1937, recognizing that the project was over budget, the Division Council began looking for ways to save money on equipment like table tops and hoods. When September arrived and the project was still short, Edward Crellin agreed to make an additional gift of $5,000 specifically for floor coverings, an amount that was still not enough to fully cover costs.

That fall, Pauling was in residence at Cornell University as George Fischer Baker Lecturer, and he took the opportunity to investigate the floors that had been installed at the Baker Laboratory. Once done, Pauling wrote to his Caltech colleague Arnold O. Beckman, who was overseeing the furnishing of the Crellin facility, and told him that Battleship linoleum had done well in its fourteen years of covering the halls and offices at Cornell. Resolite, on the other hand, had not endured quite so nicely. Beckman followed up accordingly by testing Resolite against Tex-tile, which Caltech’s contractor had recommended as a possible alternative. Beckman reported that both materials “softened” when they came into contact with organic solvents, but Resolite would be a more economical purchase. As a result, Beckman decided that they would use Resolite in the laboratories, despite Pauling’s misgivings, and linoleum in the hallways and offices. Otherwise, the building was nearing completion as it had been painted and awaited furnishing.

As chair, Pauling was obligated to keep a close eye on the division’s budget and to think hard about the best ways to direct funding. In this, Pauling’s bias was clearly in favor of devoting funds to research. In one instance, when colleague Howard J. Lucas requested support to attend a conference on the East Coast, Pauling replied that because Lucas was not presenting a paper, the division could not provide funding. In the future, Pauling suggested, Lucas should arrange to give talks when travelling east. Pauling did, however, agree that it would be a good idea for Lucas to hire an assistant to help him with his research on bean pod hormones and set about securing funding for a six month temporary position.

Though administrative responsibilities now occupied much of his time, Pauling continued to teach, including the graduate courses “On the Nature of the Chemical Bond” and “Introduction to Quantum Mechanics with Chemical Applications.” As chairman, Pauling also held more sway in shaping what was taught both within the division and across Caltech. Before his first year as chair had been completed, Pauling used his new title to push for the development of broader course work in organic chemistry across the campus. And in this case Pauling saw quick results, in no small measure because of lingering momentum from A.A. Noyes’ activities as the previous division chair and the influx of money coming from the Rockefeller Foundation. Indeed, one might intuit Pauling’s satisfaction in writing “Carried!” next to an agenda motion stipulating that, for seniors in physics, applied physics and astronomy, Caltech remove required courses in statistics and replace them with organic chemistry classes.

Within the division, Pauling had to work with the Division Council before proposing any changes to the curriculum. In spring 1938, the council approved an optional second year of organic chemistry for seniors, a request that the students themselves had been making. By 1942, the organic chemistry requirement became uniform across the division, with applied chemistry majors taking the coursework as juniors alongside chemistry majors. In 1955, Pauling suggested that the organic chemistry requirement be moved to the sophomore year. He also felt that there was too much physical chemistry in the sophomore curriculum.

Early on as chair of the division, Pauling also worked to keep graduate students connected to the research of the division’s rapidly growing staff, which, bolstered by Rockefeller support, had increased by fifteen people in his first year. The total number of graduate students also increased from 25 to 45, each of whom received stipends of $600 to $860 a year as assistants. When he first became chair, Pauling was only ten years older than most of these graduate students, and he made a point of inviting them to his home or to desert camping trips to learn more about their work, ambitions and points of view. Pauling wanted this closeness to translate across the division and, in September 1938, proposed that faculty participate in regular seminars where they would present their research internally. Pauling gave the first talk in this series, providing an update on his hemoglobin studies. He also made it clear that he expected others to follow his lead.

Though he was aggressive in putting forth and pushing his agenda, Pauling also demonstrated an ability to respond to faculty concerns, the first instance being complaints calling for a new instrument maker within the division. Specifically, Pauling asked Arnold Beckman about the possibility of replacing the current instrument maker with someone younger who would manage all of the responsibilities assumed by the instrument shop. As it turned out, Beckman had already been searching for someone new, but had not found anyone yet. Beckman preferred looking off campus, and would continue his search there.

The most significant administrative tasks on Pauling’s plate were the building of the Crellin facility and the securing of stable funding from the Rockefeller Foundation. In May 1937, Rockefeller administrator Warren Weaver sent Pauling a detailed four-page letter outlining the ways in which Caltech could improve its Rockefeller grant application by including the anticipated costs of equipment along with more details on how the Division of Biology would use their allotment of funds. Weaver also warned Pauling that his request for an increase from $10,000 to $15,000 per year for his own research in structural chemistry was a “retrograde step” that was best avoided. Further suggestions from Weaver laid out an ideal path for distributing funds from a potential $60,000 annual award, with $10,000 going to Biology, $10,000 to structural chemistry, $35,000 to organic chemistry research, and another $5,000 earmarked for organic chemistry equipment.

These suggestions, which Weaver also conveyed to T. H. Morgan in the Division of Biology, were incorporated into a revised application that was submitted by the two divisions in August 1937. At that same time, the Chairman of the Caltech Executive Council, Robert Millikan, told Weaver that, if Caltech received the grant, they would prefer that it begin the following July, when the new Crellin Laboratory would be ready.

While Pauling continued to work out the details of the Rockefeller request, he also took steps to safeguard support for his own projects in negotiation with Caltech’s Executive Council. While Weaver wanted assurance from the council that they would continue to support biochemical work after the Rockefeller grant had been exhausted, Pauling too was seeking a guarantee that they would continue funding his structural chemistry work, since the Rockefeller Foundation would not increase its contribution. Pauling eventually asked the Executive Council provide $50,000 a year for the former and $5,000 a year for the latter. Robert Millikan and Richard Tolman made a similar appeal to Caltech’s Board of Trustees the following month, and the board agreed to this request.

Meanwhile, Weaver continued to push Pauling on who he should hire with the Rockefeller money, qualifying his reactions to Pauling’s choices thus far as “not entirely enthusiastic.” For Weaver, Pauling’s suggestion of the brothers R. R. Williams and Roger Williams represented “a somewhat unsatisfactory compromise between the ideal of a young, well-trained and exceedingly brilliant man, such as [Alexander] Todd or [Carl] Niemann, and a thoroughly experienced and broadly interested world leader, such as we should like to find but cannot.” In response, Pauling suggested that they shift their energies to support someone like Niemann, who was already coming to Caltech the following year. Pauling and Weaver alike assumed that Todd, a future Nobel Prize-winner who was based in London, was likely not available, but both did their best to try to recruit him to Pasadena.


Becoming Division Chair: Staffing a New Laboratory, Noyes’ Death, and a Conversation with Harvard


Architectural schematic for the third floor of the Crellin Laboratory.

[Pauling as Administrator]

In November 1935, Edward Crellin, a retired Pasadena steel magnate, and his spouse Amy, informed Caltech chemistry chief A.A. Noyes of their wish to provide majority funding for a new building to be used by the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering. Planning for this new facility promptly commenced and, by the next month, had advanced to the point where Noyes could tell the Division Council that construction would begin in spring 1937. In the meantime, fundraising and design work continued, a process that was aided by Crellin’s forgiveness of a $60,000 annuity owed to him by Caltech.

By spring 1936, the final plans appeared to be coming together for the new space. It would be called the Crellin Laboratory, and the division’s existing facility would become the Gates Laboratory. One issue of particular concern was the square footage to be made available for biochemistry research supported by the Rockefeller Foundation. Another key need was finding a person suitable to organizing this work.


Carl Niemann, 1950

Linus Pauling was tasked with leading the search for the head researcher position but, as had happened the previous year, his inquiries yielded few leads. In his correspondence with Thorfin Hogness, a close colleague at the University of Chicago, Pauling learned that they too were looking for someone similar. This shared difficulty encountered by both institutions reflected a growing interest in biochemical research nation-wide that had been catalyzed, in no small measure, by the Rockefeller Foundation.

More promising suggestions came from Moses Gomberg at Johns Hopkins University and from the Rockefeller Foundation itself, in the form of Warren Weaver. Gomberg suggested Edwin Buchman and Weaver suggested Carl Niemann, but both struck Pauling as being too early in their careers to fill this position. Making a trip back East, Pauling began to search in person, interviewing “young bio-organic chemists” and getting “advice from several older ones.”

The most important conversation that Pauling had during this trip was with Warren Weaver. In it, Pauling learned that the Rockefeller Foundation would not commit to even a “small grant” for “preliminary investigations,” if the division was not able to meet an April 1937 deadline for submitting a “well worked out plan” for initial implementation in September. Weaver also shared his sense that the foundation’s trustees would likely not consent to supporting a program headed by “only young and relatively untried men at the beginning of their careers.”

Having received this guidance, Pauling suggested that Caltech hire a mid-career candidate who had already made significant contributions, and then add young men who could be groomed by this individual. The only person whom Pauling had met so far who approached this description was Hans T. Clark, a faculty member in the Department of Biochemistry at Columbia University. Pauling worried though, that Clark’s research was not “outstanding.” Another possibility was Samuel Gurin, a National Research Fellow at the University of Illinois and Pauling’s favorite among the “young men” that he had interviewed.

In the end, neither Clark nor Gurin was hired. Instead, Edwin Buchman and Carl Niemann – the two candidates suggested by Moses Gomberg and Warren Weaver – were brought on as temporary junior appointments. Though young, both were brimming with promise: Niemann had already published ten papers by the age of twenty-five, and Buchman quickly secured funding for his research on vitamin B1. As it turned out, both also stayed at Caltech for the remainder of their careers.


A.A. Noyes

On June 6, 1936, with the Crellin facility still in its planning phase and a succession plan for division leadership still not in hand, A.A. Noyes passed away. For many in the division, sadness at Noyes’ passing was amplified by feelings of resentment toward Pauling, the likely new chair, who was widely seen as having pressed the issue of succession too aggressively during Noyes’ final days. For this and other reasons, many colleagues favored the appointment of physicist Richard Tolman instead, forcing him, just four days after Noyes’ death, to clarify that he would not accept the position if offered.

Tolman’s preemptive refusal fell on deaf ears with the Executive Council, who recommended him anyway. Tolman, who was already Dean of the Graduate School and whose research did not comfortably align with the division’s broader work, responded to the council once more at the end of June, explaining

I am very appreciative – and indeed quite touched – by this expression of confidence on the part of the members of the Executive Council. Nevertheless, both from the point of view of my own work and from that of the welfare of the Institute, I do not think that it would be wisest for me to accept.

For his part, Tolman still favored the plan that he had devised the previous year with Noyes, George Ellery Hale and Robert Millikan, wherein it was recommended that Pauling take over as leader working in tandem with the Division Council. Tolman noted that as “an outstanding chemist, who is actively engaged in chemical research, who has a good knowledge of the chemical work being done in this and in other countries, and who is himself recognized as a man who is now making important contributions to chemistry,” Pauling was the perfect candidate. Tolman also hoped that the Division Council structure could be maintained and put forth that, as originally planned, he would continue to serve on the council since it was a position from which he could most effectively benefit the division.

Pauling’s strong objections to the Tolman group’s proposal in general, and the Division Council structure in particular continued to hold. Feeling that the window for advancing on acceptable terms at Caltech was nearing its close, Pauling also began to seriously entertain the idea of working elsewhere.

In 1929, Harvard University had recruited Pauling for a position as Professor of Physical Chemistry, an offer that Pauling ultimately refused. Seven years later, the division chairmanship seemingly out of reach, Pauling wrote to the new President of Harvard, James B. Conant, asking if the 1929 offer was still a consideration. Conant replied that the position had since been filled by one of Pauling’s former students, E. Bright Wilson, and that Harvard was not presently in a position to create a new job for Pauling. This news came as a disappointment, but other opportunities were soon to arrive.

Becoming Division Chair: The Division Council, Pauling’s Demur, and Weaver’s Promise


Linus Pauling, 1935

[Pauling as Administrator]

In 1935, after being diagnosed with colon cancer, A.A. Noyes knew that he would soon have to step down from his position as Chairman of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at the California Institute of Technology. As such, Noyes began planning how best to transition his administrative portfolio to whomever might be elevated as the next chairman. Noyes favored the idea of promoting a strong researcher – rather than an experienced administrator – into the position, and was likewise keen to continuing strengthening the divisions’s ties to the Rockefeller Foundation. With these criteria set, Noyes quickly settled on Linus Pauling as his favored successor.

Pauling was aware of Noyes’ preferences and, as time moved forward, began to press the issue himself. When July arrived and little movement had been made toward appointing a new chair, Pauling approached Robert Millikan, professor of physics and Chairman of the Executive Council at Caltech, to make his case more aggressively. As a close friend of Noyes, whose health was on the decline, (he would die less than a year later) Millikan was infuriated with Pauling’s insensitivity to the circumstances. But this did not stop Pauling: within two weeks, after thinking the situation over, Pauling addressed Noyes directly by letter, claiming that he was considering leaving Caltech since the promised chairmanship had apparently been taken away.

For his part, Noyes still wanted Pauling to succeed him as chair. Upon receiving Pauling’s letter, Noyes passed it on to astronomer George Ellery Hale, who had been central to shaping Caltech into a prestigious institution over the previous two decades. Noyes also met in person with Hale, Millikan, and physicist Richard Tolman to discuss the question of his successor.

Millikan favored Tolman for the position, in part because he was concerned that Pauling’s modest upbringing would impact his ability to engage with and woo wealthy donors. Noyes also admitted to harboring concerns about Pauling’s leadership style, the result of having observed him in the laboratory, where he was inclined to delegate specific tasks to his students and staff rather than allowing those under him to think through problems for themselves.

Ultimately the four decided that the best course of action was to split the leadership of the division in half. Pauling would be anointed as chairman but would be asked to work with a new Chemistry Division Council, to be comprised of a selection of five of Pauling’s fellow faculty. The group also decided that Tolman would represent the division to the Caltech Executive Council and retain primary responsibility for interacting with donors.

The creation of the Division Council, which was modeled on the Institute’s existing Executive Council, reflected the inclusive approach to running the division that Noyes had developed during his tenure and insured its institutionalization. In a letter requesting the Executive Committee to establish the Division Council, Noyes and Tolman described the duties of the chairman as being in a “spirit of cooperation” with the council, such that the chairman would bring matters before the council and make recommendations.

A separate memo further clarified the roles to be played by the chairman and council, noting that the chairman would represent the division to the broader Caltech community, but with certain restrictions. Among them, the memo envisioned the council as having “final authority and responsibility” for making recommendations to the Executive Council concerning budgets and major expenditures, staffing and promotions, and decisions on the usage of laboratory space. The council was tasked with meeting every month during the academic year or when called by the division chair.

The annotations that Pauling made to his own copy of the memo are indicative of his point of view. In it, Pauling highlighted that the chairman would

personally decide all administrative questions, except that he will refer matters upon which a consensus of Division opinion is desirable to the Council or to the Committee of the Division, or to the Division as a whole, as indicated in the statement given below of their respective functions.

The various restrictions outlined in the memo were unacceptable to Pauling, and he refused to sign off on its contents. Instead, he replied to the memo with a written rejoinder addressed to the Executive Council. In it, Pauling expressed his feeling that the Division Council approach would prove inefficient and stagnate the progress of the unit as a whole. “The more reactionary and less ambitious members of the group,” he worried, “will determine its policy, inasmuch as to move ahead is harder than to stand still.” More specifically, Pauling was concerned that the council would be ruled by those who were most out of touch with current trends in research and the instruction, and that the quality of the division would suffer accordingly.

Hesitations about trying to work within this structure, compounded by the difficult financial times being endured nation-wide, were such that Pauling chose to the decline the chairmanship under the terms offered.

I would not accept appointment as Chairman of the Division with authority vested in a Council, inasmuch as it would be impossible or difficult to build up the Division under these circumstances. With someone else as Chairman, I would not feel called on or justified in making any effort to build up the Division, this being then the responsibility of the Chairman. Professor Morgan says that there is no chance of building the West Wing of Gates for five years, no chance of increasing the Chemistry budget, no chance of getting new staff members, no chance that the Institute would promise an increase in budget at some definite time in the future. With no prospect of developing the Division, I would not accept its Chairmanship.

Ignoring Pauling’s objections, the Executive Council approved the Division Council on November 2, 1935, the day after Pauling authored his letter. From that point, it would take more than two years to resolve the disagreement between Pauling and upper administration. Central to the healing process was Warren Weaver at the Rockefeller Foundation.

In March 1936, Weaver informed Pauling of the Rockefeller Foundation’s interest in supporting “an attack on cancer from below (structure of carcinogenic substances, etc.) but not from above.” The following month, further details about the Foundation’s proposed level of support were shared at a Division Council meeting, where it was conveyed that the grant could fund research in organic chemistry at rate of $250,000 over five to seven years, with an additional $50,000 going to the Division of Biology. The Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering was asked to submit its grant application by August. Needless to say, a potential windfall of this magnitude served as a powerful motivator for the division to shift its attention toward biochemistry and also provided Pauling with significant leverage in his pursuit of the division’s chair.

This leverage first began to manifest when Noyes put Pauling in charge of identifying three research fellows to attach to the grant. The previous year, Pauling had conducted a similar search and was unsuccessful. During this first attempt, Pauling had sent out letters to chemistry and medical departments at the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan, Columbia University, Washington University, and Harvard describing the ideal candidate as “original and energetic” but not requiring plum facilities to carry out effective research. This second time around, Caltech’s relative lack of facilities would be less of a problem. The potential Rockefeller grant was partly responsible for this, as was a plan to begin construction on the Crellin Laboratory the following year.