Remembering Ken Hedberg: Part 1, Early Years


[Ed Note: Today we mark the 118th anniversary of Linus Pauling’s birth by hitting the pause button on our Pauling as Administrator series and celebrating the life of Dr. Ken Hedberg, a friend to Pauling and many others. An accomplished structural chemist, a student of Pauling’s, and an Oregon Stater through and through, Ken passed away on January 5, 2019, a month shy of his 99th birthday. This is part 1 of 5.]

Kenneth Wayne Hedberg was born in Portland, Oregon on February 2, 1920. He had one sister who was two and half years younger than himself. His family moved to the Coos Bay region when he was six years old, then to Hoquiam, Washington when he was 12 years old, and finally to Medford, Oregon when he was 16 years old; he finished high school there.

Ken’s mother was a housewife who worked at a naval station in Astoria, Oregon during World War II. His father was a wholesale grocery salesman for a company called Mason-Erhman. His work required him to travel to the company’s storefronts around the state to take grocery orders, which he then transmitted to warehouses for delivery the next morning. Ken sometimes accompanied his father on his routes, but he found the work boring. The Hedberg family was close and often played cards together in the evenings and on the weekends, and also went to movies and listened to radio shows together. Ken also enjoyed physical activity, playing on the tennis team in high school and lettering on the varsity squad while an undergraduate at Oregon State College (now Oregon State University). As a child, he also played touch football with the other kids from his neighborhood and collected stamps as a hobby.

Academically, Hedberg was very successful from the outset and skipped a couple of grades during his grammar school years. And though he always did well in his science courses, it took a little while for him to realize that he wanted to pursue science as a career. In an oral history interview conducted in 2011, he recalled that

My real interest in science developed…but it wasn’t clear to me that I was going to be a scientist as a professional. And through high school and so on, science was easy for me, both physics and chemistry…there were a number of people who always came to me with questions about science. We didn’t have homework in the same way then but it seemed to come so easily to me that I didn’t have much trouble answering the questions.

Ken graduated from high school in 1937 – the height of the Great Depression – and found work picking pears in the nearby orchards. His real ambition though was to attend college. Neither of his parents had gone – his father stopped attending school after eighth grade and his mother finished high school but did not continue on to university. Both of Ken’s parents wanted their children to have that opportunity, but money was tight.

Despite the financial roadblocks, Hedberg did not give up on the idea of a college education. As he thought more about it, he decided that he would pursue science, but was unsure about whether to choose physics or chemistry. To solve that difficulty, he wandered into the public library one day and checked out some books on physics and chemistry that went beyond what he had been taught in school so that he could get a clearer picture of the types of research questions and methods that characterized each discipline. Based on his reading, he decided that the research opportunities available in chemistry appealed to him more than physics.

In 1939 Hedberg’s father lost his job and the family found itself in dire financial straits. His father moved to Portland to try to find work and sent what little money he earned back to the family in Medford. Hedberg later recalled that

…we were enough destitute that the power company turned off all the electricity so that we cooked with a stove with some wood and we had a camping lantern that we used in the evening. We managed to avoid getting thrown out of the house, which was a rental in Medford, but just barely.

Somehow, in the midst of this extreme hardship, Hedberg’s mother scraped together enough money to enable Ken’s registration at Southern Oregon Normal School (now Southern Oregon University). He lived at home and caught a ride each morning with a friend to the neighboring city of Ashland, which was home to the college. He took mostly science and music classes during this time period.

The family chose not to tell Ken’s father that he had started school, out of fear that the news might anger him. But as Hedberg later recalled, these fears proved unwarranted.

My father told me that somebody in Portland had said ‘you know there was a guy, Kenneth Hedberg, I noticed he got all A’s at Southern Oregon Normal, is that your son?’ My father knew nothing about this and I guess my mom didn’t want to tell him that we had found money to send me to college… So he said ‘no that can’t be my son’ and when it turned out that it was, he was not angry; he was delighted actually.

Buoyed by his dad’s approval, Hedberg stayed on at Southern for another term and continued to excel in his courses.


Ken Hedberg (back row, second from left) posing with his OSC varsity tennis teammates, 1941.

In the spring of 1939, Ken’s father found a job in Astoria and Hedberg transferred to Oregon State College in Corvallis, Oregon, where his younger sister was also starting school. Their mother moved to Corvallis with them in order to provide support. Notably, she bought a house where the three of them lived, and she rented out its extra rooms to help pay the bills. Hedberg was also awarded a full-ride scholarship by OSC and was able to land a student job in the Chemistry department supply room.

By 1940, Hedberg had pledged a fraternity – Theta Chi – and his sister moved into a co-op affiliated with the university. Confident in the security of her childrens’ positions, Ken’s mother closed down the boarding house and joined her husband in Astoria. Reflecting back on his first year in Corvallis, Ken paid homage to his mother’s contributions, noting that

At the time I didn’t realize what a sacrifice that was, but as time has gone on, I can see what a monumental contribution that was because I wouldn’t have been able to go to Oregon State at all [without it].

The switch to OSC was also a source of some initial culture shock, in part because Southern Oregon Normal did not offer a degree in chemistry. While in Ashland, Hedberg had only been able to take one elementary chemistry course that was taught by a non-chemist — a classmate recalled that Hedberg knew more chemistry than the professor did. In contrast, Ken’s first chemistry class at OSC was analytical chemistry and he got a C on the first exam, but worked hard to ultimately pull a B overall.

Once he became accustomed to the culture and academic rigor of a college chemistry program, Ken did very well academically and particularly enjoyed the smaller class sizes and increased interaction between students and faculty offered by OSC. He eventually became a member of the Pi Mu Epsilon national honor society in mathematics, as well as the Phi Lambda Upsilon honor society in chemistry. His student job in the chemistry lab stock room was also a source of satisfaction. Students who needed equipment for lab classes could check out materials by filling out a sheet indicating what they needed. Ken would then go in the back and collect the items, reshelving them when the students were done.

Social life was central to Hedberg’s OSC experience, particularly dances and formal events hosted by the college’s fraternities and sororities. One regular happening was a “nickel hop,” wherein all of the school’s sororities would move the furniture out of their living rooms so that male OSC students could move from house to house, paying a nickel to dance with the girls from that sorority. These were heavily chaperoned and dry events. Indeed, alcohol consumption played little part in campus life at that time, as the city had mandated that no alcohol retailer could operate an outlet within two miles of campus.


OSC professor Joseph P. Mehlig.

When asked to identify professors at OSC whom he considered influential to his development as a chemist and the path that he followed, Hedberg identified J.P. Mehlig, James W. Ferguson, and Bert Christensen. Mehlig was an analytical chemist who taught the first chemistry course that Hedberg took at OSC. (the one that he got a B in) Mehlig’s precision in every aspect of his life was renowned, even spawning a legend that one could set a wristwatch by Mehlig’s arrival at the “Chem Shack” – as the chemistry building was known at the time – at precisely the same time every morning. A further tale had it that Mehlig’s life was turned upside down when, during the war years, he could not buy tires for his car on the precise front-back alternating schedule to which he had grown accustomed.

Ferguson was an organic chemist who left OSC during the war years, but whom Hedberg considered to be a superb teacher. Christensen was department chairman after Hedberg joined the faculty at OSC, and Hedberg credited him with facilitating research during a period when federal grants were scarce.

It was with Christensen that Hedberg had first research experience. While still an undergraduate, Christensen enlisted Hedberg’s help with a project on the micro-determination of hydroxyl groups, an analytical technique that utilizes a sample of microbalances to determine molecular composition. The duo published their findings together – Hedberg’s first article – and the Shell Development Company, a major research laboratory and Ken’s future employer, later used their method to good effect, a source of continuing pride for Hedberg.


Hedberg’s 1942 yearbook portrait.

World War II broke out during Hedberg’s undergraduate years at OSC and, as a science major, Ken was deferred from the draft until after his graduation. In reflecting on that period, Ken recalled that “…campus was pervaded by a sense of what was going to be happening to almost everybody, the men on campus.”

As Hedberg neared the conclusion of his studies in late 1943, he found that he had two choices: seek out a job doing war work within the chemical industry or join the Air Force and pursue meteorology or armaments (he could not fly because of poor visual acuity). While he was wrestling with this decision, Shell Development Company offered Ken a job, an opportunity that his faculty mentors encouraged him to accept. He decided to follow this advice, graduated from OSC in December 1943, and subsequently married a fellow OSC graduate, Jean Read.

Ken remained on 1-A status throughout the war, which meant that he was eligible for the draft, but Shell appealed five separate times and eventually got him reclassified as deferred status 2-B, on the grounds that he was doing scientific war work. In 1945, near the end of the war, he narrowly missed being included in an occupation draft group because had recently turned 26, and no one over 25 was eligible.

During his years at Shell Development Company, Hedberg worked on a few research projects that were central to the war effort, including the development of synthetic rubber. Rubber was integral to the production of military technologies like gas masks, tanks, military vehicles, and fighter jets. The need for synthetics was magnified by the fact that Japanese forces controlled most of the plantations where rubber trees were grown, causing a shortage of natural rubber in the Allied countries. Hedberg also worked to streamline the process by which penicillin is extracted from its growth medium so that it could be produced more efficiently for use in military hospitals.

The project that Hedberg was most interested in was the development of an aviation gasoline inhibitor. Aircraft during the Second World War ran on high-octane fuel, which, if stored for extended periods of time, tended to develop a gummy substance that could damage their engines. Since tanks of fuel needed to be stored in the desert for the North African campaign, this gum formation emerged as a major problem for the military. The solution that they had in hand was a red dye additive that would occlude and color the fuel if it began to degrade, such that problematic barrels could be more easily identified and used for purposes where the gum would not cause issues. Unfortunately, in the heat of the North African desert, the red dye revealed a tendency to occlude before the fuel had begun to deteriorate, resulting in good barrels being wasted.

Hedberg’s team worked on a project to develop a special inhibitor that would delay the fuel deterioration process. The group also researched the ways in which different weather conditions affected the condition of the fuel and the behavior of the dye, in order to predict how long the fuel could be expected to last in any given environment.

Hedberg spent three years working for Shell, but opted for graduate school once the war came to an end. Having been accepted by both Harvard and Caltech, Hedberg sought out the advice of his Shell lab supervisor, Dan Luten, to determine how the two departments stacked up. “Caltech has got Linus Pauling,” Hedberg remembers saying, “who else do they have on staff?”

In a response that stuck with Hedberg for the rest of his life, Luten told him, “Look, with Linus Pauling they don’t need anybody else.” Hedberg had already been leaning toward Caltech because it was closer to home and he preferred the warm California climate over New England. With Luten’s firm endorsement registered, he made up his mind and accepted the offer at Caltech.

Pauling on the Homefront: The Development of Oxypolygelatin, Part 2

Dan Campbell and Linus Pauling in a Caltech laboratory, 1943.

Dan Campbell and Linus Pauling in a Caltech laboratory, 1943.

Science cannot be stopped. Man will gather knowledge no matter what the consequences — and we cannot predict what they will be. Science will go on — whether we are pessimistic, or are optimistic, as I am. I know that great, interesting, and valuable discoveries can be made and will be made…But I know also that still more interesting discoveries will be made that I have not the imagination to describe — and I am awaiting them, full of curiosity and enthusiasm.
Linus Pauling, October 15, 1947.

After developing a promising blood plasma substitute during World War II, Pauling found his funding cut and his contract with the Office of Scientific Research and Defense coming to an end. Rather than abandon the project, the Caltech researchers chose to forge ahead.

Frustrated with the lack of progress, Pauling and his team scraped together enough residual funds to allow for one more series of experiments. Pauling began injecting mice and rabbits with his synthetic plasma, carefully monitoring their health and examining blood samples to determine the effects of the treatment. The results were satisfactory but not enough to put the project back in the good graces of the Committee on Medical Research. Pauling knew that the only way to stimulate interest (and funding) for the project was to prove that his substance could be used in humans. In September of 1944, twelve patients at Los Angeles General Hospital were injected with Oxypolygelatin, all exhibiting favorable reactions. Pauling had the results he needed.

Letter from Linus Pauling to B. O. Raulston, September 19, 1944.

Letter from Linus Pauling to B. O. Raulston, September 19, 1944.

Statement of Work Carried Out Under Contract OEMomr-153, 1944.  Page 1.

Statement of Work Carried Out Under Contract OEMomr-153, 1944. Page 1.

Statement of Work Carried Out Under Contract OEMomr-153, 1944.  Page 2.

Statement of Work Carried Out Under Contract OEMomr-153, 1944. Page 2.

In a final effort to save the project, Pauling submitted one last application, noting the success of his experiments with both animal and human patients. To aid his cause, Pauling attempted to find support at the source, sending individual letters to key members of the CMR.

In October of 1944, the CMR responded to his requests for aid, providing a $10,000, nine-month grant. The CMR had previously assured Pauling that the Committee would arrange any necessary physiological tests that could not be completed at Caltech and, upon the renewal of the Oxypolygelatin contract, they reaffirmed this promise.

While Pauling waited for the CMR to complete arrangements for testing, he and his team continued to refine the production process, ironing out wrinkles that had developed in the course of frantic experimentation. During the early months of the Oxypolygelatin program, Pauling had corresponded often with Robert Loeb, a researcher at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York. In a 1943 letter to Loeb he wrote,

It looks as though our method of preparation is not well enough standardized to give a uniform product – the osmotic pressure varies from preparation to preparation. With some evidence from the ultracentrifuge as to how the distribution in molecular weight is changing, we should be able to improve the method.

The lack of uniformity in the substance was a problem for Pauling and his team. In order to locate the irregularities, the researchers needed results from a series of physiological tests. Unfortunately, the CMR had yet to arrange for the promised tests and Pauling’s grant was about to expire.

Letter from Linus Pauling to Robert Loeb, August 17, 1943.

Letter from Linus Pauling to Robert Loeb, August 17, 1943.

By the spring of 1945, Pauling had virtually given up on the project. He had resigned his post as responsible investigator and allowed Campbell to take his place. With the rest of Caltech still knee deep in war research, Pauling had no trouble finding other projects to attract his attention. As a result, his Oxypolygelatin work was relegated to correspondence with gelatin manufacturers and a few curious scientists. In a letter to Chester Keefer of the Committee on Medical Research, Pauling stated,

I feel that the development of Oxypolygelatin has been delayed by a full twelve months by the failure of the CMR to arrange for the physiological testing of the preparation, despite the assurances to me, beginning July 24, 1943, that this testing would be carried out under CMR arrangement. I feel that I myself am also to blame, for having continued to rely upon the CMR, long after it should have been clear to me that the promised action was not being taken and presumably would not be taken.

Letter from Linus Pauling to Chester Keefer, March 12, 1945. Page 1.

Letter from Linus Pauling to Chester Keefer, March 12, 1945. Page 1.

Letter from Linus Pauling to Chester Keefer, March 12, 1945. Page 2.

Letter from Linus Pauling to Chester Keefer, March 12, 1945. Page 2.

Letter from Linus Pauling to Chester Keefer, March 12, 1945. Page 3.

Letter from Linus Pauling to Chester Keefer, March 12, 1945. Page 3.

The project was dead. The CMR had lost interest and no lab in the country was either willing to or capable of performing the tests Pauling required. Even worse for the project, Germany was on the brink of surrender and Japan was losing ground in the Pacific; the war would be over soon and with victory would come the closure of war research programs all over the country.

The team quietly disbanded, each member returning to old projects or starting up fresh lines of research. In 1946, Pauling, Koepfli and Campbell filed for a patent for Oxypolygelatin and its manufacturing process which they immediately transferred to the California Institute Research Foundation.

Oxypolygelatin patent agreement, December 4, 1946.

Oxypoly-gelatin patent agreement, December 4, 1946.

In 1947, the American Association of Blood Banks was founded and in 1948 the American National Red Cross began widespread blood donation campaigns. The genesis of the two programs allowed for large supplies of fresh blood to be dispersed throughout U.S. hospitals on a regular basis, virtually eliminating the need for a plasma substitute during peacetime.

While Pauling was the source of many scientific breakthroughs during his career, in the end Oxypolygelatin was a failed project. Over the following years, he would occasionally discuss his blood plasma work with an interested scientist or mention it at a symposium address, but he never returned to the Oxypolygelatin problem.

For more information on Pauling’s Oxypolygelatin research, read his 1949 project report or view this 1974 letter regarding the development of Oxypolygelatin production in China. For additional Pauling content, visit Linus Pauling: It’s in the Blood! or the Linus Pauling Online portal.

Blood and War: The Development of Oxypolygelatin, Part 1

An original container of 5% Oxypolygelatin in normal saline. Developed by Linus Pauling as part of his scientific war work research program, mid-1940s.

An original container of 5% Oxypolygelatin in normal saline.

On the basis of the information available to me, I have formed the opinion that oxypolygelatin solution…may well be a thoroughly satisfactory blood substitute, which could be manufactured cheaply in large quantities. It is probably superior to gelatin itself with respect to fluidity of solution, retention in blood stream, and osmotic pressure.”
Linus Pauling, March 14, 1944

In 1941 Linus Pauling began a limited program of study on bovine and human γ-globulin, a project stemming from his interest in the manufacture of antibodies. Pauling initiated experimentation with the preparation of antisera – blood sera containing defensive antibodies – and in the process quickly became an authority on the chemistry of human blood and hemoglobin. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and subsequent U.S. entrance into World War II, the federal government issued a national call for research with wartime applications. Thanks to his ongoing immunological work, Pauling was already a step ahead of his fellow scientists.

In April 1942, Pauling submitted a contract proposal to the Committee on Medical Research (CMR) of the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD). Entitled “The Chemical Treatment of Protein Solutions in the Attempt to Find a Substitute for Human Serum for Transfusions,” the proposal outlined a plan to develop a gelatin-based substance which could be used as a plasma substitute. The project, if successful, would produce a synthetic material that would take the place of donated human blood plasma in transfusions, aiding Allied soldiers when America’s peacetime blood reserves ran low.

The Committee on Medical Research accepted Pauling’s proposal and within two weeks Pauling had assembled a group of researchers, including doctors J.B. Koepfli and Dan Campbell, an immunology expert. After securing materials from Edward Cohn and other American-based scientists, the team was ready to begin.

Linus Pauling to A.N. Richards, May 12, 1942

Linus Pauling to A.N. Richards, May 12, 1942

Linus Pauling to Edward Cohn, May 21, 1942, page 1.

Linus Pauling to Edward Cohn, May 21, 1942, page 1.

Linus Pauling to Edward Cohn, May 21, 1942, page 2.

Linus Pauling to Edward Cohn, May 21, 1942, page 2.

Pauling’s idea for a plasma substitute was not an unfamiliar one. Gelatin was already in use as a plasma replica during the late 1930s and early 1940s, but its viscosity and tendency to gel at room temperature made it a poor candidate. The U.S. military needed something quick and efficient that could be used in field hospitals with minimal preparation. The Caltech team, however, was not yet ready to discard gelatin as a potential candidate. Pauling hoped that, through chemical processes, he might be able to transform standard commercial-grade gelatin into a workable substance.

Between June 1942 and May 1944, Caltech received approximately $20,000 from the CMR in support of the project. During that time, Pauling and his team were able to successfully develop a possible plasma substitute through the polymerization and oxidation of gelatin.

the production of oxypolygelatin, July 23, 1943.

Notes by Linus Pauling re: the production of oxypolygelatin, July 23, 1943.

This substance, first referred to as polyoxy gelatin and eventually known as Oxypolygelatin, was superior to its unmodified counterpart in several ways. Because it was a liquid at room temperature, Oxypolygelatin did not require the same pre-injection heating that previous substitutes required, allowing it to be used quickly and without the help of heating implements. Furthermore, thanks to the creation of large chain-like molecules during the preparation process, oxypolygelatin was retained in the bloodstream for longer periods, allowing the patient’s body more time to manufacture natural plasma. Finally, where gelatin contained pyrogens (fever-causing substances), Oxypolygelatin did not – a property that was due to the addition of hydrogen peroxide, a substance capable of destroying pyrogens.

To a chemist’s eye, Oxypolygelatin appeared to be an acceptable substitute for human plasma. Unfortunately, Pauling knew his own tests were not enough to convince the CMR of the substance’s viability. What he really needed was a medical expert’s stamp of approval. Pauling called on Dr. Thomas Addis – a kidney expert whom history now credits with curing Pauling’s near-fatal case of glomerular nephritis – to analyze the effects of Oxypolygelatin on human organs. Addis accepted the challenge, bringing fellow researcher Dr. Jean Oliver to the project as well. Over the next two years, Addis and Oliver would subject Oxypolygelatin to a battery of tests, eventually confirming its potential as a plasma substitute.

Despite Pauling’s enthusiasm and Addis’ promising results, the CMR did not believe Oxypolygelatin to be sufficiently superior to the pre-existing gelatin substance and, in the spring of 1944, the committee refused Pauling’s request for a renewal of contract. Surprised by the committee’s decision, he submitted a second request, asking that his contract be renewed for the period of four months, with no additional funding from the OSRD. His request was granted but, due to empty coffers, no progress was made. Pauling applied again in June, this time requesting extra resources for the project. Again, he was denied.

Linus Pauling to A.N. Richards, June 14, 1944.

Linus Pauling to A.N. Richards, June 14, 1944.

The future of Oxypolygelatin research looked bleak, but Pauling and his team refused to abandon the project. Instead, they began making preparations for one final assault on the problem.

Please check back on Thursday for the conclusion to this series. In the meantime, for more information on Pauling’s Oxypolygelatin research, read his 1949 project report or view this 1974 letter regarding the development of Oxypolygelatin production in China.  For additional Pauling content, visit Linus Pauling: It’s in the Blood! or the Linus Pauling Online portal.

Pauling in the ROTC


ROTC Cadet Linus C. Pauling, 1918.

As most of our readers are no doubt aware, this past Tuesday was Veterans’ Day in the U.S. and Remembrance Day in many other parts of the world.  In honor of this global occasion, we thought it appropriate to discuss a component of Linus Pauling’s story that may come as a surprise to many — his involvement in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.

At the time of Pauling’s arrival in Corvallis for the beginning of his studies at Oregon Agricultural College, two years of ROTC service were required of all male students physically-able to participate.

[Indeed, compulsory ROTC remained a feature of university life at Oregon State until 1962.  OSU’s proud tradition of military training is documented nicely by our colleagues in the University Archives in the Historical Note to this finding aid.]

Pauling, decades away from the peace activism that, for many, continues to define his legacy, participated with typical vigor.  His marks for military drill were consistently stellar, and near the end of his freshman year Pauling received first runner-up in the Best Soldier competition at OAC’s Military Inspection Day.

Pauling's OAC report card, October 1918.  The usual good grades in military drill, the sciences and math; a highly-unusual A+ in P.E.; and more-typical struggles in Mechanical Drawing.

Pauling's OAC report card, October 1918. The usual good grades in military drill, the sciences and math; a highly-unusual A+ in P.E.; and more-typical struggles in Mechanical Drawing.

Pauling’s commitment to service did, at least on one occasion, come at a cost:  in his Pauling Chronology, biographer Robert Paradowski notes an unhappy incident befalling the young undergraduate at the beginning of his second term.

After going home for his Christmas vacation, Pauling returns on January 7 to the OAC campus for the Winter Short Course. His financial problems become severe during this time. He is also asked to leave the boardinghouse because he makes too much noise tramping up the stairs in his heavy military boots. During the winter and spring, he goes through several changes of address, sometimes rooming with friends, other times taking whatever he can find.

Nonetheless, Pauling’s heart seemed fully in tune with the ROTC mission.  Biographer Thomas Hager, in the early pages of his Force of Nature, writes

Following his freshman year, in the early summer of 1918, Pauling and Mervyn Stephenson, along with a number of other OAC cadets, were sent to the Presidio in San Francisco for six weeks of intensive officers’ training.  Pauling and Stephenson spent the rest of the summer helping build wooden-hulled freighters in a shipyard on the coast of Oregon.  Whatever Pauling’s opinions about war later, during World War I he was in full support of the government’s actions.  Stephenson would later remember that Pauling was a strong supporter of the war effort, “100 percent for it.”

Military training at the Presidio, San Francisco, California, Summer 1918.

Military training at the Presidio, San Francisco, California, Summer 1918.

Having completed the required two years, Pauling chose to remain active in ROTC for the duration of his time as an undergraduate, adding classes in camp cookery to his compulsory drilling.  By the time of his movement on to graduate work at the California Institute of Technology, Pauling had risen to the rank of Major within the Training Corps.

In later years, Pauling would answer the call to service again by engaging in an ambitious program of scientific war research on behalf of the Allied effort during World War II — the human blood plasma substitute oxypolygelatin, new types of rocket propellants, invisible inks and an oxygen meter for use in aircraft and submarines all arose out of this fruitful period.

For his efforts, Pauling received a number of awards from the U.S. government including a Naval Ordnance Development Award, a certificate of recognition from the Office of Scientific Research and Development, a certificate of appreciation from the Rocket Development Program and, most importantly, the Presidential Medal for Merit.

Though the later Pauling was, without question, a vocal and, at times, incendiary critic of U.S. military policy, one would be hard-pressed to make the argument that he was anti-soldier.  To Pauling, war was the greatest of all immoralities, but his criticism was always pointed at the world’s larger actors — the governments and war profiteers — rather than the men and women working in service to their countries.

On the contrary, service to a larger cause was clearly important to Pauling, to the point where he and his wife, Ava Helen, once pledged themselves as willing “Hostages for Peace,” offering to travel to North Vietnam to serve as human shields for Vietnamese citizens and U.S. prisoners of war endangered by the U.S. aerial raids being conducted in the early 1970s.

Clearly, amidst all the accusations and noise surrounding his alleged “anti-Americanism” or “communist ties,” Linus Pauling’s remarkable willingness to sacrifice, much like his earlier ROTC service, was an important but frequently-overlooked component of a terrifically-complex story.

Oregon 150

Anti-Japanese Sentiment and the Rise of Pauling the Peace Activist

“I do not know who is responsible for this un-American act. The people in Pasadena and the surrounding region are, in general, intelligent and patriotic. I have, however, come in contact with a few people who do not know what the Bill of Rights is and what the Four Freedoms are and what the principles are for which the United Nations are fighting. I suspect that the trespass on our home was carried out by one or more of these misguided people who believe that American citizens should be persecuted in the same way that the Nazis have persecuted the Jewish citizens of Germany and the conquered territories.”

– Linus Pauling. “Vandals Victimize Scientist’s Home Where Nisei Employed,” Pasadena Independent. March 7, 1945.

Linus Pauling, now known as one of the twentieth-century’s foremost crusaders for peace, spent much of the first half of his life as a relatively apolitical individual. Up to the early 1940s, Pauling’s politics trended to the center-right — when asked, he typically labeled himself a “Roosevelt Republican.” In the main, however, science was Pauling’s passion and world affairs didn’t enter his thoughts too often. As with many Americans though, a series of events related to World War II dramatically shifted Pauling’s perspective.

After the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese and Japanese-Americans living on the United States’ west coast were moved to internment camps by the federal government. This action was deemed necessary as a means of protecting both American interests as well as the well-being of loyal Japanese Americans.

Ava Helen Pauling reacted strongly to the internment program, volunteering at the local ACLU chapter to raise awareness of a policy that she felt to be brazenly racist. Her husband’s chief response was a series of unsuccessful attempts to secure east coast fellowships for a number of Caltech graduate researchers, most notably an immunochemistry researcher named Carol Ikeda.

For the most part though, Pauling’s primary focus during World War II was an ambitious program of research related to a number of military applications supporting the war effort — an oxygen meter for airplanes and submarines, a blood plasma substitute, rocket propellants and invisible inks. Three years after the war’s conclusion, Pauling would receive the Presidential Medal for Merit in recognition of his efforts on behalf of the Allied cause.

Pauling’s political inclinations remained relatively mild until March of 1945, when the family hired a Japanese-American gardener for a brief period prior to his scheduled reporting for duty in the U.S. Army. A few days following the gardener’s hire, the Paulings were shocked to find anti-Japanese graffiti scrawled on their garage and mailbox. A series of subsequent hate letters and death threats were the chilling work of the Paulings’ neighbors:

“We happen to be one of a groupe [sic] who fully intend to burn your home, tire [sic] and feather your body, unless you get rid of that jap….the more publicity you give this matter, the sooner we will take care of you just like Al Capone did some years ago… [signed] A neighbor.”

Pauling, still deeply engaged in his scientific war work, was outraged that his loyalties might be questioned and his family threatened. With aid from the ACLU, he was able to prod the unsympathetic local sheriff into providing a guard to protect his wife and children against violence. While none of the threats were carried out, the “Japanese Gardener Incident” proved to be an important event in Pauling’s life, as it provided an eye-opening glimpse of the intolerance that would become a hallmark of the McCarthy Era.

The leftward shift in Pauling’s political thinking was finalized by the horrible carnage left in the wake of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan at the end of the war. Encouraged by Ava Helen, who had been deeply troubled by reactionary currents in mainstream American culture well before her husband, Linus Pauling quickly emerged as one of the world’s most prolific activists in support of peace.

Read more about this story on the website “Linus Pauling and the International Peace Movement.”