The U.S. Postal Service Honors Linus Pauling

Linus Pauling Commemorative Stamp
Linus Pauling Commemorative Stamp

When Linus Pauling enrolled at Oregon Agricultural College — Oregon State University’s predecessor — in 1917 to study chemical engineering, he was taking the first steps on a path that would lead him to Stockholm, Sweden, in 1954 to accept the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

By the time Pauling died in 1994, he was not only the first person ever to win a second individual Nobel, but one of the most decorated and respected scientists of the 20th century. The U.S. Postal Service recently recognized Pauling’s lifetime of achievements with a new set of “American Scientists” stamps honoring Pauling, biochemist Gerti Cory, astronomer Edwin Hubble and physicist John Bardeen.

To celebrate the stamp’s official March 6 release, OSU hosted an unveiling in the Memorial Union Ballroom featuring Linus Pauling Jr. and Corvallis Postmaster John Herrington, who stamped envelopes with a commemorative postmark (PDF) designed specially for the occasion. More than 300 people attended the event, and the city of Corvallis sold out of American Scientist stamps by the end of the event. “The way that Linus Pauling has taken off here at OSU is extremely rewarding, and OSU has my eternal thanks,” said Pauling Jr.

Linus Pauling

Pauling was known for working successfully in different disciplines throughout his life — physics, chemistry and biomedical research, to name a few. His stamp honors one of his most significant discoveries in molecular biology — a field he pioneered. Pauling’s studies of hemoglobin led to his 1948 discovery of the molecular nature of sickle cell anemia. “That discovery made him look into the scientific, social and political aspects of that kind of work,” says Cliff Mead, head of Special Collections for the OSU Valley Library. It was because of Pauling’s discovery, Mead says, that sickle cell anemia became treatable.

Though Pauling earned his bachelor’s degree in 1922 and spent the rest of his academic and professional life at California universities and research centers, his fondness for OSU never waned. In 1986, he donated his papers to OSU; the collection numbers more than 500,000 items, and it includes material on Pauling’s research into human blood and sickle cell anemia.

Linus Pauling

Two years after his death, the Linus Pauling Institute, which he helped to create, was moved from California to OSU, where it continues Pauling’s scientific legacy through internationally acclaimed research on vitamins and essential minerals. The institute was named a center of excellence for complementary and alternative medicine by the National Institutes of Health in 2003 — a status renewed recently with a $6-million grant from the NIH.

Pauling’s legacy lives on in many other ways at OSU as well, from the annual Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Memorial Lecture for World Peace to the Linus Pauling Chair in Chemical Engineering, held now by Dr. Philip Harding.

“Linus Pauling placed an enormous amount of trust in OSU to serve as the guardian of his legacy,” says Mead. “We take that responsibility very seriously, and we honor the faith he invested in OSU through our efforts to make his knowledge available to scholars around the world.”

Video Clip Pauling’s Interest in Sickle Cell Anemia

Audio Clip Molecular Disease Lectures Given at SUNY, New York, November 1970

The Story of Linus and Ava Helen Pauling

Linus and Ava PaulingEighty-five years ago this winter, a new instructor stood in front of an Oregon Agricultural College chemistry class for the first time and nervously asked which of the 25 students could describe the nature of ammonium hydroxide. With no immediate takers, and wanting to get his first lecture off to a good start, he scanned the class roll to call on a student with an easily pronounceable name.

“Miss…Ava Helen Miller,” called the instructor – a dark-haired, charismatic senior by the name of Linus Pauling.

Linus and Ava Pauling

Ava Helen provided a memorably good answer “and was very attractive,” too, Pauling remembered years later. Just like that, a romance was born – it would last nearly six decades and produce four children, and it was documented by endless love letters throughout the rest of their lives together. One letter – from Pauling to Ava Helen – begins, “I love you, sweetheart, with all the love there is in the world. Your happiness is dearer to me than everything else.”

The letters are among more than 500,000 items in the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers, part of the Special Collections at the Oregon State University Valley Library. Pauling, the only recipient of two unshared Nobel Prizes, donated the items to his alma mater in the 1990s (Oregon Agricultural College evolved into OSU in 1961).

Linus and Ava Pauling

“Sixty Years of Valentines,” written for Valentine’s Day in honor of Ava Helen and Pauling’s devotion to each other, is the first in a series of monthly pieces that will celebrate Pauling, and lead to the groundbreaking of the Linus Pauling Institute’s new building in fall 2008.

While teaching Ava Helen’s chemistry class – an honor for an undergraduate – Pauling seems to have worried about the appearance of favoritism toward his new love interest, says Clifford Mead, head of OSU Special Collections and an expert on Pauling’s life. (A new paperback edition of his book, Linus Pauling, Scientist and Peacemaker, co-written with Pauling biographer Thomas Hager, is due out next month from Oregon State University Press.)

“They wrote notes back and forth to each other on assignments she turned in – it was obvious to others that they had something for each other,” says Mead. “Even though she was the smartest student in the class, he gave her a ‘B.’ She was angry, but they soon made up.”

In His Owns Words

This wasn’t the only bump in the road for the young couple. They had to overcome family opposition to their budding romance before marrying the following year, just as Pauling completed his first year of graduate school at the California Institute of Technology.

Their passion never cooled. The hundreds of love letters contained in the Pauling Papers illustrate a relationship that was as strong when Ava Helen died in 1981 as it was when they first met 59 years before.


Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers

Linus Pauling, Scientist and Peacemaker, Oregon State University Press

Young Linus Pauling

Linus Pauling Institute

Linus Pauling biography