The Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers

by the Special Collections Staff
Photo of Linus Pauling

"Several years ago I made the decision to place my personal papers, medals, and other materials, and my wife's papers, in the OSU libraries. I did so because I had confidence in OSU's abilities to preserve these materials and make them available to scholars around the world for generations to come." (Linus Pauling, ca. 1992)

Certificate given to Linus PaulingIn the spring of 1986, Linus Pauling donated all of his papers as well as those of his wife, Ava Helen Pauling, to the Oregon State University Libraries. Over the course of the next eight years, hundreds of boxes were shipped from his California homes to the Special Collections area of the main library. The final material arrived after Pauling's death in 1994, and with the 1996 relocation of the Linus Pauling Institute from Palo Alto, California, to Corvallis, the repository has become complete.

Located in the Valley Library, which last year was named Library of the Year by the Library Journal, the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers are recognized as one of the most important scientific collections of the twentieth century. The Pauling Papers is among the largest and most complete collections of its kind; its existence benefits scholars and researchers from all over the world. The Papers reflect the variety and breadth of Linus Pauling's scholarly interest and his profound influence on the development of twentieth-century chemistry, biology, and nutrition. The Papers also reflect Linus and Ava Helen Pauling's devotion to world peace and civil liberties.

Cliff Mead and Chris PetersonThere are over one-half million items in the collection (comprising forty-four hundred linear feet of material) including almost all of Pauling's personal and scientific papers, research materials, correspondence, photographs, awards, and memorabilia. Among the most prominent items in the collection are:

  • The Nobel Prize for Chemistry, 1954
  • The Nobel Peace Prize for 1962
  • The Presidential Medal for Merit, awarded by President Truman
  • The National Medal of Science, awarded by President Ford
  • The original petition for nuclear disarmament presented to the United Nations, which contains the signatures of more than 11,000 scientists and Nobel laureates from around the world, including those of Albert Schweitzer, Bertrand Russell, and Albert Einstein
  • The original research notebooks that Pauling used to record his theories, data, and calculations
  • The original manuscript of The Nature of the Chemical Bond, generally considered to be one of the most influential scientific books of the twentieth century, as well as the original manuscripts of General Chemistry, a text book that revolutionized the teaching of chemistry, and The Architecture of Molecules
  • A series of papers on valence bond theory that laid the foundation for the modern interpretation of the chemical bond
  • Letters from major twentieth century scientists and cultural leaders, including Albert Einstein, James Watson, Francis Crick, Niels Bohr, Bertrand Russell, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Martin Luther King Jr., Nikita Khrushehev, John F. Kennedy, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Albert Schweitzer
  • More than 40 hours of film on Linus Pauling and his work

Presidential Medal and Nobel MedalsDr. Pauling's research notebooks offer an incredibly rich source of information and provide sometimes amusing and poignant insights. In the margin of one notebook from 1921, which is otherwise filled with complicated calculations, is a personal note to his wife: "I love you". Linus Pauling met his wife that year when he, as an undergraduate, taught a freshman chemistry course to a group of home economics students at Oregon Agricultural College (soon to become Oregon State University). He picked a name at random from his roll-book and asked Ava Helen Miller what she knew about ammonium hydroxide. It turned out that Miss Miller knew quite a lot about ammonium hydroxide! They married in 1923 and remained together until Ava Helen's death in 1981.

While living in Pasadena, California, during the long association with the California Institute of Technology, Ava Helen and Linus Pauling joined the Independent Citizen's Committee for the Arts, Sciences, and Professions (ICCASP). Their connection with ICCASP brought the Paulings into contact with many in the entertainment industry, including Lena Horne, Frank Sinatra, Ronald Reagan, Charlie Chaplin, Charles Laughton, and Danny Kaye. Linus Pauling also corresponded with many prominent friends in the corporate world, including Arnold Beckman, Armand Hammer, and Arthur Sackler. 

The documents in the collection are currently being electronically scanned and converted to an Internet-ready digital format that will allow greater access for scholars around the world. Many of Pauling's biographers have found the Papers to be a critically important resource, although the vast amount of material poses special practical problems to those who wish to produce comprehensive works. The papers are still being processed, and Special Collections plans to publish the final edition of The Pauling Catalogue (a volume more than 1,000 pages long) in time for the Pauling Centenary in February, 2001.

For a closer look at the contents of the Pauling Papers, visit the at Special Collections website or select that link from the LPI website.

Research room at the Special Collections

Last updated May, 2000

Honoring a Scientific Giant with Nutritional Research Toward Longer, Better Lives

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