When I graduated from Analy, I went to work for a year on my father's ranch, which wasn't his, but which he managed. It was a magnificent ranch. I worked as a farm hand for him for a year. One of the wisest things I ever did. At the end of that year, I wanted to stay. Well, yes and no. But I told my father that I preferred to stay and work on the ranch and buy up the country.
And that's what some of my classmates did. I spoke to the Chamber of Commerce there a couple of years ago, at a ceremony, the 50th anniversary. There were a lot of millionaires in the room who were my former classmates.
But my father's position was: "Look, I graduated from the 3rd grade, now you go to Berkeley. When you decided to go to Berkeley after a year of working on the farm, were your parents able to give you any financial support at all? I didn't have any rent to pay; just living with them.
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Then I had this nailing job in the summers that paid extremely well. So I went to Berkeley for four years and never worked a day and paid my way all the way and graduated with some money in the bank which I promptly lost in the Crash. How and why did you choose to go to Berkeley? Was it because of the geographical proximity to the area where you lived? I think so.
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We had no idea what a great school it was. The junior college hadn't really taken on by that time. See, this was Maybe Santa Rosa Junior College had just then started, but it certainly wasn't established.
So if you're going to college, you went to college. Nowadays, of course, it's not at all frowned on to go to a local junior college and then transfer. My purpose there was to delay the decision as long as possible, because I didn't really know what I wanted to do. So I enrolled in petroleum engineering, the point being that it had the most courses and therefore the most alternatives. If you left the curriculum you could go into more different majors. The first thing I decided was, much as I loved English and history, that that was no way to make a living. So, it had to be the sciences or engineering.
So I enrolled in petroleum engineering.
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I remember, they required units to graduate. This course caused me to take subjects I would not have otherwise taken, such as drawing. I'm a pretty good draftsman as a result of that, and I'm a pretty good surveyor. I remember one delightful summer, we had a six-week course in the field, surveying. And we ate extremely well and we enjoyed ourselves tremendously. This was a good time for thinking things out. I had a number of courses, not in the general petroleum engineering curriculum, which I elected to take just for general interest.
Berkeley was a very fine University then, and still is. Even though I was an engineering student, they would welcome me into classes in any field. It turned out, I graduated with three majors. When I went to Berkeley, I lived in a boarding house. I was invited to join a fraternity, but I'd been a pretty social animal in high school, and I knew if I were really going to do a serious job at Berkeley, I'd better not join the fraternity. So I went to a boarding house, and this was an amazing coincidence, because it was largely populated by graduate students from the college of chemistry.
There was my first serious contact with chemistry. I went there in my freshman year. I lived there the whole four years. It was kind of an austere place — not many distractions. We had good meals and we could talk. Occasionally we'd do a little drinking. But most of the time we were working. But the important thing was the people I met there were graduate students in the field of chemistry.
There's where I began to see about chemistry and how exciting it was. That led to my transferring from petroleum engineering to chemistry, to become a major in chemistry. Ok, now after you'd decided to direct your attention to chemistry, at that stage, which figures if any in Berkeley science had the greatest influence on you at that initial stage? Well, of course, the initial contact was through these graduate students, who were Dr.
Spedding — these two gentlemen, old friends of mine, George Cady and Harry Spedding, were telling me about their exciting researches. Harry Spedding then was a post-doc. George Cady was a graduate student working for his PhD. He was working with Joel Hildebrand on fluorine chemistry. Absolutely frontier smashing thesis he wrote. Well, then I began to get interested in what others were doing, and I realized that this department was the finest in the world. There was no place that matched Berkeley in those days for chemistry.
The head of it was Gilbert Newton Lewis, a remarkable genius.
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I remember several things about Gilbert. He was a very affable type and yet austere. He seldom took graduate students himself.
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He took post-docs. Well, I don't think Wendell was a post-doc, but he was a faculty member, a professor. Gilbert had a number of professors in his department, which he had appointed almost single handedly. There was no real democracy in that place. He took a liking to me. My thesis work was "The discovery of new naturally radioactive elements. I built the first U. Geiger counter right there. The first one in the country was built in that building. And, of course, following on that was the great Manhattan District.
Glenn Seaborg came in, and grew up there and so on, far into the night. Now, Lewis was a physical chemist, and you had mentioned before that in some respects, Lewis really built modern physical chemistry. Could you explain something about that, about Lewis's contribution to modern physical chemistry?
Well, he was one of the greatest men who ever lived. It's surprising he isn't more famous, but among scientists, he is. He was a great admirer of Einstein. Too bad he isn't alive to tell things. But he died in '45, I believe it was. He wrote papers on Einstein's relativity work shortly after Einstein's work was published. Here was a physical chemist thoroughly cognizant of relativity theory, personal friend of Einstein's. In , he wrote the first definitive paper on the nature of the chemical bond, pointing out that the bond required a pair of electrons.