On September 23, 1912, Rice Institute opened the doors to its first class of students. A bachelor's degree in chemical engineering is among the degrees offered. The first Rice catalog (published in 1915) states that "...courses will be offered in chemical, civil, electrical and mechanical engineering. A complete course in any one of these branches will extend over five years. A student who has successfully completed the first four years of a course will be awarded a bachelor's degree, and after successfully completing the remaining year of his course he will be awarded an engineering degree..."
There are three chemical engineering graduates among the 36 members of the Rice Class of 1916. James Lee Bramlette (San Angelo, Texas), William Marion Standish (Houston, Texas), and Herbert Wray Wilber (Kingsville, Texas) receive their bachelor's degrees in chemical engineering from President Lovett.
Bramlette, Standish and Wilber receive their master's degrees in chemical engineering.
A. J. Hartsook is hired as an instructor of industrial chemistry. His arrival on campus marks the beginning of an independent program in chemical engineering at Rice. Hartsook had received B.S. and M.S. degrees in chemical engineering from MIT and his choice of Rice and Houston was not an accident. At MIT he had gathered information that convinced him that the city and its vicinity would, in time, grow into one of the foremost chemical and engineering centers in the country and the world. "The opportunity was right here, even then, back in 1921", remarked Hartsook in a 1970 interview. "Houston was already showing signs along its ship channel of developing into a major processing center for oil, lumber, cotton and sugar... It did not take much vision to see a splendid future for the entire area..."
Hartsook is promoted to assistant professor of chemical engineering and officially assumes the leadership of chemical engineering, a post he will hold until 1956.
Anna Rebecca Lay becomes Rice's first woman graduate in chemical engineering.
The department is housed in half of the first floor and the basement of the Chemistry Building. An annex is added for the installation of a very complete Unit Operations Lab. Hartsook's students begin to fill many of the positions created by the growing industrial establishment along the Houston ship channel. For many of these graduates, the ship channel becomes the launching pad for important leadership positions, first in corporate headquarters in New York or other major U.S. financial centers and, subsequently, to key posts overseas.
During this period, chemical engineering had the largest enrollment in engineering, awarding between 15 and 29 B.S.Ch.E. degrees every year. Efforts to get the chemical engineering program accredited by E.C.P.D. (the precursor of A.B.E.T.) are initiated. In 1938, chemical engineering ceases to be a part of the department of chemistry and becomes one of the four branches of the department of engineering. Grover Leon Bridger (Rice '33) is hired as an instructor in chemical engineering, becoming only the second faculty member of the department. He leaves, however, in 1939 after only one year at Rice and Karl ten Brink (Rice '37) is hired to replace him. In 1939 and 1940, Ervon Eggiman, Sam Bethea (Rice '39) and Price Elkin join the department as Fellows in Chemical Engineering.
The Department of Chemical Engineering at Rice becomes the first accredited chemical engineering department in the state of Texas. Chemical engineering departments at the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University received their accreditation in 1943 and 1946 respectively.