Our History

Since its founding in 1938, the Robert Frederick Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (CBE) has trained many of the nation's leaders in the practical use of chemistry for the benefit of society. Cornell chemical engineers hold research, engineering, and management positions throughout academia, government, and industry.

As long ago as 1870, Cornell offered courses in industrial chemistry, but it wasn't until 1930 that Fred H. "Dusty" Rhodes set up a true chemical engineering curriculum which transformed into the School of Chemical Engineering within the College of Engineering.

The Smith School's early focus on undergraduate education and professional training has expanded to include a vigorous research program. Faculty research interests have led to extensive interdisciplinary associations with other research centers and programs at Cornell. The student body has changed, too. The Smith School's first female Ph.D. candidate graduated in 1967; now, over half of our students are women.

Olin Hall early 1950's

The School of Chemical Engineering at Cornell

A History of the First Fifty Years: an excerpt from the book written by former director and professor, Julian C. Smith:

"This is a history of the School of Chemical Engineering at Cornell University, from the time of the School's founding and establishment as part of the College of Engineering in 1937-38 to the present, fifty years later. For all but a few of those years, I have been directly associated with the School as a student, faculty member, director, and professor emeritus. I have known all of the faculty members the School has had, and most of its alumni. A wealth of material has been available to choose from for this history; its very richness has made it difficult to know what to include, what to omit... I hope these chapters convey a sense of the unusual origins and distinctive qualities of the School of Chemical Engineering at Cornell, for in many ways it is unique. Finally, I can say just one more thing about the School: it has been a great place to spend the last fifty years."

Fred "Dusty" Rhodes    Dusty Rhodes in Rhodes Lounge
Fred H. "Dusty" Rhodes in the directors office (right) and later in Rhodes Lounge, 128 Olin Hall (left).                                  

A History of the Third Twenty-Five Years: 1988-2013: an excerpt from the book written by associate director and professor, T.M. Duncan:

"The Undergraduate Program - An enduring tradition of the School is a vibrant undergraduate program that prepares alumni for prosperous careers in industry and distinction in PhD programs. Our undergraduate program is defined by three components: Curriculum, Culture, and Careers."

Digital editions of the books above are available by sending an email request to cbenews@cornell.edu.