Scope and Contents
This collection documents the academic career of Dr. Franz R. Brotzen (1915-2010) of Rice University, who served as Stanley C. Moore Professor Emeritus of Materials Science, as Dean of Engineering and as master at Rice's Jones and Brown colleges.
Biographical / Historical
Franz R. Brotzen was born in Berlin July 4, 1915. When the collapse of a paper mill in the Great Depression had a severe financial effect on his family, Brotzen left the mechanical engineering studies he had begun, in order to accept a position in the South American division of the German chemical company I. G. Farben. His work was to travel throughout Brazil, selling medications for both people and livestock.
When World War II broke out, a British blockade of German vessels cut off the supply of pharmaceuticals he was selling, and Brotzen moved to a job with a foundry equipment importer in Rio de Janeiro. Reading a metallurgy book to learn more about his new employer’s business stimulated recall of interest in the engineering studies he had begun. When his sister, who had emigrated to Cincinnati, suggested that he continue his education in the United States, he followed up on this idea and arrived with a German passport in Ohio December 1, 1941. He enrolled at Case Institute for Applied Science (now Case Western Reserve University), but in December 1942 he was drafted by the U.S. Army. When his familiarity with multiple languages was recognized, he was sent to the Military Intelligence Training Center in Maryland, and, by this time a U.S. citizen, he completed courses in interrogating prisoners of war and also an officer candidates’ school. He then worked as an instructor at the MITC until spring 1945.
For the following year Brotzen was on assignment in Frankfurt, where he and Army colleagues had been sent to take advantage of an offer made by Nazi leaders hoping to “buy” clemency, to share their intelligence on the Soviets. During this year, Brotzen met Frances Burke Ridgway, who was serving on the staff of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Palestine. Hers was a four-month assignment in Europe and the Middle East.
By January 1950 both Franz and Frances were back in Washington, D.C., and were married. The following year they moved to Cleveland so Franz could resume his engineering studies. Without further interruption, he completed the M.S. and Ph.D degrees, awarded by Case in 1954.
Rice University owes Brotzen’s joining its faculty to a close friendship between his dean at Case and William Houston, then president of Rice. A letter of introduction from Brotzen to Houston prompted Houston to offer him the position of starting the materials science program at Rice. He continued teaching in this department for fifty-five years, finishing his final course in 2009.
Franz Brotzen influenced the development of Rice University in many ways. His first contribution was to add a discipline to the curriculum. Having been promoted to Professor of Mechanical Engineering in 1959 and been a Guggenheim Fellow at the Second Institute for Applied and Theoretical Physics in Stuttgart in 1960-61, in 1962 he was appointed Dean of Engineering at Rice. President Pitzer, whose term began in 1961, charged him with developing and expanding the engineering program. To do this Brotzen brought new faculty to the university and sought particularly federal funding to make Rice more research conscious. He also helped raise money to build the Ryon Laboratory as well as the first space science building in the country.
While Brotzen worked effectively as an administrator, students found him outstanding also as a teacher. The way this is demonstrated at Rice is through the Brown Teaching Awards, the recipients of which are determined by student vote. Brotzen won the George R. Brown Award for Superior Teaching in 1967, 1971, 1972, and 1973. In addition, in 1975 he won a Piper Award, which recognized him as outstanding among teachers at all Texas colleges and universities.
Brotzen’s contributions to student life were not limited to the classroom. After filling in as a college master for one year while the actual master was on leave, Franz and Frances accepted a mastership of their own at Brown College from 1977 to 1982.
His leadership of the faculty at large is represented by a number of terms on Faculty Council and by his serving as chairman of the Faculty Committee on Educational Enhancement appointed by President Hackerman in 1977.
A distinctive feature of Brotzen’s involvement with students is the way he represented his lifelong commitment to promoting international understanding. In addition to hosting events in their home for foreign students, Franz and Frances established an annual $2,500 summer foreign travel prize open to all Rice undergraduates.
Franz Brotzen devoted his entire academic career to the community of Rice University, but because of his background, travels, experience, interests, and accomplishments, he is most accurately thought of as a citizen of the world.