Scope and Contents
The William V. Houston [Houston, W. V. (William Vermillion), 1900-] Personal Papers document Houston's personal life and academic career beginning with his university education at Ohio State and Chicago in 1925, and continuing with his studies in Munich and Leipzig during 1927 and 1928 and his work at the California Institute of Technology from 1928 until he accepted the presidency of Rice Institute in 1946. Houston accepted the position at Rice with the proviso that he could continue both teaching and research in physics. He retired as President of the University in 1961 and accepted the position of president of The American Physical Society in 1962. Houston's major research interests were in the fields of spectroscopy, theory of solid state, quantum mechanics and superconductivity.
The Houston Personal Papers, made up of correspondence, notebooks, notes, appointment books, clippings and various printed materials and totaling eleven feet 9 inches, are arranged in five series.
Student papers and grades may not be photocopied.
Permission to publish from these papers must be obtained from the Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library, Rice University.
Biographical / Historical
William Vermillion Houston was born in Mount Giliad, Ohio, on January 19, 1900. He received a B.A. in physics and a B.S. in education from Ohio State University in 1920. In 1922, he received an M.S. degree from the University of Chicago, and in 1925 he received a Ph.D. from Ohio State University. Houston then went on to study in Germany on a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1927, assisting Warner Heisenberg and others in the development of quantum theory. Later, Houston was a National Research Fellow at the California Institute of Technology.
Dr. Houston was named the second president of the Rice Institute in 1946 after nineteen years on the faculty of the Californian Institute of Technology. When he arrived at Rice, Houston served as both President and a professor of physics. He greatly expanded graduate study and research throughout the Institute. He recognized the value of humanities in making the complete student and he initiated a five-year engineering program under which students took courses in humanities before taking specialized engineering courses. Finally, he established the residential college system. Houston retired in 1961 and was appointed an honorary chancellor of the University [renamed Rice University July 1, 1960], but continued to teach one graduate course, counsel graduate students and conduct research until his death.
Houston made pioneering efforts in the fields of atomic spectroscopy and solid state theory. He was the author of two books: Principles of Mathematical Physics (1934) and Principles of Quantum Mechanics (1951). In addition to these books, Houston wrote dozens of numerous scientific articles.
The United States Navy awarded Houston its Medal of Merit for directing development, during World War II, of the first homing torpedo and for supervising scientific studies that helped improve United States weapon effectiveness in the area of undersea warfare. Houston also served on several national subcommittees to investigate the United States missile and satellite programs, United States atomic energy, and to explore the how the United States could help reorganize the postwar Japanese scientific community.
In addition to his academic career and his consulting for various government agencies and national subcommittees, Houston served on several scientific professional organizations. After having been a Fellow of the American Physical Society for many years, Houston was elected its president in 1962. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the National Science Board and served as a trustee of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
After retirement from Rice, Houston wintered in the city of Houston, summering in California. He continued his civic leadership and remained active in many community affairs. While on the first of several stops to meet with physicists in Europe, Houston died in Edinburgh, Scotland, on August 22, 1968. He had been attending the 111th International Conference on Low-temperature Physics at St. Andrew's University.