Home > Articles > Engineering

  • Print
  • + Share This
This chapter is from the book

1.2. A Brief History of Chemical Engineering

The chemical engineering profession evolved from the industrial applications of chemistry and separation science (the study of separating components from mixtures), primarily in the refining and chemical industry, which we will refer to here as the chemical process industries (CPI). The first high-volume chemical process was implemented in 1823 in England for the production of soda ash, which was used for the production of glass and soap. During the same time, advances in organic chemistry led to the development of chemical processes for producing synthetic dyes from coal for textiles, starting in the 1850s. In the latter half of the 1800s a number of chemical processes were implemented industrially, primarily in Britain.

And in 1887 a series of lectures on chemical engineering which summarized industrial practice in the chemical industry was presented in Britain. These lectures stimulated interest in the United States and to some degree led to the formation of the first chemical engineering curriculum at MIT in 1888. Over the next 10 to 15 years a number of U.S. universities embraced the field of chemical engineering by offering fields of study in this area. In 1908, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers was formed and since then has served to promote and represent the interests of the chemical engineering community.

Mechanical engineers understood the mechanical aspects of process operations, including fluid flow and heat transfer, but they did not have a background in chemistry. On the other hand, chemists understood chemistry and its ramifications but lacked the process skills. In addition, neither mechanical engineers nor chemists had backgrounds in separation science, which is critically important to the CPI. In the United States, a few chemistry departments were training process engineers by offering degrees in industrial chemistry, and these served as models for other departments as the demand for process engineers in the CPI began to increase. As industrial chemistry programs grew, they eventually formed separate degree-granting programs as the chemical engineering departments of today.

The acceptance of the “horseless carriage,” which began commercial production in the 1890s, created a demand for gasoline, which ultimately fueled exploration for oil. In 1901, a Texas geologist and a mining engineer led a drilling operation (the drillers were later to be known as “wildcatters”) that brought in the Spindletop Well just south of Beaumont, Texas. At the time, Spindletop produced more oil than all of the other oil wells in the United States. Moreover, a whole generation of wildcatters was born, resulting in a dramatic increase in the domestic production of crude oil, which created a need for larger-scale, more modern approaches to crude refining. As a result, a market developed for engineers who could assist in the design and operation of processing plants for the CPI. The success of oil exploration was to some degree driven by the demand for gasoline for the automobile industry, but ultimately the success of the oil exploration and refining industries led to the widespread availability of automobiles to the general population because of the resulting lower cost of gasoline.

These early industrial chemists/chemical engineers had few analytical tools available to them and largely depended upon their physical intuition to perform their jobs as process engineers. Slide rules were used to perform calculations, and by the 1930s and 1940s a number of nomographs were developed to assist them in the design and operation analysis of processes for the CPI. Nomographs are charts that provide a concise and convenient means to represent physical property data (e.g., boiling point temperatures or heat of vaporization) and can also be used to provide simplified solutions of complex equations (e.g., pressure drop for flow in a pipe). The computing resources that became available in the 1960s were the beginnings of the computer-based technology that is commonplace today. For example, since the 1970s computer-aided design (CAD) packages have allowed engineers to design complete processes by specifying only a minimum amount of information; all the tedious and repetitive calculations are done by the computer in an extremely short period of time, allowing the design engineer to focus on the task of developing the best possible process design.

During the period 1960 to1980, the CPI also made the transition from an industry based on innovation, in which the profitability of a company depended to a large degree on developing new products and new processing approaches, to a more mature commodity industry, in which the financial success of a company depended on making products using established technology more efficiently, resulting in less expensive products.

Globalization of the CPI markets began in the mid-1980s and led to increased competition. At the same time, developments in computer hardware made it possible to apply process automation (advanced process control, or APC, and optimization) more easily and reliably than ever before. These automation projects provided improved product quality while increasing production rates and overall production efficiency with relatively little capital investment. Because of these economic advantages, APC became widely accepted by industry over the next 15 years and remains an important factor for most companies in the CPI.

Beginning in the mid-1990s, new areas came on the scene that took advantage of the fundamental skills of chemical engineers, including the microelectronics industry, the pharmaceutical industry, the biotechnology industry, and, more recently, nanotechnology. Clearly, the analytical skills and the process training made chemical engineers ideal contributors to the development of the production operations for these industries. In the 1970s, over 80% of graduating chemical engineers took jobs with the CPI industry and government. By 2000, that number had dropped to 50% because of increases in the number taking jobs with biotechnology companies, pharmaceutical/health care companies, and microelectronics and materials companies. The next section addresses the current distribution of jobs for chemical engineers.

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020