That “sleepier Rice where the jasmine bloomed,” as Graves called it, came to an end in the 1940s. Changes in leadership and the availability of more money in the late 1940s made possible a partial return to the vision of 1912, and for the next quarter century the campus seemed constantly astir with the construction of buildings and the regaining of academic momentum. On May 14, 1941, the seventy-year-old Lovett offered his resignation after having served as president since 1908. He agreed to continue in office until a successor could be found. The intervening Second World War delayed finding a suitable successor until the last day of 1945, when an eminent physicist from The California Institute of Technology, William Vermillion Houston, was chosen. Houston arrived on campus in the spring of 1946, with the official inauguration scheduled for April 10, 1947. A few months after Lovett had offered his resignation in 1941, chairman of the trustees Captain James A. Baker died at age eighty-five, to be succeeded by William M. Rice, Jr., nephew of the founder.
In 1942 a fortuitous combination of events enabled the Institute to become a partial owner of the Rincon oilfield in the Rio Grande Valley. Roy Hofheinz, a Rice alumnus and county judge, had in his court a complicated estate settlement involving the oil field, which was encumbered with heavy debts and high taxes on corporate profits. Hofheinz realized that an institutional owner not subject to corporate taxes could gain a handsome profit in the long run by purchasing the oil field. He enlisted contractor George R. Brown (another Rice alumnus) and Harry C. Wiess of Humble Oil and Refining Company to help convince the Rice trustees to raise the funds necessary to buy the property. The cautious trustees even went to the attorney general to have the state of Texas authorize such use of university funds. Finally the deal was consummated. The oil field proved an investment of incalculable importance and by 1978 had netted the university some $35 million. Two years after the purchase, in 1944, trustee chairman Will Rice, as he was called, also died and was succeeded as chairman by longtime member John Thaddeus Scott. Harry C. Wiess also joined the trustees, replacing Will Rice on the board. In 1946 Harry Clay Hanszen succeeded Scott as trustee chairman.
At Wiess’s direction the trustees in early 1945 undertook a careful study of Rice’s past and a consideration of its future, spelling out a series of optimistic ten-year goals made feasible by the strengthened financial health of the Institute. It was decided to broaden the curriculum (though still emphasizing science and engineering), to expand and diversify graduate work, to raise the salaries and increase the number of faculty, to seek outside funds in support of the Institute, and to enter a major construction program to house the expanded research functions of the university. These ambitious plans—spearheaded in subsequent years by trustee chairman George R. Brown, who had been named to the board in 1943—marked a return to the goals for the Institute set forth by Lovett in 1912 and resulted in the metamorphosis of Rice from the Texas college of the 1930s to the emerging research university of the 1950s, culminating in the significant change of the name in 1960 from The Rice Institute to Rice University.