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1800's to 1900's

William Marsh Rice is born in Springfield, Massachusetts, on March 14, 1816, to David and Patty Rice. In addition to working as an inspector in the Springfield Armory, David also serves in local and state political positions and helps establish a local school in which William is later enrolled. By age 15, William has gone to work in the Family Grocery Store, owned by retired whaling captain Henry L. Bunker. He stays with Bunker for about five years, then buys his own store. In less than two years, he clears $2,000 on this first business venture.
Spurred by economic depression in Springfield and by the promise of cheap land and untapped wealth in the new Republic of Texas, Rice decides to seek his fortune in Texas. He sends all his goods by ship to Galveston and travels there himself down the Mississippi and by rail. When he arrives in October, he discovers that the ship carrying his goods has been lost at sea and that he is penniless.
Rice is in business by April 22, 1839, as a wholesaler of wine and spirits.
By the end of the Civil War, Rice's many business enterprises, including groceries, cotton, land, railroads, and supplying Civil War materials, among others, have made him one of the wealthiest men in Texas.
In the 1880s, Rice considers the establishment of a philanthropic enterprise in the city where he gained his wealth.
Cesar M. Lombardi, president of the Houston School Board, convinces him to found an educational institution.
The charter for the William Marsh Rice Institute for the Advancement of Literature, Science, Art, Philosophy, and Letters is signed on May 13 and is registered on May 19. Rice appoints six trustees—Captain James Addison Baker, Jr., Cesar M. Lombardi, Everett McAshan, Emanuel Raphael, Frederick Rice, and Alfred S. Richardson. The institute, which is not to be begun until after Rice's death, will be tuition free.
William Marsh Rice is found dead in New York City on September 23. The next day, lawyer Albert T. Patrick presents a will purportedly signed by Rice that bequeaths the bulk of Rice's estate to Patrick. Suspecting foul play, Captain Baker initiates an investigation that finds that Rice was chloroformed to death by Patrick and Rice's valet, Charles Jones, in a conspiracy to claim Rice's estate. Jones turns state's evidence, and Patrick spends 10 years in Sing Sing prison, his sentence is commuted.
Thanks to the efforts of Captain Baker, legal challenges to Rice's genuine will are resolved, and the Rice Institute receives a $4.6 million founding endowment. A large part of the estate consists of timberland in Louisiana. Proceeds from the sale of timber from this land fund the construction of the Administration Building (later to be renamed Lovett Hall) and other early buildings on campus.
In January, the trustees begin searching for the first president of the Rice Institute. They receive 39 recommendations from around the country. As the trustees consider the options and narrow the field, one individual stands out—mathematician and astronomer Edgar Odell Lovett, who has been recommended by Woodrow Wilson, president of Princeton University. On November 20, the trustees formally offer Lovett the post. During the hiring negotiations, Lovett visits Houston and recommends that the institute be build on a 300-acre site at the end of Main Street—an area he feels will never become industrialized.
On January 18, Lovett formally agrees to become the first president of the Rice Institute, and he arrives in Houston in March. One of his first acts is to depart, in July, on a worldwide journey to great universities and centers of learning in England, across the Continent, and all the way to Japan. His goals are to understand what makes an exceptional institution of higher education and to organize a distinguished first faculty. Equally important, with this journey, Lovett establishes two of Rice's enduring principles: A great university must be international in scope and must have an eminent faculty firmly grounded in research as well as in superior teaching.
Lovett returns to Houston on May 7, an he and the trustees begin making decisions that will set the tone and scope of the institute. They believe that a university should be useful to society by bringing various services to the community and by offering a utilitarian education for its students that will provide them with an occupation for life. They do not envision that the institute will become a trade school, but rather that it will aspire to university standing of the highest level, seeking "to attain that high place through the research work of its early professors, setting no upper limit to its educational endeavor."
Just as significant is the decision to build and maintain the institute on annual income alone, keeping endowment funds intact. Because of the prohibition on debts, this means that growth will be slow.
Finally, the institute becomes more of a reality with the purchase of the 300 acres at the end of Main Street that Lovett recommended as the site of the campus. Lovett selects Ralph Adams Cram of the Boston architecture firm Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson to design the campus plan and the earliest Rice buildings. Cram's design for the Administration Building (later to be renamed Lovett Hall) lays the foundation for the look of the "traditional" Rice building—a Mediterranean/Byzantine blend of cloisters, whimsical details, and facades of marble, concrete, and St. Joe brick.