Chemical products and processes discovered in the lab have to be scaled up for the industrial plant in order to give them commercial importance. Scaling up was traditionally carried out by chemists—often industrial chemists specially trained in the chemistry of industrial processes—working with mechanical engineers. The notion of a new kind of engineer, one who understood both chemical processes and mechanical equipment, was first broached in England around 1880. The idea first took firm root, however, in the United States in the 1890s.
Englishman George E. Davis was often credited with being the father of chemical engineering by members of subsequent generations of chemical engineers, like MIT’s Warren K. Lewis.
In the United States Arthur D. Little, William H. Walker, and Warren K. Lewis were among the leaders of the movement to create the new profession of chemical engineering.
During World War II John Elmer McKeen, an early chemical engineer in the pharmaceutical industry, played a key role in turning an old ice-making plant into a facility for producing much-needed penicillin.
Early in his career as a chemical engineer, Donald Othmer found greater economic stability in academe than in industry, but in the long term he benefited from his connections with industry, as inventor and as investor.
Chemical engineer Ralph Landau used his problem-solving skills to design all manner of processes for producing petrochemicals.