William Vermillion Houston (pronounced How-ston) was born in Mount Giliad, Ohio, on January 19, 1900. He received B.A. and B.S. degrees from Ohio State University in 1920. In 1922, he received an M.S. degree from the University of Chicago, and in 1925, his Ph.D. from Ohio State University.
Houston was a National Research Fellow at the California Institute of Technology, and taught there until he became president of what was then Rice Institute, later Rice University, in 1946. Houston studied in Germany on a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1927, assisting Warner Heisenberg and others in the development of quantum theory.
The U.S. Navy awarded Houston its Medal of Merit for directing development of the first homing torpedo and for supervising scientific studies which helped improve U.S. weapon effectiveness in the area of undersea warfare. Because of his genuine modesty, Houston never wore his Medal of Merit ribbon.
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), as well as of numerous scientific articles. After having been a fellow of the American Physical Society for many years, he was elected its president in 1962. He also served on the Society council.
Houston was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, serving on its council and on several important committees. He was also a member of the American Philosophical Society and several other scientific and educational associations. He served on the National Science Board and as a trustee of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. He retired from Rice in 1960, due to ill health.
Remembered for at Rice: When Houston arrived at Rice in 1946, he greatly expanded graduate study and research. He also initiated a five-year engineering program with greater emphasis on the humanities than had previously existed, and implemented the planned residential college system.
Houston died after a brief illness, in Edinburgh, Scotland on August 22, 1968, while attending the 111th International Conference on Low-tempurature Physics at St. Andrew's University.
Provost serving under President Houston: Carey Croneis, who served 1954-1970. Croneis also served as Acting President until President Kenneth Pitzer began his tenure at Rice in 1961. Croneis then continued his work under the title of Chancellor.