Chalmer Gatlin Kirkbride was born in 1906 near Tyrone in the Oklahoma territory to pioneer parents and grew up in Caney, Kansas. By 1930, at the age of 23, Kirkbride completed his bachelor's and master's degrees in Chemical Engineering at the University of Michigan. He began his professional career in the Technical Service Division of the research Department of Standard Oil Company in Indiana, then joined Pan American refining Corp. (now part of Amoco) in 1934. In 1942, Kirkbride joined Maynolia Petroleum Company (now part of Mobil) as Chief of the Chemical Engineering Development. From 1944-1947, Kirkbride served as Distinguished Professor in Chemical Engineering at Texas A & M University. He wrote a textbook, Chemical Engineering Fundamentals, used in over 80 schools worldwide and translated into Spanish and Russian. During World War II Kirkbride acted as a science advisor to the U.S. atomic bomb testing program, witnessing the first tests of the atomic bomb over Bikini Atoll in 1946.
Kirkbride returned to the private sector eventually becoming the Vice President in charge of Research and Engineering at Sun Oil Co. in 1960 and was elected to Sun Oils Board of Directors in 1963. Before retirement from Sun Oil Co. in 1970, Kirkbride held the position of director of Sun Oil Chemical Corp, and director and president of Avisun Corp.
Kirkbride was involved in many organizations, including: the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, the American Petroleum Institute's Coordinating Research Council, the National Science Foundation's Panel on Sea Grant Institutional Awards, and the Ocean Science and Technology Advisory Committee of the National Security Industrial Association. After retiring, Kirkbride became a petroleum and chemical specialist for the Federal Energy Administration, and served on President Nixon's task force on Oceanography. Kirkbride received many awards, securing his place among the premier engineers in the nation. These honors included: election to the National Academy of Engineering in 1967, winner of the U.S. Navy's Distinguished Public Service Award in 1968, the George Washington Medal of the Philadelphia Engineering Club in 1971, an Engineer of the Year award from the Delaware County chapter of the Pennsylvania Society of Professional Engineers, one of '30 Eminent Chemical Engineers in America' as selected by the AIChE in 1983. He received an honorary doctorate of science from Beaver College and an honorary doctorate of engineering from Drexel University in 1960.
Chalmer G. Kirkbride was elected to the Pennsylvania Military College Board of Trustees in 1953 and became its vice-chairman in 1954. During his tenure, Kirkbride witnessed the dramatic changes in the institution as it evolved from PMC to Widener College. Kirkbride was especially influential in the creation of a new engineering interdisciplinary core curriculum, a direction of teaching not taken by many other institutions at this time. He stated that this program 'prepares its graduates better for the future than the traditional undergraduate curricula found in almost all engineering schools today' (acceptance speech of Engineering Centennial Medal). He believed that a new science and engineering building must be constructed in order to further the teaching of several engineering concentrations, the basic sciences, and the pursuit of research.
In recognition of his dedication to the institution, PMC Colleges named Kirkbride an Honorary Professor of Engineering, in April 1970, and he received an honorary doctorate of engineering in June of that year. On December 4, 1970, Kirkbride was awarded the Engineering Centennial Medal, which was established in 1962 to commemorate PMC's 100 years of distinctive and progressive engineering education (PMC Colleges Engineering Anniversary Luncheon program). Kirkbrides son graduated from PMC in 1963. When the Kirkbrides moved, they gifted their personal residence in Wallingford to Widener to serve as the presidents official residence. The home was named the Billie Kirkbride House, in honor of Chalmers wife. Kirkbride moved to Bradenton, Florida in 1997, where he died in June of 1998 at age 91.