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The college has enjoyed a unique history characterized by rapid expansion in its 56 years of service. The Culinary Institute of America opened in 1946 as the New Haven Restaurant Institute, a storefront cooking school in downtown New Haven, CT, with an enrollment of 50 students and a faculty consisting of a chef, a baker, and a dietitian.

The Institute, at that time a vocational training school for World War II veterans, offered a 16-week program featuring instruction in 78 popular menus of the day. Members of the New Haven Restaurant Association sponsored the original school, whose founders, Frances Roth and Katharine Angell, served as its first director and chair of the board, respectively.

As the foodservice industry grew, so did enrollment, necessitating a move in 1947 to larger quarters: a 40-room mansion adjacent to Yale University. The school's name was changed to the Restaurant Institute of Connecticut; in 1951 it became known as The Culinary Institute of America, reflecting the diversity of the student population.

The educational program was expanded to two years, and continuing education courses for industry professionals were introduced. By the time of Mrs. Roth's retirement in 1965, the school had increased its enrollment to 400 students and operated a $2 million facility.

In 1969, double-class sessions were initiated to accommodate a backlog of applications, and an auxiliary campus was leased, but with more than 1,000 students and with facilities strained to the maximum, the school's administrators launched a search for a new home. They found it in St. Andrew-on-Hudson, a former Jesuit seminary in Hyde Park, NY. The college purchased the five-story, 150-room building, situated on 80 acres of land overlooking the Hudson River, for $1 million in 1970. Two years and $4 million in renovations later, the new school opened, with its main building renamed Roth Hall.

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