The old University of Cologne, founded in 1388 and closed in 1798, had a chemical laboratory from 1777 on. This laboratory, including a lecture theatre, had been established near Stolkgasse by the city's council at the urging of professor of medicine Johann Georg Menn.
Menn, who had learned about the value of chemistry for pharmacy and food science during his studies in Vienna, gave chemical lectures and experimental lessons in the lecture theatre "for candidates of pharmacology" in particular.
The apothecary Johann Heinrich Müller succeeded him in the office of professor of chemistry.
In the nearly hundred years to follow there was no institution in Cologne at which chemistry was taught at university level.
Only in 1901 this condition changed with the foundation of the Commercial College of the City of Cologne. Its body of full-time lecturers included the chemist Hans Reitter, who received his PhD in Bonn under the supervision of Richard Anschütz and who worked as lecture assistant for August Kekulé. Starting with summer term 1901, Reitter imparted to future merchants and commercial teachers during their four-term studies "an introduction into chemistry, in particular into the most important processes of chemical engineering and into material science". Besides his experimental lecture Reitter offered a chemical practical course for particularly interested students at the only laboratory of the university situated in the building at Hansaring 56 (today the Hansa-Gymnasium).
In winter term 1907, the flourishing university moved into a representative new building (now called "Old University") between Römerpark and Oberländer Ufer. In the South-western wing of this building the Chemical Institute, acting for the first time under this name, had four laboratories and a lecture theatre of its own.