This Week in Princeton History for March 18-24

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the Class of 1877 takes a look at the Milky Way, a campus publication urges the institution to examine its own prejudices while continuing to fight bigotry beyond it, and more.

March 18, 1932—Campus proctors apprehend a bootlegger on campus and find 74 quarts of champagne and whiskey in his car hidden among golf bags, suitcases, and books.

March 20, 1877—The Class of 1877 has the opportunity to look at the Milky Way (the “Queen of Heaven”) through a telescope with the help of Prof. Stephen Alexander.

Stephen Alexander, ca. 1880. Historical Photograph Collection, Faculty Photographs Series (AC058), Box FAC03.

March 22, 1999—Over 200 people gather in Princeton University Chapel for an impromptu memorial service a few hours after Matthew Weiner ’02 died suddenly of cardiac arrest during a pickup basketball game.

March 23, 1944—In Princeton’s Roundtable News, John Kemeny ’46 editorializes, “Even one of the most enlightened of groups, the students of Princeton University, is hysterical at the thought of admitting negroes, and it makes them talk about forming lynching parties and copying the Nazi party in many other ways. … It is about time that we realized that a fascist is an enemy not only in Berlin and Rome, but also in Chicago and New York.”

For the previous installment in this series, click here.

Fact check: We always strive for accuracy, but if you believe you see an error, please contact us.

This Week in Princeton History for August 21-27

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, NASA takes a Princeton telescope to space, a graduate takes Olympic gold, and more.

August 21, 1972—A telescope built by Princeton University is on board for the launch of NASA’s Copernicus satellite.

The Princeton Telescope in the process of being installed on board the Copernicus satellite, 1972. Princeton Alumni Weekly Photograph Collection (AC126), Box 25.

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The Rittenhouse Orrery

Dear Mr. Mudd:

Q: What is an orrery, and how did Princeton University come to own one? How was it damaged in the Battle of Princeton?

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Rittenhouse Orrery on display in Firestone Library, 1954, Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112), Box MP10.

A: An orrery is a mechanical model of the solar system. Orreries were regarded as essential teaching equipment for 18th-century lectures on “natural philosophy” (the physical sciences). Although invented ca. 1700 by George Graham, they have been called orreries because English instrument maker John Rowley named a copy he made of Graham’s machine “The Orrery” in honor of Charles Boyle, Earl of Orrery.

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Gillett G. Griffin, pen and ink drawing of David Rittenhouse designing his orrery, University Library Records (AC123), Box 302. Griffin was Princeton’s Curator of Graphic Arts 1952-1966.

David Rittenhouse, a Pennsylvania clockmaker, self-taught astronomer, and later the first director of the U.S. Mint, designed and built the College of New Jersey’s orrery (now Princeton University). In 1771, College President John Witherspoon purchased it from Rittenhouse for approximately £220 and installed it in Nassau Hall. The orrery instantly became the College’s most valuable asset. Rittenhouse’s original plans for the orrery included a central panel of four square feet showing the planets revolving around the Sun, and two smaller panels, one focused on Jupiter and Saturn, and the other on the Earth and the Moon, but all that remains today is the central panel, after damages during the military occupation of Nassau Hall in 1776-1777. A more complete example of a Rittenhouse Orrery has been preserved at the University of Pennsylvania Library.

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Gillett G. Griffin, pen and ink drawing of David Rittenhouse showing his orrery to Princeton president John Witherspoon, University Library Records (AC123), Box 302.

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