This Week in Princeton History for January 10-16

In this week’s installment of our recurring series, a sophomore travels to Washington to call his family in Togo, bicycles are banned on town streets, and more.

January 10, 1912—In response to an article by William Bayard Hale in The World’s Work that claimed to reveal the “inside story” of Princeton, the Princeton Alumni Weekly writes, “We are not informed whether Mr. Hale has ever visited Princeton, but we guess he must have been a passenger in the aeroplane that hovered over the Harvard-Princeton football game, and that he got his ‘inside story’ of our ancient university steeped in sumptuous luxury from a distant view of Nassau Hall and the Holder Tower.”

January 12, 2006—Chanakya Sethi ’07 appears on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal to explain why some people are troubled by Samuel Alito’s prior affiliation with the Concerned Alumni of Princeton.

Cover of the Concerned Alumni of Princeton’s Prospect magazine, Summer 1981. Princeton University Publications Collection (AC364), Box 16.

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How Bicycles Changed Princeton, 1860s-1910s

Bicycles are seemingly ubiquitous at and around Princeton University in our time. The ever-present sight of bicycles parked near campus buildings or cyclists making their way across campus or along the D & R Canal raises no eyebrows; their absence, as with the absence of other forms of traffic, was one of the most noteworthy aspects of local life during the COVID-19 shutdown of 2020. Yet there was once a Princeton where bicycles were unknown, and their appearance presented a concerning novelty.

Bicycle in Princeton, ca 1880s. Historical Photograph Collection, Student Photograph Albums Series (AC061), Box 186.

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This Week in Princeton History for June 22-28

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, James McCosh expresses concerns about youth wasted in the gymnasium, the Princeton Rocket inspires Williams College, and more.

June 22, 1874—In his report to the Board of Trustees, College president James McCosh expresses concerns about students spending excessive time in the gym preparing for gymnastic competitions: “I have seen all along that there must be some limit to set to them, lest they so excite a portion of our students as to lead them to waste upon them their best energies, and thus waste their youth.”

Equipment in Princeton’s Bonner-Marquand Gymnasium, 1870s. Historical Photograph Collection, Grounds and Buildings Series (AC111), Box MP47.

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This Week in Princeton History for January 13-19

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, frustrations arise from confiscated toasters and banned bicycles, Southerners celebrate Robert E. Lee’s birthday, and more.

January 14, 1998—Graduate student Kieran Healy *01’s “The Grinch Who Stole Breakfast” complains of a Christmas present being confiscated by overzealous dormitory inspectors, although he does not live in a dorm, because the unopened toaster was against rules prohibiting heat-producing appliances in campus housing. “My house has a six-ring Viking Professional gas stove in it, so why didn’t they confiscate that as well?”

January 15, 1974—Brendan Byrne ’49 is sworn in as New Jersey’s 47th governor.

Brendan Byrne ’49 (center) at Princeton University for his first Board of Trustees meeting (New Jersey’s governors are ex-officio members of the board), 1974. Office of Communications Records (AC168), Box 128.

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Princeton’s Summer Trips Across North America

Although traveling significant distances is routine for many Princetonians these days, traversing North America was not always as easy as it is now. Our records reveal a variety of both academic and pleasure trips over the years that have used horses, trains, cars, and bicycles to reach their destinations.

Most of the lengthy North American journeys Princetonians took in the 19th century were scientific expeditions, starting with the astronomical expeditions of the early part of century. Most of those were along the east coast, but in July and August 1869, with help from institutional and federal funding, a group of Princetonians took trains to Ottumwa, Iowa, to view a total solar eclipse. It took nearly five days to reach Ottumwa and three days to return. One student later wrote that aside from the spectacular event of the eclipse itself, “The great impression I received was concerning the magnitude of our country. We had passed through very varied scenery for nights and days, travelling over a country large enough to comprise all the kingdoms of Europe, all teeming with life and prosperity, and yet had only passed over about one-third of the extent…”

The first Geological Expedition took its participants (18 students and two professors) further into the American west on an 11-week trek to Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah in the summer of 1877. Three Princeton juniors (William Berryman Scott, Henry Fairfield Osborn, and Francis Speir) had taken a geology course with Arnold Guyot and had read reports about fossil-collection trips Yale had taken. They were determined that Princeton should not be left out of these types of adventures and convinced others to join them.

They took a train to Denver. Princeton had two cars of its own, one for baggage and one for passengers. The expedition party boarded at the Dinky station at about 8:00PM on June 21 and arrived in Denver on June 25 after a few stops along the way, including Chicago and Kansas City. In his memoir, Some Memories of a Palaeontologist, Scott described the journey this way:

Of our journey, novel to most of us though it was, there was not much to be said. The Middle West was not then the busy, prosperous region it has since become, and the principal impression which it made upon me then was one of crudeness and shabbiness. The roads were quagmires of black mud; the towns were chiefly of wood and sadly in need of paint and, though there were a great many fine-looking farms, the journey was a depressing experience. (p. 60-61)

In Denver, the faculty secured horses and wagons and the group set up camp just outside the city, then a town of about 25,000 people, for a few days, where one traveler wrote that they “slept soundly in our blankets using our saddles as pillows.”

The Princeton Scientific Expedition camping out at Fairplay, Colorado, in the summer of 1877. Princeton Scientific Expeditions Collection (AC012), Box 3, Folder 2.

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