This Week in Princeton History for August 8-14

In this week’s installment of our recurring series, the College treasurer defends himself against rumors of embezzlement, a new graduate meets an untimely end, and more.

August 9, 1844—With a high of 91 degrees, this is the hottest day of the year. It is “rather warmer” overall this year than in 1843.

August 10, 1881—Rumors are circulating in local publications that William Harris, the college treasurer, is embezzling from funds meant to supply fuel to heat students’ rooms and is keeping money parents have sent for their children rather than giving it to the students. Harris vows to demand that the Board of Trustees investigate. The Trustees will find no wrongdoing.

August 11, 1956—Philip E. Capicotto ’56 dies of cancer that has spread from his hip to his brain. He has kept his diagnosis largely under wraps among his classmates. “Phil had a very short life,” his mother will say, “but Princeton made up four very fruitful, beautiful years for him. He loved it. I’m so grateful he went there.”

Though Philip Capicotto ’56 struggled through his final semester, as can be seen in this document in his academic file, he nonetheless graduated with honors. (Click to enlarge.) Undergraduate Academic Records (AC198).

August 13, 1818—A writer for New York’s National Advocate notes in his travel log for the area:

Trenton–noble bridge–good supper, bad beds–fine roads, spirited horses–Princeton–students great bucks–segars [sic], rattans, and pretty women–good auxiliaries to study–Brunswick–old inns–paved streets and gothic mansions…

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.

“Climates of the Past”

These days, most Americans think of PBS when they think of educational television, but in the 1950s, viewers expected commercial networks to offer this sort of programming. In 1952, New York’s WNBT (NBC) offered Princeton University a grant for faculty to develop a variety of shows in their areas of expertise suitable for a mass audience. Yale, Brown, Rutgers, Columbia, NYU, and Georgetown were all already involved in similar endeavors. By 1954, 84 colleges and universities were involved in creating educational television. Some even offered college credit to viewers.

Princeton was ready to go on the air in 1954. The series, Princeton ’54, was only shown in the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut region, but the program was successful enough that NBC decided to show its successor, Princeton ’55, throughout the eastern United States, in a covetable Sunday afternoon time slot. The series was meant to appeal to diverse interests, opening with “Communists, and Who They Are” with Prof. Gabriel A. Almond (Woodrow Wilson School) on January 2, 1955, and drawing upon faculty in English, music, the Creative Arts Program, and geology, among others for its 13-episdode season.


Erling Dorf, ca. 1950s. Photo by Orren Jack Turner. Historical Photograph Collection, Faculty Photographs Series (AC059), Box FAC28.

Today, we’re sharing the program that aired sixty years ago today, on February 6, 1955. Geology professor Erling Dorf presented “Climates of the Past,” asserting that the Earth was going through a period of warming within an epoch of cooling.

Princeton followed up with a third and final season, Princeton ’56, the following year.