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.