This Week in Princeton History for October 24-30

In this week’s installment of our recurring series, Cherokee students draw attention, answering machines are becoming popular, and more.

October 25, 1838—A letter to the editor of the New York Commercial Advertiser praises the Cherokee Nation’s Ross brothers (John McDonald Ross, Class of 1841; William Potter Ross, Class of 1842; and Robert Daniel Ross, Class of 1843). “When these young gentlemen graduate from Princeton, which College they are about to enter, they will indeed be an acquisition to their persecuted nation, for they will have the talent, if I am not mistaken, to vindicate their rights, and eloquently, too, against injustice and oppression.”

William Potter Ross, Class of 1842, ca. 1880. Ross was founder and editor of the Cherokee Advocate and held various roles in Cherokee government throughout his life, including serving as principal Chief 1866-1867 and 1872-1875. Princeton University Collection of Western Americana Photographs (WC064).

October 26, 1984—The Daily Princetonian reports that answering machines are growing in popularity on campus. Those who use them say they appreciate being able to screen calls before answering and being able to call back at a more convenient time.

October 29, 1924—The Class of 1928 poses for the annual “Flour Photo.”

October 30, 1947—A survey of members of recent graduates in the Class of 1947 finds that most have had no trouble finding jobs. Though most have headed into corporate life, journalism, science, the military, or graduate school, one stands out for his unusual path into animal husbandry.

For the previous installment in this series, click here.

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This Week in Princeton History for April 5-11

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, Princetonians join NOW’s rally in Washington, the Board of Trustees urge parents not to send their children too much money, and more.

April 5, 1877—Marveling at the possibilities the intention of the telephone has brought, the Princetonian anticipates a future with remote learning and the ability to order meals on a whim: “Oh, when will this glorious activity among students appear, when from morning until night, from year in until year out, we need not leave our rooms, but can pursue our College course, and can at last graduate a la Telephone?

April 6, 2000—Graduate student Xiaohui Fan discovers a quasar.

April 9, 1989—More than 160 Princeton students and faculty members join hundreds of thousands of others in the National Organization for Women (NOW) rally for abortion rights in Washington, D.C.

Clipping from the Daily Princetonian.

April 10, 1807—The Board of Trustees writes to parents urging them not to give more money to students than is strictly necessary. Students will need $188.32 for tuition, room, board, wood, servants, candles, laundry, and incidentals, and no more than $250-$280 per year for all other expenses, including the furnishings for their rooms. The Board has established a Bursar in order to manage students’ money. “The guardians of the college cannot too earnestly press upon parents the danger of much exceeding in their remittances…they may be assured they do it at the great hazard of both the virtue, and to the scholarship of their sons. More young men have been injured by money and credit in this institution than by all other causes.”

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 March 23-29

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the first intercollegiate gymnastic league meet is held, graduate school is offered as an option for confused seniors, and more.

March 23, 1900—In the first-ever intercollegiate gymnastic league meet, Princeton’s team earns a silver cup, but Columbia wins the top honors.

Princeton’s 1900 Gymnastic Team. Photo from A History of Princeton Athletics (1901).

March 26, 1992—An AT&T answering machine worth $100 is found to have been stolen from Green Hall.

March 28, 1888—Noting that many graduating seniors are “in doubt and ignorance as to what they will do on leaving college” and many graduating seniors “are thrust from college into the world like strangers in a foreign land, with no definite plans or ideas,” the Princetonian recommends graduate school.

March 29, 1976—Scottish filmmakers are on campus to work on a documentary about the American bicentennial. “Liberty’s Child” will air July 18, 1976.

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.

The Cat Telephone

By Arthur Kim ’18

What do a cat and a telephone have in common? They were the same thing in an experiment conducted in 1929 by Professor Ernest Glen Wever and his research assistant Charles William Bray here at Princeton University. Wever and Bray took an unconscious, but alive, cat and transformed it into a working telephone to test how sound is perceived by the auditory nerve.

Charles W. Bray ’25 and E. Glenn Weaver. Undergraduate Alumni Records (AC199).

To do so, they first sedated the cat and opened its skull to better access the auditory nerve. A telephone wire was attached to the nerve and the other end of the wire was connected to a telephone receiver. Bray would speak in the cat’s ears, while Wever would listen through the receiver 50 feet away in a soundproof room. The common notion during this time was that the frequency of the response of a sensory nerve is correlated to the intensity of the stimulus. In the case of the auditory nerve, as a sound becomes louder, the frequency or pitch of the sound received by the ear should be higher. When Bray made a sound with a certain frequency, Wever heard the sound from the receiver at the same frequency. As Bray increased the pitch of the sound, the frequency of the sound Wever heard also increased. This experiment proved that the frequency of the response in the auditory nerve is correlated to the frequency of the sound. To further validate their experiment, Wever and Bray performed more trials with varying conditions. When they placed the wire on other tissues and nerves away from the auditory nerve, the telephone receiver did not produce any sound. In one experiment, they restricted the blood circulation to the cat’s head, which also ceased the transmission of sound from the receiver. From their findings through these experiments, Wever and Bray were awarded the first Howard Crosby Warren Medal of Society by the Society of Experimental Psychologists in 1936.

Soon after, Bray became an Associate Professor at Princeton University and later became the Associate Research Director of the U.S. Air Force Human Resources Research. During World War II, he served as one of the leading scientists of the civilian psychological research for both the National Defense Research Council and the Navy. As for Wever, he became the head of the department of psychology at Princeton and worked with Dr. Julius Lempert of the Lempert Institute of Otology to research on otosclerosis, an abnormal bone growth in the ear that leads to hearing impairment due to the ear’s inability to amplify sound. During World War II, Wever was a consultant to the National Research Council on anti-submarine warfare. He found that men with musical abilities were the best sonar operators, regardless of what instrument they played.

Surprisingly, Wever and Bray were not particularly interested in the practical use of their discovery. Instead they cared more about the protocol and methodology to run these tests. The techniques they developed for the experiment were highly renowned by physicians who used them to study the human hearing. Their research laid a foundation for cochlear implants, devices that convert sound vibrations into electrical signals to the brain.


Alumni and Faculty Offprint Collection (AC121)

Faculty and Professional Staff Files (AC107)

Graduate Alumni Records (AC105)

Undergraduate Academic Records 1921-2015 (AC198)

Undergraduate Alumni Records 1921-2015 (AC199)


For further reading:

Wever, Ernest Glen and Charles W. Bray. “Action Currents in the Auditory Nerve in Response to Acoustical Stimulation.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 16 (1930): 344-350.

Arthur Kim is a junior in the chemical and biological engineering department at Princeton University.

This Week in Princeton History for January 2-8

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the nation mourns Claiborne Pell, the Triangle Club loses their rehearsal space, and more.

January 2, 1884—Physics professor Cyrus Brackett testifies as an expert witness in a lawsuit between American Bell Telephone Company and the Peoples Telephone Company, one in a series known as the “telephone cases” in which the Supreme Court will rule on who should own the inventor’s patent to the telephone.


Cyrus Brackett, undated. Historical Photograph Collection, Faculty Photograph Series (AC059), Box FAC12.

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