Biography and History

Despite Princeton University's historical reputation as a bastion of liberal arts education, the Princeton University School of Engineering and Applied Science is one of the oldest and most highly recognized institutions of its kind in the United States. Since its inception in 1921, the School of Engineering has been guided by an academic ethos which situates the typically specialized engineering field comfortably within the greater schemes of well-rounded undergraduate education and public service, Princeton's traditional hallmarks. Today the School of Engineering and Applied Science oversees six departments as well as an even larger number of interdisciplinary programs and affiliated research centers, and offers degrees on both the undergraduate and the graduate level.

The teaching and study of engineering at Princeton dates back to the late 19th century with the founding of the Department of Civil Engineering in 1875 by Professor Charles McMillan. Predating the eventual formation of the School of Engineering by nearly 50 years, the Department of Civil Engineering with its modest faculty of three professors produced a remarkable group of young men who energetically went forth into the engineering fields. The most notable feature of the early Department of Civil Engineering was the incorporation of liberal arts electives into the undergraduate curriculum. At a time when the primary emphasis in engineering education was upon rote memorization of classic engineering principles, the Princeton method offered a broader sense of the science's potential to aid society at large.

While the Department of Civil Engineering set a standard early on for undergraduate engineering education at Princeton, the fledgling Department of Electrical Engineering demonstrated how original research on the graduate level could advance the bank of knowledge in an entire field. Originated in 1889 by Professor of Physics Cyrus Fogg Brackett (a friend and colleague of Thomas Edison), Princeton's two-year graduate program in electrical engineering was the first of its kind in the United States.

With engineering still a small but rapidly growing field, both professionally and academically, it is hardly surprising that Princeton alumni from each of these programs came to form working relationships in the field, and grew to collectively recognize the value of their respective educations. From this recognition arose in 1912 the Princeton Engineering Association, a dedicated alumni group in support of the Department(s) of Engineering. As the number of engineering graduates increased and the vocalizations of those alumni and faculty who considered the expansion of the University's engineering programs to be of the utmost importance grew louder, it became apparent that a new academic body within the University was necessary. The start of World War I also brought a heightened awareness of the importance of engineering to the future of the world at large. At this time as it would later in the century, American military conflict played an integral role in shaping the development of the engineering field.

In 1921 representatives from the Princeton Engineering Association convened to formulate a plan for a School of Engineering at Princeton. The eventual outline submitted to the trustees called for freshman and sophomore years dedicated to the learning of engineering fundamentals. In these years all students would take nearly the same courses. The junior and senior years would allow the student to choose a specialized form of engineering from those offered by the school, and fill out their remaining courses with electives. Four years of study would result in the degree of Bachelor of Science in Engineering, and one or more years of additional study would lead to a technical degree in Civil, Electrical, Mechanical, Mining, or Chemical Engineering.

On the recommendation of the Engineering Association, the trustees secured the services of Arthur M. Greene, Jr. as the inaugural dean of the School of Engineering. In his impressive career, the 40-year-old Greene had served on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, the Drexel Institute of Technology, the University of Missouri, and most recently the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. His contributions at these institutions extended beyond the classroom however, as he wrote numerous textbooks and designed the campus power plants at Missouri and Drexel.

In addition to taking on the role of the school's first dean, Greene occupied another position, that of the chairman of the newly formed Department of Mechanical Engineering. The formation of the School of Engineering according to the proposed plan called for the creation of three new departments, Mechanical Engineering, Mining Engineering (soon to be changed to Geological), and Chemical Engineering. Each of these departments would require a faculty, laboratory and research facilities, and a curriculum. The early Department of Mechanical Engineering, which had Greene as its chairman and sole faculty member, is exemplary of the challenges facing these fledgling engineering departments. With only 84 students in its initial year, it was no surprise that the school developed somewhat slowly at first.

Despite these challenges, the singular momentum of Greene planted a seed within each of the five engineering departments that would bloom over the next twenty years into a dynamic network of students, faculty, and alumni engaged in cutting edge engineering research and experimentation. Underscoring all of this was Greene's educational vision which he termed "Engineering Plus." In a 1926 statement, Greene set forth that "the purpose accordingly of the Princeton School of Engineering is to develop engineers of dependability, resourcefulness, vision; men who will perceive the larger aspects of the projects they undertake, who in addition to controlling the merely technical engineering factors will, because of their education in the humanistic atmosphere of a university primarily devoted to the liberal arts and sciences, also comprehend and mold intelligently the human, social, and economic elements encountered in these projects."

Previously scattered about campus in whatever facilities were available for use, the School of Engineering was finally organized under a single roof for the first time in 1928 with the construction of Green Hall, and two significant developments over the next decade would leave Dean Greene's permanent mark on the School of Engineering and the University prior to his retirement in 1940. The first of these was the formation of advisory committees for each of the engineering departments in 1935. Comprised of practicing engineers drawn from Princeton alumni, these committees served a dual purpose. The first was to obtain input from men attuned to the type of work being done in the field, so as to keep the Engineering School's curriculum as relevant as possible. The second underlying purpose of the advisory committees was to develop relationships among engineering professionals, faculty, and students. So successful was this experiment that it was eventually adopted on a University-wide basis in 1941.

From the recommendation of the advisory committees emerged the second major development at the School of Engineering in the 1930s, the Basic Engineering program. The program offered an even broader range of courses than any of the standard engineering programs, and left the student ably equipped for additional graduate study, particularly in business and administration.

The Second World War and the post-War period marked a time of rapid growth and change for the School of Engineering. During the war, the government dedicated enormous levels of funding to engineering research in hopes of maintaining a technological edge over the axis, with much of this money flowing to institutions such as Princeton who were at the forefront of the field. Despite great advances, wartime growth in the engineering was also hampered by a concurrent decrease in enrollment and wartime restrictions on many of the materials integral to experimentation and research.

In 1942 Associate Administrator of the Civil Aeronautics Board undertook a study of Princeton's Engineering Program at the behest of Greene's successor, Dean Kenneth H. Condit. The result was the formation of the Department of Aeronautical Engineering in the fall of that year, of which Daniel Sayre soon found himself the sole faculty member and administrator. The department's early growth was facilitated by funding from the armed forces, specifically the Navy which was eager to fuel research in applied aeronautical engineering and jet propulsion.

Following the war, Ph.D. programs were instituted in each of the departments and enrollment in the School of Engineering mushroomed to over 500 students, placing a severe strain on the facilities in Green Hall. Some relief was offered in the form of the Forrestal Campus which provided laboratory space for the Department of Aeronautical Engineering; however other departments suffered due to the cramped conditions and makeshift accommodations. A 1949 story in the Princeton Alumni Weekly that featured informative segments on each engineering department rang with a common theme: the need for a new and expanded School of Engineering building. The canvassing of the Engineering Association resulted in a temporary solution to a ceaseless problem, the addition of a wing to Green Hall for the use of the Mechanical Engineering Department. Nonetheless as Dean Condit retired in 1954, the incredible growth of the school's faculty and research interests was held back by its physical limitations.

Condit's successor was Joseph Clifton Elgin, who had been an integral player in the early formation of the School of Engineering as well as the Department of Chemical Engineering's first professor and chairman. Elgin, though an old hand on the faculty, made the revision of the engineering curriculum a top priority early on in his deanship. While maintaining the general focus of the "Engineering Plus" concept, Elgin adopted a new approach to the study of engineering, focusing on basic principles. The school's experience during World War II had shown that engineering as a field was so vibrant and full of momentum that to teach a student any one specific technology or set of skills was futile. Rather, graduates would be better served by a firm understanding of the scientific basis for these skills and technologies, and henceforth would be able to adapt readily once in the field. The new program soon earned a reputation for turning out highly capable engineers, and the recognition resulted in a 1962 award of one million dollars from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

While the momentous million dollar grant was not a sum large enough to underwrite a new engineering building, the notable gift was supplemented by funds previously raised during the $53 Million Campaign of the late 1950s. With the necessary $8 million allocated for the purpose, construction began almost immediately and in 1962 the School of Engineering moved into the new Engineering Quadrangle on Olden Street, a facility almost four times the size of Green Hall.

The large-scale move of the school brought about several shifts in organization and nomenclature, most notably the change of the school's name to the School of Engineering and Applied Science, to better reflect Elgin's curriculum. Aeronautical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering also merged at this time to form the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Sciences, and the Geological Engineering Department was demoted to the program level and absorbed into the Department of Civil Engineering. The decade of the 1960s also witnessed the creation of several interdepartmental programs, sometimes invoking the cooperation of departments outside the School of Engineering. Just one such example was the Transportation Engineering program, undertaken in conjunction with the Department of Economics and the School of Architecture and Urban Planning.

During the deanship of Joseph C. Elgin, which stretched from 1954-1971, the School of Engineering responded ably to changes both within the University and in the engineering field. Nuclear energy and solid state science emerged in the engineering lexicon. Perhaps more so than any other department, Electrical Engineering witnessed great advances in its scientific domain in the form of early computing and digitization. The introduction of new courses in 1957 and the acquisition of an IBM machine that same year resulted in the University's first computer center, administered through the School of Engineering.

Robert G. Jahn, the fourth Dean of the School of Engineering, was among the candidates awarded doctoral degrees during Elgin's first year in the position. Returning as Dean in 1971, Jahn presided over a school which was gaining a growing reputation as a leader in research, despite a high attrition rate of undergraduates who felt uncertain of their future as engineers in society. Jahn attempted to relate his vision of a future for engineering education that would tie the sciences to critical problems in society. Said the Dean in a 1971 interview "We shall not attempt to train a man for a trade. Our goal is to give him the confidence, born of a certain amount of experience, to approach any technical problem in a constructive, analytical way; to show him how to assemble his resources, to organize his thinking, to consider the human implications of what he is doing, and to come to grips with new situations." Balancing this broad scope with the rush of specialized technology proved difficult. The school saw the creation of the Department of Computer Science, a new department formed out of what had previously been a program under Electrical Engineering. Other new research initiatives such as the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Laboratory (PEAR Lab) sought to connect the engineering sciences to the greater needs of society at large.

The two decades after Jahn's retirement in 1986 were a time of change for the School of Engineering in terms of administration and curriculum. During the deanships of Hisashi Kobayashi (1986-1991) and James Wei (1991-2001) shifting focuses placed a new emphasis upon the business aspects of the Engineering profession, and the need for the modern engineer to grapple alternately with the tangible realities of materials and substances as well as the more abstract realms of statistics and mathematics. The most significant sign of this was the formation of the Department of Operations Research and Financial Engineering in 1999. The Department, the first of its kind in the nation, proved popular with students and plans for a dedicated building to house it were enacted in 2006.

As the School of Engineering and Applied Science moved forward into the 21st century it did so with a renewed sense of purpose and a new awareness of Engineering's place in the world. Particularly notable was the appointment of the school’s first female dean, Maria Klawe, who served from 2003-2006. New special programs and centers focused upon robotics, engineering education, and biology demonstrated a forward-thinking mindset with an emphasis on humanism, carrying on the legacy of engineering as an extension of the liberal arts so integral to Dean Greene's "Engineering Plus" concept nearly a century ago.

Source: From the finding aid for AC162

Biography and History

The Cyrus Fogg Brackett Lectureship in Applied Engineering and Technology was established in 1921 in memory of Professor Cyrus Fogg Brackett (1833-1915). A teacher, physician, inventor, and physicist, Brackett was a pioneer in the field of electrical engineering. The lectures were free to the public, although intended for engineering students, and occurred monthly while classes were in session. The Dean of the School of Engineering, in conjunction with a committee established by the Princeton Engineering Association, selected and invited the speakers. The lecturers were often business or research executives in engineering-related fields, but other well-regarded scientists, businessmen, and statesmen lectured on occasion. Lecture topics included, for example, “Street Railway Engineering,” 1924; “The Story of Flour,” 1934; “A Public Utility Investment in South America,” 1935; “Research in Connection with Higher Speed Steam Locomotives,” 1940; and “Postwar Industrial Relations,” 1947.

It became somewhat of an honor to give a Brackett lecture. Many of the businessmen went to great expense to publish their lectures. On the tenth anniversary of the first Brackett address, former lecturers organized the Guild of Brackett Lecturers and thereafter met periodically to hear new lectures and enjoy formal dinners. The number of lectures declined during the Second World War, however, and the last took place in 1953.

Source: From the finding aid for AC188

  • Steve M. Slaby Papers. 1903-1990 (inclusive), 1950-1980 (bulk).

    Call Number: AC027

    Steve M. Slaby, professor of engineering at Princeton, 1953-1991, served as the second (and final) chair of the Graphics and Engineering Drawing Department, 1962-1968. Slaby was also one of the University's few political activists, opposing U.S. involvement in Vietnam and University investment in South Africa, and promoting student and faculty liberties.

  • School of Engineering and Applied Science Records. 1884-2015 (inclusive).

    Call Number: AC162

    Princeton University's School of Engineering and Applied Science is an academic unit which since 1921 has overseen the curriculum and administration of the University's academic departments in the engineering sciences. The records document the activities of the School of Engineering and its subordinate departments and programs from its origins in the late 19th century until the present, and consist of correspondence, subject files, research reports, photographs, and other audiovisual materials.

  • Cyrus Fogg Brackett Lectureship Records. 1921-1952 (inclusive).

    Call Number: AC188

    The Cyrus Fogg Brackett Lectureship in Applied Engineering and Technology was established in memory of Professor Brackett in 1921 and continued until 1953. The collection contains many of the lectures–both in manuscript and published form–and correspondence with lecturers and potential lecturers. The collection also includes some general materials relating to the lectureship, such as citations, registries, histories, schedules, and short summaries of Professor Brackett's life and accomplishments.

  • Office of the President Records: Harold T. Shapiro Subgroup. 1939-2004 (inclusive), 1987-2001 (bulk).

    Call Number: AC264

    The Office of the President Records: Harold T. Shapiro contains the files generated and compiled by Princeton University's Office of the President during the administration of Harold Tafler Shapiro *64, the University's 18th president. The records consist of files pertaining to academic programs, campus building projects, fundraising, students, faculty, and staff and include correspondence, reports, speeches, and printed materials.

  • Arthur M. Greene Collection. 1902-1953 (inclusive).

    Call Number: C0434

    Consists of works, correspondence, and memorabilia of Princeton School of Engineering dean Arthur M. Greene, as well as papers of others about him.