Biography and History

Slaby was born in Detroit in 1922. He received his bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the Lawrence Institute of Technology in 1943, then served for a year as a aviation cadet in the U.S. Air Force. Slaby taught engineering graphics at Sampson College in New York until 1948, when he returned to graduate school. In 1950 he received his master's degree in economics from Wayne University.

Slaby was interested in political issues as well, and following a year as assistant professor of graphics at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, he spent the 1951-1952 academic year at Oslo University on a Fulbright Grant studying Norwegian labor relations. He later returned to Norway, 1960-1961, on a Science Faculty Fellowship awarded by the National Science Foundation. He authored several articles on Norwegian labor issues.

Slaby's career at Princeton began in 1953, when he was hired as an assistant professor. He taught in the Graphics and Engineering Drawing Department, which had been chaired by Frank Heacock since its inception in 1922, teaching such courses as Spatial Analysis and Descriptive Geometry. (The Graphics and Engineering Drawing Department, originally the Graphics Department, was located within the old School of Science but became part of the Engineering School at its founding in 1921.) In 1958, Slaby was promoted to associate professor then replaced Heacock as chair two years later. He authored a textbook entitled Descriptive Geometry, and a manual on slide-rule usage. He also co-authored articles arguing that engineering graphics could be used as a grade predictor for subsequent engineering courses.

As chair of the graphics department, Slaby organized seminars on computer graphics and other technologies. He was involved in the Committee on the Freshman Year, and supported minority achievement in engineering. But his efforts to keep the department current proved futile; after the advent of the computer which forever displaced the slide-rule, Slaby's department was disbanded in 1968. Slaby continued to teach within the department of civil engineering until 1991, offering courses like “Technology and Society Seminars” and “Engineering Geometry and Graphics for Computer-aided Design.”

Slaby's wish to connect community and University betterment with engineering excellence is apparent throughout the collection. He served as a consultant to the Princeton Borough Engineer, and initiated summer programs to introduce local high school and middle school students to the field of engineering. He held memberships in the American Association of University Professors, Sigma Xi, the Princeton Engineering Association, and the Institute of International Education. As chair of the American Society for Engineering Education, Slaby encouraged major student involvement in the professional association.

Slaby was concerned with the University's responsibility to the world, the community, and to its own students and professors. To this end, he supported University divestment in South Africa, advised a student-led seminar on “town-gown” relations, defended the rights of students who heckled Secretary of the Interior Walter Hickel during his speech at the University in 1970, and delivered a lecture on the importance of tenure. In 1965, the 20th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, Slaby organized the local UN chapter's panel discussion on “The Future of the United Nations,” for which he was nominated “Princeton's Man of the Week” by The Town Topics. In 1990, he wrote to Jean Prevost, Chair of the Department of Civil Engineering, that the “deterioration of the infrastructure of the United States should be a crucial item in the agenda of our department,” and offered to help promote an interdisciplinary program as a remedy. (Slaby's seminars entitled “Engineering and Society” which studied social problems and produced focused reports are located within the Mudd Library's P Collection.)

He married Elsa Larsen in 1944 and together they had two children.

Source: From the finding aid for AC027


  • Engineers -- New Jersey -- Princeton..
  • Department of African American Studies Records. 1969-2016 (inclusive).

    Call Number: AC020

    The Department of African American Studies at Princeton University is an academic department of Princeton University. The records consist of course proposals and descriptions, proposals for a post-doctoral program, and meeting minutes and correspondence of the interdepartmental committee as well as past versions of the department's website.

  • 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.