Contents and Arrangement Expanded View

Collection Overview

Carson, John Renshaw, 1887-1940.
Princeton University. Library. Special Collections
John and Robb Carson Letters
Princeton University Archives
Permanent URL:
1 box
Storage Note:
Mudd Manuscript Library (mudd): Box 1


This collection contains the personal letters of John Renshaw Carson (1886-1940) and his twin brother Joseph Robb Carson (1886-1953) to their parents in Sewickley, Pennsylvania. The Carson letters provide a first hand account of life at Princeton University in the early twentieth century. The bulk of the letters were written when John and Robb were undergraduates at Princeton (Class of 1907). The letters of 1903 to 1904 contain the most detail about student life at the university.

Collection Description & Creator Information


The correspondence to their parents cover the period 1903-1908. The collection also contains undated and partially dated letters. The bulk of the letters were written from 1903 to 1907 when Robb and John were undergraduates at Princeton. A smaller portion of letters were written by John when he was an Electrical Engineering graduate student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston and Princeton University from 1907 to 1908. John and Robb also wrote to their parents from Chautaugua, New York (July 1903) and Schenectady, New York (letters undated). The collection also contains nine postcards.

Some of the letters convey a good sense of the issues and circumstances which shaped student life at Princeton University during a time of change.

The letters from the academic year of 1903 and 1904 contain the most detail about the relationship between Freshmen and Sophomore students. A letter dated December 4, 1903, reveals some of the ways Sophomores "horse" the Freshmen. A discussion of the "expulsion of students" resulting from a cheating scandal is discussed in letters of February 6 and 7, 1904. Sophomores "horsing" of Freshmen involved a variety of initiation activities. Throwing bags of flour on Freshmen when they were having their class picture taken and being "ambushed" by Sophomores with snowballs as they crossed campus are but two of the many "horsing" rituals. In his February 10th, 1904 letter John relates how students reacted when they found out Robb and he were twins. The lifting of Freshmen restrictions and the number of "students flunked" after mid terms are discussed in a letter of February 21, 1904. A reaction to President Wilson's new policies and the preceptorial system can be seen in letters of May 1, 1904 and February 23 and 28, 1905. There are two letters from friends which are in response to invitations by John and Robb.


The letters are arranged chronologically.

Collection Creator Biography:

John Renshaw Carson was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on June 28, 1886. He graduated from Princeton University in 1907 with a Bachelors of Science degree. He then attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology for one year before returning to Princeton to continue his studies. Princeton University awarded him a degree in Electrical Engineering in 1909 and a master of Science degree in 1912. From 1912 to 1914 John Carson was an instructor in Electrical Engineering and Physics at Princeton University. In 1913 he was offered a position at American Telephone and Telegraph Company and in 1914 he resigned his position at the university. At American Telephone and Telegraph he was a transmission theory engineer involved in early radio telephone experiments. In 1917 he invented the "side band" system which allowed several telephone calls to be transmitted simultaneously by a single electrical circuit. He was responsible for the first installation of this system between Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Carson also developed the mathematical background for the use of metal pipes to guide radio waves. In 1924 the Institute for Radio Engineers endowed him with the Liebman Memorial prize. From 1925 until the time of his death in 1940 he worked for Bell Telephone Laboratories as a mathematician and electrical engineer. He received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute in 1937, and was given the Elliot Cresson medal from the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia in 1939. Carson was the author of approximately fifty professional papers. His best known work is the Electric Circuit Theory and the Operational Calculus. At his death on October 31, 1940, he was survived by his wife Frances Atwell Carson and his son John Jr.

Biography of Joseph Robb Carson

Joseph Robb Carson (1886-1953) was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on June 28, 1886. Robb attended the Allegheny Preparatory School before entering Princeton University in 1903. He received a Bachelors of Science degree from the university in 1907. Afterwards he studied law at the University of Pittsburgh for one year. Later he was a Professor of Economics at Decatur University. Poor health plagued his life and interrupted his academic career. His many interests were demonstrated by working at a variety of jobs such as engineering in Idaho, writing at the Wall Street Journal, and as a statistician for the American Telephone and Telegraph Company before retiring in 1927 from all activity. He was married in 1930 and spent the remainder of his life in California and Arizona. His 107 classmates remember that "his was a gentle and lovely spirit and his mind before his illness was a brilliant one." He died in February 1953, in Burbank California.

Collection History


The collection was obtained at auction by Dedrick M. Hervas of Arlington, Virginia, and donated in March of 1977 to Princeton University President William G. Bowen, who forwarded it to the Archives.

Archival Appraisal Information:

No appraisal information is available.

Processing Information:

This collection was processed by Monica G. Ruscil in January 1993. Finding aid written by Monica G. Ruscil in January 1993.

Access & Use

Access Restrictions:

Collection is open for research use.

Conditions for Reproduction and Use:

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. For quotations that are fair use as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. The Trustees of Princeton University hold copyright to all materials generated by Princeton University employees in the course of their work. If copyright is held by Princeton University, researchers will not need to obtain permission, complete any forms, or receive a letter to move forward with non-commercial use of materials from the Mudd Library. For materials where the copyright is not held by the University, researchers are responsible for determining who may hold the copyright and obtaining approval from them. If you have a question about who owns the copyright for an item, you may request clarification by contacting us through the Ask Us! form.

Credit this material:

John and Robb Carson Letters; Princeton University Archives, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

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