Contents and Arrangement Expanded View

Collection Overview

Princeton University. School of Engineering and Applied Science
School of Engineering and Applied Science Records
Princeton University Archives
Permanent URL:
192 boxes, 6 folders, 4 items, 2056 digital files, and 1 websites
Storage Note:
  • Mudd Manuscript Library (scamudd): Box 1-192


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.

Collection Description & Creator Information

Scope and Contents

The School of Engineering and Applied Science Records document Princeton University's engineering program from its origins in the Departments of Civil and Electrical Engineering to the present day. The bulk of the records are those of the Office of the Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science; however, all of the major Departments save Computer Science and Operations Research and Financial Engineering are represented as well. Also included in this collection are the records of the Princeton Engineering Association, the school's main alumni organization. The records include correspondence, press releases, clippings, contracts, departmental meeting minutes, research reports, and scholarly publications. Photographs, videotapes, film and microfilm documenting the activities of the school, as well as the department's website (beginning in 2015), are also present.

Please see series descriptions in contents list for additional information about individual series.

Collection Creator Biography:

Princeton University. School of Engineering and Applied Science

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.

Collection History


The records were transferred from the School of Engineering and Applied Science to the Archives over a period extending from September 1961 to September 2016. The largest of these transfers, accounting for more than half of the records in the records group, took place in June of 1963. The bulk of Subseries 1C: Robert G. Jahn was transferred in May 2016 (AR.2016.038). Series 12 was transferred in May 2016 (AR.2016.039). Subseries 1E was transferred in 2016 (AR.2016.046). Audiovisual material was added to Series 4 in December 2017 (AR.2017.126).


Continued transfers of records from the School of Engineering and Applied Science are expected indefinitely.


Appraisal has been conducted in accordance with Mudd Manuscript Library guidelines.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Daniel Brennan, Rosalba Varallo, and Joshua Muketha '10 in November 2006. Finding aid written by Daniel Brennan in November 2006. Box 176 added by Christie Peterson in June 2012. Series 10 added and finding aid updated by Lynn Durgin in January 2015. Subseries 1C and Series 12 added and finding aid updated by Phoebe Nobles in June 2016. Subseries 1E added by Jarrett M. Drake in October 2016. Series 13 added by Valencia L. Johnson in March 2018.

Access & Use

Conditions Governing Access

Records of the School of Engineering and Applied Science are restricted for a period of 25 years from the date of their creation, with the exception of records in Subseries 3E: Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR) Laboratory; Series 4: Audiovisual; Series 10: Guggenheim Laboratory Time Capsule Materials; and Series 11: Public Websites, which are open for research use. Records containing personnel information on living faculty members are restricted until the individual's death and any records that pertain to student academic performance are restricted for a period of 75 years (these include certain records in Subseries 1C and Subseries 1E). Due to the presence of personnel information, Series 12 is restricted for a period of 75 years.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. To cite or publish quotations that fall within Fair Use, as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission is required. The Trustees of Princeton University hold copyright to all materials generated by Princeton University employees in the course of their work. For instances beyond Fair Use, if copyright is held by Princeton University, researchers do not need to obtain permission, complete any forms, or receive a letter to move forward with use of materials from the Princeton University Archives.

For instances beyond Fair Use where the copyright is not held by the University, while permission from the Library is not required, it is the responsibility of the researcher to determine whether any permissions related to copyright, privacy, publicity, or any other rights are necessary for their intended use of the Library's materials, and to obtain all required permissions from any existing rights holders, if they have not already done so. Princeton University Library's Special Collections does not charge any permission or use fees for the publication of images of materials from our collections, nor does it require researchers to obtain its permission for said use. The department does request that its collections be properly cited and images credited. More detailed information can be found on the Copyright, Credit and Citations Guidelines page on our website. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us through the Ask Us! form.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

For preservation reasons, original analog and digital media may not be read or played back in the reading room. Users may visually inspect physical media but may not remove it from its enclosure. All analog audiovisual media must be digitized to preservation-quality standards prior to use. Audiovisual digitization requests are processed by an approved third-party vendor. Please note, the transfer time required can be as little as several weeks to as long as several months and there may be financial costs associated with the process. Requests should be directed through the Ask Us Form.

Series 4: Audiovisual Materials contains microfilm, lantern slide plates, 35mm film, DVCAM, Betacam, and VHS recordings. This collection contains records created and used on computing devices. Researchers are responsible for meeting the technical requirements needed to access these materials, including any and all hardware and software.

Credit this material:

School of Engineering and Applied Science Records; Princeton University Archives, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Permanent URL:
Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library
Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library
65 Olden Street
Princeton, NJ 08540, USA
(609) 258-6345
Storage Note:
  • Mudd Manuscript Library (scamudd): Box 1-192

Find More

Related Materials

The University Archives has within its holdings many collections which relate to the School of Engineering and Applied Science. These include but are not limited to: Historical Subject Files (AC109), the Historical Photograph Collection: Campus Life Series (AC119), the Office of the President Records (AC117, AC264, AC193, and AC187), the Office of the Dean of the Faculty Records (AC118), the Cyrus Fogg Brackett Lectureship Records (AC188) and the personal papers of professors Steve M. Slaby (AC027) and Arthur M. Greene (CO434).

Other Finding Aids

Full text searching of the Undergraduate Student Government archived website is available through the ArchiveIt interface.


A History of the Engineering School of Princeton University 1875-1955 by Kenneth H. Condit, An Account of the School of Engineering and Applied Science 1954-1971 by Joseph C. Elgin and Engineering Plus by Arthur Maurice Greene, Jr. were consulted during preparation of the Historical Note. Additional information was taken from select articles found in the Daily Princetonian and the Princeton Alumni Weekly as well as the newsletters of the Princeton Engineering Association.

Subject Terms:
Engineering - Study and teaching (graduate) - New Jersey - Princeton.
Engineering -- Study and teaching -- New Jersey - Princeton.
Universities and colleges -- New Jersey -- Princeton -- Departments.
Genre Terms:
Born digital.
Web sites.
Cyrus Fogg Brackett lectures
United States
Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Laboratory
Princeton University
Condit, Kenneth H.
Elgin, Joseph C.
Jahn, Robert G.
Kobayashi, Hisashi.