Princeton Made Easy

Chatterbox has received a couple of e-mails pointing out that Albert Einstein never taught at Princeton University; he lived in Princeton, and worked in Princeton, but not at the university; rather, at the Institute for Advanced Study, which is not affiliated in any way with Princeton University. Close readers of this column will observe that Chatterbox never said Einstein taught at Princeton University . But Chatterbox will plead guilty to using the word “Princeton” sometimes to denote the university and sometimes to denote the place (though as you’ll see, even that gets pretty complicated pretty fast). Herewith, a primer on the various meanings of “Princeton,” offered in the hope that Chatterbox will never have to discuss this again:

Princeton University is a university, founded in Elizabeth, N.J. by Presbyterians in 1747 as the College of New Jersey. It was quickly relocated to Newark and finally to Princeton Borough in 1756, and was renamed Princeton University in 1896. Tiny, historic Princeton Borough (1.76 square miles; pop. 12,016), where most of the university remains today, is rimmed by the larger, more rural and exurban Princeton Township (16.25 square miles; pop. 13,198). These are two separate municipal entities, governed by two different mayors. (A few years back, Princeton Borough’s mayor was Barbara Boggs Sigmund, sister to Cokie Roberts and lobbyist Tommy Boggs, and daughter to former Louisiana Reps. Hale and Lindy Boggs.) Princeton Borough and Princeton Township share some functions, such as overseeing schools and parks and a public library, and every 10 years or so the two governments try to merge, which would seem to make a lot of sense. But it’s always voted down. If you take the Amtrak to “Princeton” it will drop you in Princeton Junction, which isn’t a city at all, but rather a post office address within West Windsor Township. You can take a “dinky” (i.e., little train) from Princeton Junction to Princeton Borough, passing through Princeton Township on the way. Or you can drive. If you take the Princeton exit off I-95, which is badly marked, you will find yourself almost immediately driving past an enormous gated campus with spectacular rolling greens and Gothic spires and you’ll think, “Ah, Princeton.” In fact, though, that’s Lawrenceville School, located in the town of Lawrenceville. It is the prep school that the fictional Dink Stover attended before he went to Yale. Princeton University is about five miles further up the road.

The Institute for Advanced Study is, if you are an academic, the closest thing to heaven on this sorry dirt pile we call planet earth. That’s because the professors there don’t have to do anything but think (though, according to the Institute’s web page, many teach “pro bono” at Princeton University). The Institute was founded in 1930 by Louis Bamberger, the department store magnate. It is located in Princeton Township, on a gorgeous campus that includes 500 acres of woods. The public is allowed to visit the Institute Woods, but is not permitted to poke its nose into Einstein’s former office, which is still in use (not by Einstein, of course).

The most powerful educational institution bearing a Princeton address is neither the Institute nor Princeton University. It’s the nonprofit Educational Testing Service, which is actually located in Lawrenceville. These are the people who develop and administer the SAT and Advanced Placement tests. Among their corporate nemeses is the Princeton Review, which tutors kids in order to boost their SAT scores. The Princeton Review is not headquartered in Princeton Borough, Township, or Junction. It was started up in a New York City apartment in 1981.

–Timothy Noah