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A History of Princeton University Press

In 1905, when Woodrow Wilson was President of Princeton University, Whitney Darrow, a recent graduate, managed the University's Alumni Weekly. Because of production difficulties, Darrow saw the opportunity for an enterprising press that could assume the Weekly's printing. Charles Scribner, a trustee of the University and publisher of the distinguished New York publishing house, Charles Scribner's Sons, had been considering the need for a publishing company that would issue scholarly books not feasible for commercial firms. Darrow visited him in March 1905, armed with a letter of introduction and a brief proposal. Impressed by his visitor's pluck and the plan for a press established in the service of Princeton University that would gradually assume the role of publisher, Scribner gave him a check for $1,000. Darrow raised another $4,000 on the basis of Scribner's endorsement and bought Zapf Press, a local printing outfit. Princeton University Press thus began as a small printer in rented quarters above Marsh's drugstore on Nassau Street in Princeton, New Jersey. Charles Scribner later gave the Press its land, its building (designed by his brother-in-law, the architect Ernest Flagg, and modeled after the Plantin Museum in Belgium), and a generous endowment.

Unlike most university presses owned or financially supported by universities, Princeton University Press has always been privately owned and controlled. Initially established as a private corporation, it was reincorporated in 1910 as a non-profit company. Throughout its history, however, the Press has maintained a close relationship with the University: its five-member Editorial Board, which makes controlling decisions about which books will bear the Press's imprint, is appointed from the faculty by the President of the University and nine of the fifteen members on the Press's Board of Trustees must have a Princeton University connection.

Manuscripts are solicited by one of ten staff editors, referred to outside experts to be peer reviewed, and then passed to the Editorial Board for approval. The Press advertises every book bearing its imprint, sells foreign rights around the world, employs sales representatives in the U.S. and abroad, and warehouses books in New Jersey and England. Although the areas of publication have shifted and expanded over the years, the Press has hewn to its charter to make available books "for the promotion of education and scholarship," frequently publishing books whose scholarly importance exceeds their financial reward. In its first 25 years, the Press published nearly 400 books. In the 1950s, 45 new books were released each year. Today the Press publishes approximately 200 new books in hardcover each year and another 90 paperback reprints. The Press's publications range across more than 40 disciplines from art history to ornithology, political science to philosophy, and the Press now has more than 50 series.

From 1905 to 1917 when Whitney Darrow was director, the Press developed its printing facilities and began to publish books. Its first book, published in 1912, was a new edition of Lectures on Moral Philosophy by John Witherspoon, the 18th-century President of Princeton University's predecessor, the College of New Jersey. In 1914, when the Darwinian controversy was still alive, the Press published its first bestseller, Heredity and Environment by biologist E.G. Conklin. Particularly notable among the early books were those in the Princeton Monographs in Art and Archaeology series which developed from ties to the University's distinguished art department. The Press also published Theodore Roosevelt's National Strength and International Duty (1917), an intensely nationalistic declaration of the virtues of universal military training.

In the era from 1917 to 1938 when Paul G. Tomlinson was director, the Press built up its printing plant and published 261 books. These ranged from Wordsworth's French Daughter (1921) by George McLean Harper, which revealed the birth of the poet's illegitimate daughter, to The Meaning of Relativity (1922), Albert Einstein's first book published in the U.S. Edward S. Corwin's The Constitution and What It Means Today, first published in 1920, went through fifteen editions and was edited by Corwin's students after he died to reflect new Supreme Court decisions. In 1926, the Press issued Frederick Jameson's The American Revolution Considered as a Social Movement and Robert K. Root's monumental edition of Chaucer's greatest artistic achievement, Troilus and Criseyde. During this period, the Press also published Paul Elmer More's six-volume The Greek Tradition and laid the plans for the Princeton Mathematical Series.

Joseph Brandt, a Rhodes scholar from Oklahoma, was director of the Press from 1938 until 1941, when he left to become President of the University of Oklahoma. Brandt's emphasis on publishing heralded a turning point for the Press: during his tenure, publishing outpaced printing as the Press's primary activity and the Press made its first efforts to seek out manuscripts of scholarly importance. A 20-volume edition of America's Lost Plays and the important Annals of Mathematics Series were begun. In addition, the Press published its first novel_Harvey Smith's The Gang's All Here, an irreverent satire of college spirit by a longtime Princeton class secretary.

The Press's current sense of scholarly purpose derives in large measure from Datus C. Smith, Jr., director of the Press from 1942 until 1952. He created a publishing record and reputation for the Press and led the Press through its greatest period of growth, issuing 450 books and making the emerging field of international relations a major area of publication in the late 1940s. Among the many books of this era were Makers of Modern Strategy, edited by Edward Mead Earle, and the four-volume American Soldier series, a landmark publication in the social-psychological study of men at war. But the most significant military book of this period was Atomic Energy for Military Purposes by Henry DeWolf Smyth, the famous "Smyth Report" of the Manhattan Project. This book, described by Herb Bailey, then the Press's science editor, as "the literary beginning of the atomic age", became a bestseller with 130,000 copies in print. John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern's influential The Theory of Games and Economic Behavior, Walter Kaufmann's Nietzsche, Erwin Panofsky's Albrecht Durer, and Francis Fergusson's The Idea of a Theater were also published during this period. In 1950, in a ceremony at the Library of Congress led by President Truman, the Press published the first volume of The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, a tremendous project conceived by the man who became its first editor, Julian P. Boyd, which was both a stimulus to the formation of the National Historical Publications Commission and a model for future series of presidential papers.

After an interval under acting director Norvell B. Samuels, Herbert S. Bailey, Jr. became director of the Press in 1954 (at the age of 32, he was the youngest head of a major university press in the country). Over the next 32 years, the Press strengthened its publication program and courageously undertook a number of longterm, monumental projects, most notably The Papers of Woodrow Wilson (a 69- volume series, edited by Arthur Link, which was completed in 1993), The Writings of Henry D. Thoreau, and The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein.

In 1965, the Press built a new 55,000 square foot printing plant in Lawrenceville, modernized its offices, and launched a paperback publication program that has since become one of the largest among university presses. In 1969, the Bollingen Foundation gave the world- renowned Bollingen Series, established in 1941 by Paul Mellon and Mary Conover Mellon, to the Press with the responsibility for carrying forward its work in archaeology, ethnology, literary criticism, mythology, philosophy, psychology, religion, and related fields. The 100 numbered works in this series include The Collected Works of C.G. Jung (to date, the Press has sold more than one million copies of books by Jung, including paperbacks and excerpts from this series), The Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Collected Works of Paul Valery, and Works by St.-John Perse, the 1960 Nobel Laureate in poetry. Some of the individual titles include Kenneth Clark's The Nude; E.H. Gombrich's Art and Illusion; Aleksandr Pushkin's Eugene Onegin, translated and with commentary by Vladimir Nabokov; The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell (which has sold more than 750,000 copies to date); and the Wilhelm/Baynes translation of The I Ching, Or Book of Changes (which remains the Press's single bestselling book with more than 900,000 copies in print).

In 1986, Walter Lippincott succeeded Bailey as director of the Press. Since then, the Press has continued to expand its publication program and in 1993, sold its printing plant in order to focus exclusively on acquiring and publishing scholarly books. The Alumni Weekly also became an independent entity in 1990. The Complete Works of W.H. Auden, edited by Edward Mendelson, was launched in 1989. Other notable books during this period include Brian Boyd's two-volume biography of Vladimir Nabokov; Robert Putnam's Making Democracy Work; D.M. Kreps's A Course in Microeconomic Theory; Joseph Frank's monumental multi-volume biography of Dostoevsky; and The Nature of Space and Time by Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose.

Over the years, Princeton University Press has won many honors. In 1950, the Press received The Carey-Thomas Award of Publishers' Weekly for the initiation of The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. The Press received another Carey- Thomas Award in 1973 in recognition of the accomplishments of Bollingen Series and a third one in 1976 recognizing the Lockert Library of Poetry in Translation. Six Princeton University Press books have won Pulitzer Prizes: Russia Leaves the War (1957) by George F. Kennan, Banks and Politics in America From the Revolution to the Civil War (1958) by Bray Hammond, Between War and Peace (1961) by Herbert Feis, Washington, Village and Capital (1963) by Constance McLaughlin Green, The Greenback Era (1965) by Irwin Unger, and Machiavelli in Hell (1989) by Sebastian de Grazia. The Press won a National Book Award for Kennan's book, as well as for Anthony Kerrigan's translation of The Agony of Christianity and Essays on Faith by Miguel de Unamuno and Jackson Mathews's translation of Monsieur Teste by Paul Valery. Joseph Frank's Dostoevsky: The Years of Ordeal, 1850-1859 won a National Book Critics Circle Award in 1985. The History and Geography of Human Genes by Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, Paola Menozzi, and Alberto Piazza won the American Association of Publishers' R.R. Hawking Award in 1995 for the best scientific, technical, and medical book published in the United States. In addition, the Press has won five Bancroft Prizes for books by Kennan, Arthur S. Link, R.R. Palmer, and Felix S. Gilbert. The Press has also received many awards for excellence in design and printing, including 48 honors from the American Institute of Graphic Arts for books designed by P.J. Conkwright, the Press's chief designer and typographer from 1939 to 1970.

File created: April 9, 2002

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