Veblens

Oswald Veblen was an internationally prominent mathematician who joined Princeton University in 1905 and played a central role in building the world renowned mathematics department of the 1930s. Veblen was a visionary who was instrumental in establishing the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, and in bringing Einstein and many other top scholars to town. He largely designed the original Fine Hall, an innovative academic building where Einstein first had an office.

During the Nazi rise, he found academic positions for German scientists in the States. A marksman from his early days in the midwest, Veblen also took the lead in improving ballistics calculations for the military during the world wars.  During World War II, he oversaw development of the pioneering ENIAC computer, and did much to encourage subsequent development of early computers by John von Neumann at the Institute.

A "woodchopping" professor who loved the woods, Veblen led the effort to acquire 600 acres of land for the Institute, laying the groundwork for the land's preservation decades later as the Institute Woods. On the other side of town, he and his wife Elizabeth acquired 95 acres of forest and farm field along the Princeton Ridge, which they later donated to Mercer County to form Herrontown Woods--Princeton's first nature preserve.

More information about his contributions to town, university, Institute, nation and world can be found at this link, and in this biographical sketch.

Veblen was the nephew of Thorstein Veblen, the famous economist and sociologist who wrote The Theory of the Leisure Class and coined the phrase "conspicuous consumption."

Elizabeth, who grew up in Yorkshire, England, instituted the tradition of afternoon tea in the mathematics department, and then later at the Institute, where it continues to be a daily ritual. A passage in A Beautiful Mind, describing post WW2 Princeton, suggests she was a central figure in Princeton social circles: "May Veblen, the wife of a wealthy Princeton mathematician, Oswald Veblen, could still identify by name every single family, white and black, well-to-do and of modest means, in every single house in town."

She was also an avid gardener, and with the help of long-time caretaker Max Latterman transformed the gardens around Veblen House into a landscape reminiscent of a Beatrix Potter storybook.

Her brother was Owen Richardson, who won the Nobel Prize for his work in physics.