As I was dutifully reading the little booklet on the history of IAS in my welcome pack, I discovered an interesting bit of historical detritus.
IAS started by the Bamberger family, who had gotten rich in department stores, and sold out to Macy the week before the 1929 stock market crash (!?!), and thus suddenly had piles of money to philanthropize with. They were talked into starting IAS instead of a medical school (it was pointed out that you can’t really start a medical school not attached to a university or a hospital, not to mention that requiring a lot more money than a bunch of mathematicians would), but even after this, the Bambergers really wanted to put IAS in or near Newark (their hometown).
Eventually, they were convinced that if it was going to be in New Jersey, it had to be in Princeton, since the scholars there would need access to the library of a large university.
I’m not sure whether this says more about the dependence of scholars in the pre-internet/cheap airfare days on libraries, or about the relative expense of a library in the 1930’s as compared to today, but it did strike me as an odd little bit of history. It’s a bit amusing to think how different IAS would be if it were in Newark.