Rowing, begun as an undergraduate sport at Yale and Harvard in the 1840s, developed more slowly at Princeton, which was less well endowed by nature for aquatic sports. Lamenting the absence of this strong deterrent to dissipation (``boating and spreeing are, physically at least, incompatible''), the senior editors of the Nassau Literary Magazine in their last issue in 1860 suggested the possibility of rowing on the Delaware and Raritan Canal; they thought the canal no less serviceable than the ``diminutive Cam'' of Cambridge University, whose rowers were then the champions of England, and urged ``the men of '61'' to pursue this matter the following year ``with class spirit and enterprise.''

The outbreak of the Civil War prevented the Class of 1861 from acting on this suggestion, and it was not until 1870 that half a dozen undergraduates began a ``navy'' at Princeton. ``Uniting their purses as well as their purposes,'' an undergraduate observer recorded, they bought from Yale two old six-oared gigs, which proved to be ``respectable imitations of Noah's Ark.'' One gig sank to the bottom of the canal the first time it was taken out, but the other proved buoyant, and in it the crew ``learned to feather an oar, sit in a boat fairly, and judiciously expend their strength on the stroke.''

Later, the Princeton Boating Club was organized, and gradually more equipment was secured: a six-oared shell, a four-oared shell, a barge for practice, and, in 1874, a boathouse on the canal. The same year Princeton and Wesleyan were admitted to membership in the Rowing Association of American Colleges, despite the objection of Amherst ``that a line must be drawn somewhere.'' That summer Princeton entered freshman and varsity crews in the association's annual intercollegiate regatta at Saratoga. In the first event, the Class of 1877 crew got off to a very bad start, but by determined effort made up the lost distance and, with a magnificent spurt toward the end of the three-mile course, finished ahead of the Yale and Brown freshmen, the only other entrants, thus giving Princeton a victory in its first intercollegiate race. Elated members of the Class of 1877 held a victory celebration in the College gymnasium, where the crew's oars stood crossed and beribboned on the platform and their shell hung from the rafters. Each of the six oarsmen was given a ten-inch silver loving cup, lined with gold.

Princeton s first intercollegiate victory proved to be its last in the nineteenth century. During the dozen years, 1872 to 1884, that the Boating Club survived, the varsity came in last in most of its races -- in six-oared boats at Saratoga, in four-oared shells on the Schuylkill River at Philadelphia in competition for the Childs Cup, begun in 1879. The chief reason for Princeton's lack of success was the inadequacy of the Delaware and Raritan Canal as a place for practice. In comparing the canal with the Cam, the 1860 Nassau Lit had overlooked one important difference: the steady stream of commercial traffic on the canal. In those days the canal was crowded with boats, some propelled by steam, others drawn by mules on the towpath. Passing them on half-oar was difficult and dangerous, and an arduous job for the bow oar who served as coxswain, steering with his right foot as he rowed.

Several alumni who rowed on the canal in the 1870s dreamed of securing a lake for Princeton rowing. One of them, Howard Russell Butler 1876, persuaded Andrew Carnegie to build such a lake, and Lake Carnegie was dedicated in 1906.

For the first few years after the lake was completed, competitive rowing was limited to interclass races under the supervision of Constance J. Titus, a former United States single sculls champion.

In 1909 a group of oarsmen, led by Norman Armour '09, then crew captain and later a career ambassador, asked J. Duncan Spaeth, Professor of English, who had been captain of the University of Pennsylvania crew in 1888, to help develop a varsity boat for intercollegiate competition. Professor Spaeth agreed.

``I thought it was to be a temporary affair,'' Spaeth later recalled, ``but found myself in the position of a spectator at a fire who catches a baby thrown out of a window and can discover no one who will claim it. `It's yours,' the crowd says.''

Spaeth served as amateur rowing coach through 1925. Under his guidance Princeton committed itself to the idea of short races, ranging from the Henley distance of a mile and five-sixteenths to two miles, rowed exclusively on college water in contrast to the four-mile races at Poughkeepsie and New London.

In 1911 Princeton celebrated its return to intercollegiate rowing with a triangular regatta on Lake Carnegie in which it finished two lengths behind Cornell (the Poughkeepsie champions) and nine lengths ahead of Yale. This creditable performance helped stimulate the Class of 1887 to give a boathouse the following year. The 1913 varsity scored the University's first major victory by winning from Harvard and Penn on the Charles River. The 1916 varsity defeated Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Navy, and Pennsylvania, losing only to Cornell by the length of the forward deck.


Spaeth's greatest crew was the 1921 eight, stroked by Phi Beta Kappa oarsman Heinie Leh. It emerged from obscurity -- most of its members had been junior varsity oarsmen the year before -- to defeat every crew it met: Navy, Harvard, Cornell, Yale, and California. It rowed its fastest race against California, that year's Pacific Coast champion, setting a record (8:53.8) for the Lake Carnegie upstream course of 1 7/8 miles. But its most spectacular victory was in the triangular regatta with Navy and Harvard in which Leh stroked the Princeton crew to a four-length victory over Harvard, and a half-length victory over Navy, the previous year's Olympic champions and afterward winner of the regatta at Poughkeepsie. Some of the excitement of this event was conveyed in the Alumni Weekly's eyewitness account by Dr. Spaeth, who watched from the car of Trustee Henry B. Thompson 1877 as it followed the course of the race, moving along the towpath between the lake and the canal. Harvard got off first, Navy second, Princeton last. But before the half-mile mark was reached, Princeton had pulled ahead and was still leading by ten feet as the crews passed the mile flag.

``But about 200 yards beyond the mile mark [Spaeth recounted], Leh lost his oar-handle just as he was getting ready to answer Navy's last desperate challenge for the lead. For two . . . [beats] the Princeton crew was without a stroke, and the Navy shell in a flash shot into a lead of half a length. Brigham at 7 heroically stroked the crew until Leh recovered his oar, and then . . . the plucky Princeton stroke dug in again at a raised beat. In a long, hard mile and a quarter by desperate meeting of every Navy spurt he had managed to pull out a lead of ten feet. And now in less than five seconds Navy had gained half a length. But instead of discouraging Leh, it seemed to rouse him and his crew. Before the mile-and-a-half mark was reached the lost half-length was regained, and the blue flag of the Navy and the white flag of Princeton dropped simultaneously.

``Into the last stretch the two leaders shot, prow and prow alternating by inches. `Will they last?' called out Mr. Thompson. `They'll last,' I said, `but I wish they had stored up for the last twenty strokes the power that went into regaining the lost lead a minute ago.'

``Twenty more strokes to go and still even! Then the emergency signal came and was answered; up went the stroke for the final dash and on the second stroke of that final spurt I whispered to Mr. Thompson, `We've got 'em!' Stroke by stroke we went ahead; the time interval at the finish between Princeton and Navy was 2 4/5 seconds. Four seconds make a length on Lake Carnegie. And that decisive lead was gained in the last twenty strokes!''

Charles P. Logg, former University of Washington oarsman, was varsity coach from 1925 to 1931. His 1927 crew, five of whom were sophomores, was the first Princeton crew to win both the Childs Cup (from Penn and Columbia) and the Carnegie Cup (from Cornell and Yale), which was given by Andrew Carnegie's widow in 1920.


Meantime Gordon G. Sikes '16, a member of the University administration who had been coxswain of Spaeth's 1916 varsity crew, introduced 150-pound rowing at Princeton in 1920, serving, like his mentor, as an amateur coach. Two of his crews, the 1926 eight and the 1930 eight won the Joseph Wright Challenge Cup (named for the Pennsylvania coach who initiated lightweight rowing in the United States) in the annual regatta of the American Rowing Association, thus earning the lightweight championship of the East. The 1930 crew competed for the Thames Challenge Cup in the English Henley, winning two races before it was eliminated.

In 1931, when Sikes succeeded Logg as varsity heavyweight coach, the University's Presbyterian chaplain, Wilhemus B. Bryan '20, began his eight years as amateur coach of the fifties. Both his 1933 and 1935 crews won the Goldthwait Cup from Harvard and Yale, and the Joseph Wright Cup in the American Henley on the Schuylkill. The 1933 crew made an unsuccessful bid for the Thames Challenge Cup in the English Henley.

Delos C. (``Dutch'') Shoch, former University of Washington oarsman, coached the lightweight crew in 1939 and 1940, James A. Rathschmidt in 1941 and 1942. After losing to Pennsylvania and Harvard early in the season, the 1942 eight outrowed them and all the other competitors for the Wright Cup over the Henley distance on Lake Carnegie, lowering the course lightweight record by almost six seconds.

After the Second World War, Gordon Sikes returned to his first love, coaching the fifties in 1946 and 1947. Later, some of the oarsmen who had rowed under him in the 1920s, in tribute to his ``courage, enthusiasm, and devotion to Princeton,'' founded the Gordon Sikes Medal, awarded annually to the outstanding senior lightweight oarsman.

The decade 1948 through 1957 was a golden age for lightweight rowing at Princeton. The 1948 crew, coached by Davis Spencer '45, won the Joseph Wright Cup in the American Henley and the Thames Challenge Cup at the Henley Royal Regatta -- the first Princeton crew to win in this ancient British tournament. The 1949 eight, coached by Charles von Wrangell, won the Goldthwait Cup from Harvard and Yale and, although twice defeated in other races in this country, performed superbly in the British Henley Regatta, twice equaling the record for the course, to retain the Thames Challenge Cup for Princeton.

In five successive years from 1953 through 1957, Princeton won the Goldthwait Cup from Harvard and Yale and in 1953, 1956, and 1957, also won the Joseph Wright Cup for the eastern sprint championship. The 1953 crew, coached by Arthur Sueltz, pared three-tenths of a second off the record for the Wright Cup race, and lost the final for the Thames Challenge Cup after breaking the English Henley course record by six seconds in one of its preliminary races. Coach Donald Rose's undefeated 1956 eight, which twice broke the Lake Carnegie course record for the Henley distance, and his undefeated 1957 eight, which lowered a sixteen-year-old Charles River course record by nearly nine seconds, became the third and fourth Princeton winners of the Thames Challenge Cup.


Gordon Sikes's 1933 and 1934 varsity heavyweight crews, both stroked by Aikman Armstrong '34 (another Phi Beta Kappa oarsman), defeated Harvard and M.I.T. for the newly instituted Karl Taylor Compton Cup, presented by the former Princeton physicist who had become president of M.I.T., and they also outrowed Navy, Columbia, Pennsylvania, and Cornell -- losing both seasons only to Yale, unofficial Eastern sprint champion. The 1934 eight competed for the Grand Challenge Cup in the Royal Henley Regatta in England and, in its second round, forced Leander, premier rowing club of England, to set a new course record to win.

Fred Spuhn succeeded Sikes as varsity heavyweight coach, serving from 1938 to 1942. His 1939 and 1941 crews won the historic Childs Cup, and although the 1942 crew lost it to Penn by four feet, they went on to score an upset victory over Yale and Cornell for the Carnegie Cup.

Dutch Schoch was heavyweight coach from 1946 to 1965. After achieving only moderate success in the regular season, his 1948 crew rowed its way into the finals of the Olympic tryouts and placed second to California. Winners of both the Carnegie and the Childs Cups, the 1949 eight set a new record for the Lake Carnegie downstream course of 1 3/4 miles. The 1952 crew finished second to Navy in both the Intercollegiates and the Olympic trials. The 1956 crew not only won the Childs Cup, but took the Compton Cup with the best time recorded since it was first placed in competition in 1933.

Peter W. Sparhawk, stroke of Cornell crews in the early 1950s, became Varsity heavyweight coach in 1966. His 1968 crew was the first since 1952 to win the Carnegie Cup from Yale and Cornell, setting an example for the 1969 and 1970 crews, who made it three in a row.


The seventies brought new vitality to Princeton's century-old rowing tradition. Thanks to gifts from some 300 crew alumni and other friends, a long-awaited year-round training facility became available in 1972 with the dedication of an enclosed rowing tank, built next to the boathouse. A year later, the men's lightweight crew, coached by Gary Kilpatrick, capped an undefeated season by winning the Thames Challenge Cup; at Syracuse the previous summer, five of its members had won the national championship for freshmen four-oared crew with coxswain. In 1976, the men's heavyweight crew, coached by Peter Sparhawk, edged out Wisconsin for second place in the Intercollegiate Rowing Association's annual regatta for the national championship, won by California.

These years also brought exciting achievements, both here and abroad, by the newest arrivals at the Class of 1887 Boathouse. In 1972, the first women's crew ever to represent Princeton won the Eastern Intercollegiate Regatta, shaving nine seconds off the national women's record, and their captain, Amy Richlin '73, became one of the first women to wear the white sweater with black ``P,'' traditionally awarded captains of championship teams. Undefeated in dual meets, the 1973 women's varsity placed third in the national women's rowing championships.

In 1974, Carol Brown '75 and Janet Youngholm '75 won the national Collegiate title for women's pairs without coxswain, and at the world championships in Lucerne, Switzerland, finished a length ahead of a strong Soviet pair on their way to the finals, where they ranked as fifth best in the world. Carol Brown also won a silver medal at Nottingham, England, in 1975 and a bronze medal at the Montreal Olympics a year later.

From Alexander Leitch, A Princeton Companion, copyright Princeton University Press (1978).

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