Princeton's most famous and most enduring song, "Old Nassau," has been Princeton's alma mater since 1859. Its words were written that year by Harlan Page Peck, Class of 1862, who sent the lyrics to the Nassau Literary Magazine in 1859, winning the magazine's prize for the best college song. When an effort to sing it to the tune of "Auld Lang Syne" proved unsuccessful, Karl Langlotz, who taught German at Princeton and directed a choral group, wrote the music for it later in 1859.
There have been some changes in the words over the years.
- The opening line, originally "Tune every harp and every voice," became "Tune every heart and every voice" early in the 1890s.
- Peck wrote seven verses, but three — those about "virtue's amaranthine wreath," "a zeal beyond compare," "a flowery chaplet" — had dropped out of use by 1914.
- Once female students began matriculating, the final line of the chorus that had originally read, "Her sons shall give," became gender neutral in its current rendition, "Our hearts shall give." This official act of the Alumni Council took place in 1987, much to the confusion of thousands of Princetonians of both genders who had learned different lyrics. Fortunately, Princetonians of all stripes have now adapted.
A plaque in front of the house at 160 Mercer Street in Princeton commemorates Langlotz's composition of the music for "Old Nassau." The piano he used is now in Prospect House on the campus, and his violin can be found in the University Archives' Memorabilia Collection.