About Lewis Mumford

Urban planner, historian, sociologist, local advocate, and architectural critic, widely recognized as one of the greatest urbanists of the 20th Century

Lewis Mumford

A lifelong opponent of large-scale public works, much of his writings concern the effect of buildings on the human condition and the environment.  Most notable of such works was The City in History, which received the National Book Award in 1961.  Mumford taught at a number of prestigious universities, and served for over 30 years as architectural critic for the New Yorker.  In his later years, he was awarded several distinguished honors, including the United States Medal of Freedom and Knight of the Order of the British Empire. 

Born in Flushing, NY,  on October 19, 1895, Mumford was introduced to nearly every part of Manhattan on weekend walks with his German grandfather. By the time he was 20, he was systematically exploring the City on foot, making notes on its neighborhood life, studying its buildings, bridges, and street plans, and taking specimens for an amateur geological survey of Manhattan.  He studied at City College, Columbia University, and the New School, concentrating on subjects that interested him rather than those required for a degree. 

Mumford published his first book, The Study of Utopia, in 1922 and became the editor of The American Caravan in 1927.  During those years, he co-founded the Regional Planning Association of America.  By the 1950s, he was battling with Robert Moses over plans to put a roadway through Washington Square Park, and other massive urban renewal projects he feared would destroy the quality of the City. 

Lewis Mumford with son

A lifelong humanitarian and advocate, Mumford believed in speaking out against social injustices.  In his New Republic article, "Call to Arms" (1938), and his books Men Must Act (1939) and Faith for Living (1940), Mumford urged the United States to pledge its help to other democracies in repelling attacks by totalitarian powers.  After the Second World War, in which his son was killed, Mumford spoke out against the atomic bomb at Stanford University, North Carolina State University, and the University of Pennsylvania. He gave the Bampton Lectures at Columbia University in 1951.  In the early 1960s, Mumford protested against U.S. involvement in Vietnam, and testified before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on the negative impacts of urban renewal. 

Among his tremendous achievements, Mumford was instrumental in preparing planning reports for cities and towns from Honolulu to Oxford, England.  He died at his home in Amenia, New York, on January 26, 1990. The University of Pennsylvania Library's Lewis Mumford Collection is the official keeper of his letters and papers, and it maintains a website that includes a bibliography of Mumford's writings as well as a listing of other major repositories of Mumford materials. 


Chronology of Mumford's Life
  • 1895  Born October 19 in Flushing, New York.
  • 1909  Enters Stuyvesant High School to prepare to become an engineer.
  • 1912  Decides to become a writer; enrolls in City College of New York.
  • 1915 Discovers writings of Patrick Geddes, his mentor; become a student of the city and surveys New York Regional on foot.
  • 1918  Joins U.S. Navy.
  • 1919  Mustered out of the navy; joins staff of The Dial and meets Sophia Wittenberg, his future wife.
  • 1920  Moves to London to become editor of the Sociological Review; returns to New York and writes for The Freeman.
  • 1921  Marries Sophia Wittenberg.
  • 1922  Published The Story of Utopias while living in Greenwich Village; moves to Brooklyn Heights.
  • 1923  Co-founded of the Regional Planning Association of American (RPAA); helps RPAA plan Sunnyside Gardens, Queens.
  • 1924  Publishes Sticks and Stones, his first book on architecture.
  • 1925  Son Geddes born on July 5; lectures in Geneva and visits Patrick Geddes in Edinburgh; moves to Sunnyside Gardens.
  • 1926  First summer in Amenia, New York; publishes The Golden Day; helps found The American Caravan.
  • 1927  After visit to Chicago writes essays rediscovering the Chicago School of architecture.
  • 1928  Helps RPAA plan Radburn, in Fair Lawn, New Jersey.
  • 1929  Publishes Herman Melville; begins part-time visiting professorship at Dartmouth College.
  • 1931  Publishes The Brown Decades; joins The New Yorker staff -- writes "The Sky Line" and "The Art Galleries" columns.
  • 1932  Begins research in Europe for Renewal of Life series.
  • 1934  Publishes Technics and Civilization; appointed to New York City Board of Higher Education.
  • 1935  Daughter Alison born on April 28.
  • 1936  Moves to Amenia, New York.
  • 1938  Publishes The Culture of Cities; prepares planning reports for city of Honolulu and for the Pacific Northwest Regional  Planning Commission; writes screenplay for The City; intense involvement in battle against American neutrality.
  • 1939  Publishes Men Must Act.
  • 1940  Publishes Faith  for Living; joins Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies.
  • 1941  Ends friendship with Frank Lloyd Wright and others over issue of American neutrality.
  • 1942  Moves to California to join faculty of Stanford University -- helps design new humanities program.
  • 1944  Resigns from Stanford and returns to Amenia; publishes The Condition of Man; son Geddes killed in combat in Italy on September 13.
  • 1945  Moves to Hanover, New Hampshire, to be near close friends.
  • 1946  Visits England to advise on postwar urban planning; publishes Values for Survival.
  • 1947  Publishes Green Memories, a biography of his son; begins campaign against use and development of the atomic bomb.
  • 1948  Moves back to New York City for four years; battle with Robert Moses over Stuyvesant Town.
  • 1951  Beginning of ten-year association with University of Pennsylvania as a visiting professor; publishes The Conduct of Life, final volume of Renewal of Life series.
  • 1952  Publishes Art and Technics.
  • 1956  Publishes The Transformations of Man.
  • 1957  Research trip to Europe for his history of the city; begins visiting professorship at MIT.
  • 1958  Leads compaign against Robert Moses's plan to build roadway through Washington Square Park in New York City.
  • 1961  Publishes The City in History -- wins National Book Award; visiting professor at University of California, Berkeley.
  • 1962  Returns to Amernia to work on autobiography and write a two-volume history of technology and human development.
  • 1963  Stops writing "The Sky Line" column for The New Yorker.
  • 1964  Drafts city plan for Oxford, England; awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
  • 1965  Protests U.S. involvement in Vietnam.
  • 1967  Testifies before U.S. Senate subcommittee on urban renewal; publishes The Myth of the Machine: I. Technics and Human Development.
  • 1968  Supports Eugene McCarthy's bid for presidential nomination; publishes The Urban Prospect.
  • 1970  Publishes The Myth of the Machine: II: The Pentagon of Power.
  • 1972 Awarded the National Medal for Literature; publishes Interpretations and Forecasts.
  • 1975  Made honorary Knight Commander of the British Empire; publishes Findings and Keepings.
  • 1976  Went to Paris to accept Prix Mondial del Duca for lifetime contributions to letters.
  • 1978  Begins uncompleted history of human evolution, his final literary project.
  • 1979  Publishes My Works and Days; breaks with his publishers, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
  • 1982  Publishes autobiography, Sketches from Life -- nominated for American Book Award.
  • 1986  Awarded the National Medal of Arts.
  • 1990  Died in Amenia, New York on January 26 at the age of 94.
Selected Works of Lewis Mumford
  • Apology to Henry Adams. Virginia Quarterly Review XXXVIII (Spring 1962); 196-217.
  • Art and Technics. New York: Columbia UP, 1952
  • Authoritarian and Democratic Technics. Technology and Culture V (Winter 1964); 1-8.
  • [Book Burning Night in Germany] The Jewish Daily Bulletin (New York, May 14, 1933): 5.
  • The Brown Decades: A Study of the Arts in America, 1885-1895. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1932.
  • Call to Arms. The New Republic XCV (May 18, 1938): 39-42.
  • The Case against 'Modern Architecture.' Architectural Record CXXXI (April 1962): 155-62.
  • The City. Harold S. Stearns, ed. Civilization in the United States: An Inquiry by Thirty Americans. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1922: 3-20.
  • City Development: Studies in Disintegration and Renewal. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1945.
  • The City in History: Its Origins, Its Transformations, and Its Prospects. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1961.
  • The Condition of Man. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1944.
  • The Conduct of Life. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1951.
  • The Corruption of Liberalism. The New Republic CII (April 29, 1940): 568-73.
  • The Culture of Cities. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1938.
  • If I Were a Dictator. The Nation (December 9, 1931): 631-33.
  • The Disappearing City. Architectural Record CXXXII (October 1962): 121-28.
  • Faith for Living. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1940.
  • Findings and Keepings: Analects for an Autobiography. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975.
  • Gentlemen: You Are Mad! Saturday Review of Literature XXIX (March 2, 1946): 5-6.
  • The Golden Day: A Study in American Experience and Culture. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1926.
  • Interpretations and Forecasts Nineteen Twenty-Two to Nineteen Seventy-Two: Studies in Literature, History, Biography, Technics and Contemporary Society. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979.
  • A Letter to a German Professor. The Saturday Review of Literature (January 19, 1946): 5-6.
  • A Letter to a German Writer. The Saturday Reivew of Literature (December 8, 1945): 7-9.
  • The Lewis Mumford Reader. Donald L. Miller, ed. New York: Pantheon Books, 1986.
  • Men Must Act. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1939.
  • The Myth of the Machine, 2 vols. Vol. I., Technics and Human Development. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1967; Vol. II., The Pentagon of Power. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1970.
  • In the Name of Sanity. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1954.
  • Notes on Germany. The New Republic LXXII (October 26, 1932): 279-81.
  • Policy on Bomb Examined. The New York Times (March 28, 1954), IV: 10.
  • Prelude to the Present. The New York Herald Tribune Books (January 11, 1931): 1+.
  • Sketches from Life: The Autobiography of Lewis Mumford. New York: Dial P, 1982.
  • Sticks and Stones: A Study of American Architecture and Civilization. New York: Boni and Liveright, 1924.
  • The Story of Utopias. New York: Boni and Liveright, 1922.
  • Technics and Civilization. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1934.
  • Towards an Organic Humanism. C. Hartley Grattan, ed. The Critique of Humanism. New York: Brewer and Warren, 1930. 337-59.
  • The Transformations of Man. New York: Harper and Row, 1956.
  • The Urban Prospect. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1968.
  • The Values for Survival: Essays, Addresses, and Letters on Politics and Education. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1946.
  • My Works and Days: A Personal Chronicle. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979.
Other Mumford Websites

Monmouth University Library -- Lewis Mumford Collection - Sponsored by Monmouth University, this web site is dedicated entirely to the works of Lewis Mumford. It includes biographical information, and Mumford's private library and art collections.

Creative Quotations - This site includes numerous creative quotes by Mumford.

A Bibliography of Lewis Mumford - A complete record of the work of Lewis Mumford in all its published forms, e.g., books and pamphlets, letters to the editor, book reviews ... Edited by S. Newman, revised edition edited by R. Wojtowicz december 2000.

A Brief Biography of Lewis Mumford (1895-1990) The biography and all the books listed chronologically by Eugene Halton

The City": significant sequences and the main passages from Lewis Mumford's commentary Made in New York and sponsored by the American Institute of Planners, "The City" was intended for screening at the 1939 New York World Fair. The presentation and a video abstract from planum's section "archive/movies"