Carl Campbell Brigham was born 4 May 1890 in Marlborough, Massachusetts to Charles Francis Brigham and Ida B. (Campbell) Brigham, the third of four children. His family has roots in early Massachusetts Bay Colony with ancestors that included Thomas Brigham (1603–1653) and Edmund Rice (1594–1663). Brigham earned all of his degrees (B.A., M.A. and Ph.D.) at Princeton University. He married Elizabeth G F Duffield on 10 Feb 1923 and they had a daughter, Elizabeth H. Brigham (b. 1926).
At the outbreak of World War I, Brigham joined the military and was commissioned as 1st Lieutenant in the Sanitary Corps, psychological service from October to December 1917 at Camp Dix. He was then assigned to the Surgeon General's office in Washington DC where he worked with Robert Yerkes to administer the army mental tests to US Army recruits. From January to March 1918 he was at Camps Meade, Lee, and Gordon to conduct psychological experiments. In April 1918, he was assigned to the Tank Corps, but he never served overseas.
After the war was over, Brigham joined Princeton as a faculty member in 1920 and began working on adapting the army mental tests for use in college admissions.
In 1923, Brigham published his influential book, A Study of American Intelligence. Analyzing the data from the World War I army mental tests, Brigham came to the conclusion that native born Americans had the highest intelligence out of the groups tested. He proclaimed the intellectual superiority of the "Nordic Race" and the inferiority of the "Alpine" (Eastern European), "Mediterranean," and "Negro" races and argued that immigration should be carefully controlled to safeguard the "American Intelligence." In one such summary statement, Brigham wrote:
The army mental tests had proven beyond any scientific doubt that, like the American Negroes, the Italians and the Jews were genetically ineducable. It would be a waste of good money even to attempt to try to give these born morons and imbeciles a good Anglo-Saxon education, let alone admit them into our fine medical, law, and engineering graduate schools.
By 1925, Brigham had devised his own college admissions test, known as the Princeton Test.
In 1926, Brigham created the SAT for College Board.
In his 1930 paper "Intelligence Tests of Immigrant Groups," Brigham recanted his 1923 analysis of the results of the Army Mental Tests. Due to having used prejudicial test administration and analytical techniques in his original research, he acknowledged that his conclusions were "without foundation" and stated "that study with its entire hypothetical superstructure of racial differences collapses completely." Nevertheless, it had already been instrumental in fueling anti-immigrant sentiment in America and in the eugenics debate. It was used effectively by Harry Laughlin in the 1924 congressional debates leading to anti-immigrant legislation.
Brigham died January 24, 1943 in Princeton, New Jersey.