One of the greatest minds of our time came with a number of peculiarities and behavior that people of his time deemed “eccentric”. He was a kind, but passionate man, with numerous talents and a great love of life. At the same time, he was a very hard man to live with, and his devotion to his science often left his love life in shambles.
A celebrity, an activist, a scientist, a friend, he was many things to a huge number of people in the tumultuous time of the past mid-century.
One thing is certain:
This amazing character has reshaped modern science, and will always be known by his characteristic wild hair, and fun-loving, eccentric behavior.
Here are some amazing and little-known facts about one of the greatest minds of our time:
The early life
1. Einstein was born in 1879 in Germany, in the town of Ulm. However, besides Germany, he lived in Switzerland, Italy and the US. He died on April 18, 1955, in Princeton, New Jersey.
This is Einstein at home in Princeton with a group of Jewish refugee children, 1941.Image via Albert Einstein Archives / Princeton University Press
2. While he was German by birth, he changed his citizenship to Swiss in order to avoid military service. Later on, when he moved to the United States, he gained the US citizenship. He was defined as stateless for a few years, between his German and Swiss citizenships.
3. Einstein had speech difficulties when he was young, and he didn’t speak until he was three years old. Nowadays there is a term “Einstein Syndrome”, coined by Dr. Thomas Sowell, which describes exceptionally bright people, who developed their ability to speak at later time than usual.
4. Einstein’s father and uncle owned a company that made electric equipment that used direct electric current. With the advent of AC, the major contract to supply city of Munich with power fell through and Herman Einstein (Albert’s father) had to move to Italy. Albert stayed in Munich to finish his schooling, though.
5. Although his family were Ashkenazi Jews, Albert spent 3 years in a Catholic elementary school in Munich, from the age of 5. After that, he transferred to the Luitpold Gymnasium, which now bears his name – the Albert Einstein Gymnasium.
6. His father wanted him to study electrical engineering after he finished his primary education, but Albert clashed with authorities during his time in the Gymnasium.
In 1894 he dropped out from the Luitpold after seven years in school in order to avoid the military draft, by using a doctor’s note that claimed nervous exhaustion.
7. His father and family were already in Italy at the time, so he joined them there. During his stay there, he wrote his first scientific essay titled “On the Investigation of the State of the Ether in a Magnetic Field”, at the unbelievable age of 15. The ether mention there is a concept that was later thrown away in favor of the theory of relativity, the brainchild of Einstein himself.
8. Contrary to the popular belief he was good at math. After a year spent in Italy, he applied to the Swiss Federal Polytechnic in Zurich, where he failed the entrance examination.
9. While he excelled in physics and mathematics part of the exam, he failed to meet necessary requirement in the general part, which included subjects like history, languages, and so on. He did get into the school on his second try, next year.
10. Einstein was a good violin player. In fact, in the later years, when he had become famous, he would often perform with famous musicians for benefit concerts.
Music was one of his biggest loves, and he could often be heard saying that “Life without playing music is inconceivable for me,”.
Image via th.physik.uni-frankfurt.de/~jr/physpiceinstein.html
11. His music side comes from his mother, Pauline Koch Einstein, an accomplished pianist. She first taught him to play piano, but he discovered his love for violin at the age of thirteen, and never looked back. It is almost certain that, if he wasn’t a scientist, he would have been a musician.
12. He had a younger sister, Maria “Maja” Einstein, who was two years younger than Albert. She studied Romance languages and graduated at the University of Bern, and later moved to Italy. When the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini introduced anti-Semitic laws prior to the World War 2, she moved to Princeton, USA, where she lived with Albert.
13. He was married twice. His first wife was a Serbian physicist Mileva Marić, which he met during his studies in Switzerland and married in 1903. There is a myth that she was behind most of the math in Einstein’s papers, during their marriage, but most historians and experts believe that’s not true.
14. He had three children with her. His first was an illegitimate daughter, Lieserl, born in 1902. Her fate is unknown. His first son, Hans Albert, became a fairly established engineer in his own right, and his second son, Eduard, was studying medicine, but suffered from schizophrenia and was hospitalized full time in 1948, after his mother’s death.
15. Einstein was a bad husband. He was often demeaning to his wife, and expected her to be like a servant to him. After their marriage, Marić suffered a nervous breakdown, and Einstein pledged most of his Nobel Prize money as child support to Mileva.
16. His second marriage was to his first cousin Elsa Löwenthal. He married her in 1919, the same year he divorced his first wife, but Elsa and Einstein were seeing each other even before his divorce in secret, for more than seven years.
Albert Einstein Archives / Princeton University Press
17. Surprisingly, he was a notorious playboy. Even during his second marriage there is evidence that he was seeing 6 other women during that period, based on his letters. He also had a childhood sweetheart, Marie Winteler, with whom he corresponded during his first marriage.
18. His second marriage was more successful (although that is debatable, considering his affairs) – He was married to Elsa, until her death in 1935. They didn’t have children.
The academic success
19. Einstein started working in swiss patent office, after his graduation from the school of polytechnic in 1900. He was working as an assistant examiner and he mostly examined patents that had something to do with electronics and electrical signals – topics that turned out to be foundation for most of his most important future works.
Einstein is having a picnic in the woods near Oslo, 1920.Image via Albert Einstein Archives / Princeton University Press
20. He got a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921, for the discovery of the photoelectric effect. His work on the theory of relativity was still considered controversial at the time, and its significance will become apparent a few years later.
21. The photoelectric effect is a phenomenon where a material emits electrons when someone shines the light on it. The importance for physics was huge, as it was the first time that that someone described photons, which in turn means it is the cornerstone of the quantum theory.
22. Curiously, the citation for this work in regards to the Nobel prize stated only the discovery of the law, not its explanation. This is because the idea of photons, tiny, subatomic, packets of light that act as both the particle and wave, was considered outlandish by other academics at the time.
23. Almost all of his important work was published in a single year: 1905, which is also known as the miracle year in Einstein’s life. During this year he published four papers, all of which would go on to significantly change physics in different ways.
24. The Einstein Annus mirabilis (miracle year) papers of 1905 tackled quantum theory (based on his discoveries regarding the photoelectric effect), Brownian motion (chaotic motion of microscopic particles – this is the paper that proved the existence of atoms), special theory of relativity, and the electrodynamics paper that discussed the connection between mass and energy (the paper that gave birth to the most famous equation in the world, E = mc2 )
25. To give you a better scale of this accomplishment: At the time when he published the four papers, he was only 26, and working at the Swiss patent office. In the summer of that same year, he finished his Ph.D. thesis.
26. During his career, he was a professor and a lecturer at a huge number of universities: University of Bern, Charles-Ferdinand University in Prague, Humboldt University of Berlin, California Institute of Technology, and he held numerous guest lectures all over the world.
27. Besides Nobel prize, he was awarded numerous prestigious awards and titles. He was named Time’s person of the century, he received a Copley medal given for “outstanding achievements in research in any branch of science,” by the Royal Society in London.
28. Einstein was also a recipient of the Max Planck medal by the German science society, and Franklin Medal by the Franklin Institute. There is also the Einstein Memorial in the Washington D.C., Einstein Science Park in Germany, and he was inducted into the German Walhalla temple for “laudable and distinguished Germans” in 1990.
29. Besides all the awards and accolades, he also has a chemical element named in his honor. After his death in 1955, a recently discovered element with the atomic number 99 was named Einsteinium.
30. During his illustrious scientific career, Einstein was an extremely prolific writer. He published more than 300 scientific papers, and over 150 non-scientific articles and other works. His total opus consisted of more than 30 000 individual documents, as was established after the release of his works by the Universities in 2015.
31. Einstein believed that his General Theory of Relativity was his masterwork. He published it in 1915, almost 250 years after the previous theory of gravity was published (Sir Isaac Newton published his theory of Gravity in 1667).
The social success, activism, and cultural impact
32. He liked to travel, and traveled both to Asia and North America during 1920-1921. He first visited New York City on 2 April 1921, where he held guest lectures for several weeks. He received an official welcome by the NYC Mayor himself, and attended numerous receptions.
33. He delivered lectures at prestigious universities, such as Columbia University and Princeton University, but he also had a chance to visit the White House, in the company of representatives of the National Academy of Science.
34. After his visit he fell in love with the entrepreneurial spirit of the Americans. He was pleasantly surprised with the American character, and even wrote a paper titled “My First Impression of the U.S.A.,” in which he said:
“What strikes a visitor is the joyous, positive attitude to life . . . The American is friendly, self-confident, optimistic, and without envy.”
35. When he finished his travels in the U.S.A. he made a 6-month speaking tour in which he traveled to Asia, and to Palestine. During this tour, he visited Singapore, Ceylon, and Japan. In japan he gave lectures to thousands of Japanese, and had a chance to meet the Japanese emperor and empress in the Imperial Palace. In his letters, he described Japanese as intelligent, considerate, modest, and with a very sophisticated feel for the art.
36. After his travels in Asia, he visited Palestine, where he stayed for 12 days. In these days, prior to the formation of Israel, Einstein was greeted more as a high political figure than a scientist, which included cannon salutes, and people storming receptions to see him. During his stay, he noted how glad he was that the world started to see Jewish people as an important global force.
37. He visited the U.S. for second time in 1930, with intent to stay there for two months as a guest-lecturer at Californian Cal-tech, but he ended up spending most of his time in the States in the following years, which culminated in his permanent move to the U.S. in 1933, when Adolf Hitler became a chancellor in Germany.
Einstein with Winston Churchill at Chartwell, Churchill’s country home.Image via Albert Einstein Archives / Princeton University Press
38. He was well known for his pacifism and socialistic tendencies. His aversion to war and aggression, led him to become friends with the most famous film star of the time, Charlie Chaplin, Singer Paul Robertson, and the author Upton Sinclair, all of whom were known for their vociferous anti-war views.
39. Chaplin became one of the closest Einstein’s friends, and he considered Einstein to have “extraordinary intellectual energy” which went along with his “highly emotional temperament,” that was well hidden under his gentle and kind exterior.
Albert Einstein meets Charlie Chaplin in 1931
40. 7 years after he moved to the United States, Einstein became an American Citizen, where he held a position at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey – a town he would call home for the rest of his life.
41. Before the World War 2, he was so famous that people would approach him in the street to ask him about “that theory”. In the end, he got so fed up with it, he claimed he only looked like Albert Einstein, so that he doesn’t have to explain it over and over again.
42. During the 1933, Einstein used his considerable influence to save thousands of people from the terrible fate they would suffer in Nazi Germany. He contacted a number of Presidents, prime ministers, and other leaders, urging them to accept the unemployed German Jewish scientists, after the discriminatory laws were issued by the new Nazi regime.
43. Even though he was a noted pacifist, he is one of the people responsible for the Manhattan project and the development of nuclear weapons. When the World War 2 started, he wrote a letter to the President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in which he brought attention to the possibility of developing “extremely powerful bombs of a new type”.
Einstein receives a citation as a “modern pioneer of science” at the Copernican Quadricentennial, Carnegie Hall, New York, 1943.Image via Albert Einstein Archives / Princeton University Press
44. However, he was never directly implicated in the Manhattan project, and after the war he was a major opponent of the A-bomb and its further use.
45. After his letter to the Turkish Prime Minister İsmet İnönü, Turkey alone extended invitations and saved over 1000 people.
46. Einstein was a vocal proponent of human rights, and a noted, passionate anti-racist. When he moved to the United States, he campaigned for the civil rights of African Americans, and other minorities. He believed that racism is the America’s worst disease, that was handed down from one generation to the next.
47. In 1946. Einstein visited Lincoln University, a first university in the U.S. that gave degrees to the African American, where he made a speech about racism. He also paid a college tuition for an underprivileged young black man.
48. He was an avid smoker and he loved to sail, citing that as one of his favorite pastimes. He was however a poor sailor, by all accounts. He was gifted a sailboat named Tümmler for his fiftieth birthday, by a group of admirers.
Image via remiseamsee.de
49. Besides his pacifism, and anti-racism, he was a known Zionist. He was offered to be a president of Israel in 1952, which is mostly a ceremonial position (prime minister is the true political power in Israel), but he refused.
50. On his seventieth birthday, a Memorial Fund in his honor was founded by the Lewis and Rosa Strauss. This fund would go on to award a yearly Albert Einstein Medal to a person who achieved great success in the field of theoretical physics.
51. When Einstein died in Princeton Hospital, on April 18, 1955, a pathologist that examined him, Thomas Harvey, stole his brain and kept it hidden for more than twenty years. He did this in hopes of discovering what made Einstein such a great genius, but he never made any definitive discovery.