“Isn't it strange that I who have written only unpopular books should be such a popular fellow?”
Born in Germany in 1879, Albert Einstein was one of the most influential physicists of the 20th century, and one of the greatest thinkers of all time. He was a celebrity famous for his wit as well as his genius, and was a larger than life figure.
Here are 48 facts you may not have known about this brilliant scientist.
Albert Einstein was known as the “people’s scientist” because of his down-to-earth sense of humour and his approachable manner. His hair was always uncombed, clothing disheveled, and he never wore socks- not even when visiting President Roosevelt at the White House!
Einstein said: “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” A famous photograph taken on the day he died showed bulging book shelves, a desk cluttered with notebooks, journals, a pipe & a tobacco tin.
Einstein was a talented violinist. He began music lessons at age 5, but fell in love with music when he discovered Mozart’s violin sonatas at age 13. His violin was nicknamed “Lina”, and he said that the most joy in his life came from his violin.
Einstein was not actually a poor student. He never “failed math.” At age 16, He failed his entrance exam to the Federal Polytechnic school in Zurich, but only because he struggled with the non-science subjects (especially French). Einstein continued to study and was able to attend the school the following year.
Fearing a German nuclear bomb, Einstein wrote a letter to President Roosevelt encouraging him to work on a nuclear weapon. This led to the creation of the Manhattan project, which was responsible for the atomic bomb. His famous equation E = mc2 also made the bomb theoretically possible.
In 1952, Albert Einstein was offered the chance to be president of Israel. He turned down the offer insisting that he was unqualified.
When Einstein’s marriage to Mileva Maric was failing, he gave her a list of rules for remaining together. The list demanded that she be his maid, but should expect no affection or attention from him. After a few months, she left him, and five years later, filed for divorce.
Einstein and his cousin Elsa became romantically involved while he was separated from his first wife, and was known for her devotion to him. She also acted as gatekeeper, and would scare away unwanted visitors.
Einstein didn’t start speaking until age 3 or 4. When he did, his first sentence was to complain at dinner that the soup was too hot. When asked why he hadn’t spoken before then, he replied: “because up to now, everything was in order.”
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Up until he was 9, Einstein would think through what he wanted to say before speaking. He preferred to practice his sentences in his head or under his breath until he got them right.
Einstein was born with what his family thought was a grotesquely oversized head. The doctor was able to convince them that his body would catch up. Once it did, his grandmother complained to his parents he was too fat.
When Einstein died, a man named Thomas Harvey performed an illegal autopsy and stole Einstein’s brain! For decades, he kept pieces of the preserved brain in two mason jars, which he stored in his Philadelphia lab, his basement, and in a cider box stored under a beer cooler.
Harvey eventually returned Einstein’s brain to the Princeton Hospital where he performed the autopsy. Today, the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia is the only place where the public can view Einstein’s brain.
Harvey also removed Einstein’s eyeballs and gifted them to Einstein’s eye-doctor Henry Abrams. To this day, the eyeballs are stored in a safe deposit box in New York City.
Einstein had a terrible memory for details he deemed unimportant. When questioned about why he had to look up his phone number, Einstein replied: ““Why should I memorize something I can so easily get from a book?”
At age 15, Einstein’s refusal to bend to the authority of one of his teachers led to him being kicked out of class. In college, he irritated his professors with his impertinence, never hiding the fact that he found their classes boring.
In 1896, Einstein followed his parents to Italy but, would have been accused of desertion if he didn’t report for conscription in Germany. To avoid military service, he renounced his German Citizenship at age 17.
When Einstein was sworn in as a member of the Prussian Academy of Sciences in 1921, he was considered a state official. Since only Ethnic German Citizens could be state officials, he was forced to retake his German Citizenship.
Einstein graduated with a teaching degree, but couldn’t get hired at a university. In 1902, he got a job at the patent office in Bern, which he held for 7 years. The job was boring, and gave him lots of time to work on his theories.
In 1905, Einstein’s miracle year, he published his four different academic papers. They cemented his theories on the principle of relativity, and among them was the paper that contained the famous formula E=mc2.
Einstein played around with an alternative to the big bang theory. The theory proposed that the universe expanded steadily and eternally instead of all at once in a big bang. Einstein later abandoned the theory, and the paper was never published.
Einstein was the first to discover the equation that showed the universe is expanding, but he thought it was a mistake. Years later, Hubble’s telescope confirmed that the theory of relativity was correct, and his biggest blunder was thinking he was wrong!
Einstein’s greatest breakthroughs came from visual experiments performed in his head. His theory of relativity was born from him imagining lightning striking a train at different times as the train speeds along.
Einstein and his colleague Leo Szilard designed an absorption refrigerator that had no moving parts and required no electricity. The fridge never became a commercial product, largely due to the discovery of Freon.
Einstein loved to smoke. He believed that pipe smoking “contributes to a somewhat calm and objective judgment in all human affairs.” He gave up smoking on doctor’s instructions, but didn’t give up the pipes themselves. He would often stick one into his mouth and chew on it.
Einstein loved to sail. His boat was called “Tinef” which is Yiddish for worthless or junk, and it equally described his sailing skills. Not only was he a lousy sailor, but he didn’t even know how to swim!
Einstein never won a Nobel Prize for the general or special theory of relativity. He was awarded the prize in 1921 for his work on the photoelectric effect.
When he was five years old, and sick in bed, Einstein’s father brought him a compass to play with. The force that guided the needle ignited his curiosity and inspired his lifelong interest in physics.
As he left his 72nd birthday party, Einstein was surrounded by photographers. Tired of fake smiling, he stuck his tongue out instead. Einstein ordered 9 pictures for personal use, and signed one of them for a reporter. That photograph sold at an auction for $74,324!
When he was 22 years old, Einstein had an illegitimate daughter. The baby, named Lieserl, disappeared from historical records shortly after her birth. Today, her fate is still unknown.
Einstein’s brain was overall smaller than average, but the parietal lobes were 15% wider than normal. These areas are linked to mathematical ability, and visual and spatial awareness. Researchers believe that this is why Einstein tackled scientific thought the way he did.
Einstein never had a car of his own, and he never learned to drive. If he needed to go somewhere by car, he had friends or a chauffeur drove him.
In December of 1932, the FBI started keeping a file on Einstein. At the time of his death, the file was 1427 pages long. Then FBI director J. Edgar Hoover was deeply suspicious of Einstein, and believed he was an extreme radical and a communist.
Towards the end of WWII, Einstein had a passionate affair with Margarita Konenkova – a brilliant scientist and Russian spy. Their affair only ended when she and her husband returned to Moscow in 1945.
Konenkova was allegedly tasked with learning about and "influencing" the American nuclear program, and was instructed to get close to J. Robert Oppenheimer of the Manhattan Project. Einstein was not directly involved in the Manhattan Project, so it’s not entirely clear what Konenkova was hoping to get out of him.
Right before he died, Einstein uttered his final words to a nurse. Unfortunately, the words were spoken in German—a language the nurse didn’t speak or understand.
Einsteinium is the 99th element on the periodic table. It’s named after Albert Einstein, though he actually had nothing to do with its discovery or research.
Einstein’s eyes and wrinkles were worked into Yoda’s design, giving him a wise and intelligent look.
After moving to the United States, Einstein became an active member of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), and courageously took a public stand against racial segregation in America.
Einstein made an unusual bargain with his first wife. In exchange for a divorce, he promised to give her the winnings from his anticipated Nobel Prize. Three years later, when Einstein won the prize, he gave her the money.
Einstein had tomcat named Tiger that got depressed whenever it rained. Einstein was heard empathizing with the cat and saying: "I know what's wrong, dear fellow, but I don't know how to turn it off."
In 1923, Einstein traveled to Jerusalem to present the first scientific address at the Hebrew University he’d helped to fund. At one of his speaking engagements, he declared: “I consider this the greatest day of my life”.
In a letter from a little girl in South Africa, she explained to Einstein that she had now become resigned to being a girl. He responded: “I do not mind that you are a girl, but the main thing is that you yourself do not mind. There is no reason for it.”
When Einstein entered the hospital two days before his death, doctors suggested surgery, he refused. He felt that prolonging life artificially was “tasteless.”
Einstein’s wife Elsa managed his fan mail and collected $1.00 for an autograph and $5.00 for a photograph. Einstein donated the proceeds to charity.
Einstein tirelessly wrote letters to Presidents, prime ministers, and other leaders asking them to take in unemployed German-Jewish scientists during the Nazi regime. His letters saved over 1,000 Jews from persecution and the Nazi camps. He also wrote a now-famous letter to FDR shortly before the figuring out uranium-powered nuclear chain reactions, which would power the atomic bombs.
A Nazi magazine in Germany printed an enemies list, and Einstein was on it listed as “Not Yet Hanged.” It also offered a $5000 Bounty for his head.
Einstein realized his life was at risk after Hitler assumed power in Germany. Einstein fled to Belgium, where he learned that his boat and cottage had been seized. He then escaped to England, and he was kept under armed protection until he found safety in America.
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