Albert Einstein: The life & work of the genius scientist, and why he mattered

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Albert Einstein The life work of the genius, and why he mattered
Albert Einstein was a man whose life, philosophies, discoveries and theories forever changed the way we looked at the world, and how we perceived life itself.

While the importance of his life could hardly be adequately condensed into an epitaph, in the articles below, you can see how people tried to explain the man’s legacy shortly after Einstein died in 1955.

Albert Einstein: Shy, he tried to escape public acclaim, but never could (1955)

By Francis Lewine – The Ogden Standard-Examiner (Ogden, Utah) April 20, 1955

(Original) Editor’s note: One of the greatest mathematicians of all time is dead at 76. The author of the theory of relativity — which is credited with making possible the atomic bomb — Albert Einstein died in Princeton, N. J., where he had lived mere than two decades. Here is a portrait of what the great scientist was really like, behind his shy, kindly smile.

Albert-Einstein-1921-teaching

Princeton, N.J. (AP) — All his life Albert Einstein wished he could have been permitted to do his work without the disturbing influence of fame.

The world-famous mathematician and physicist, who died Monday at the age of 76, once pleaded: “Let every man be respected as an individual, and no man idolized.

“It is an irony of fate that I, myself, have been the recipient of excessive admiration and respect from my fellows through no fault of my own.” Public attention began for this usually shy and modest man at the age of 26, when he presented his theory of relativity to the world.

Reward was startling

The reward for his startlingly new ideas was heaps of honors, offers of fortune, the Nobel Prize and the constant gaze of the curious public.

Einstein responded by turning down fortune for a quiet, modest existence devoted to study. He shrank from publicity.

More than 20 years of his life were spent in the quiet university town of Princeton, N.J., where he had a lifetime job as head of the school of mathematics at the Institute for Advanced Study.

The Institute, created as a sort of paradise for scholars, secluded and free from financial cares, was perfectly suited to Einstein’s tastes.

He more or less hid himself here, making few public appearances and becoming an unobtrusive member of the community.

City respected privacy

Princeton residents, used to the comings and goings of the great, respected Einstein’s privacy and protected it. His colleagues, too, in a sort of unspoken alliance, joined to shield him from the probings of reporters and hero-worshipers.

How well they succeeded is evident by the comparatively meager material available to the world on Einstein, the man.

Einstein’s theories — hailed as among the greatest in the history of the sciences — were understood by very few. But they were written about and discussed freely by those who had the mental capacity to understand them.

Einstein himself was always ready to talk about his work. But the door was slammed on the inquirer wanting simply to know about Einstein.

The life of Albert Einstein

Clue to how he felt

The best clue to how he felt was given in an autobiographical account he wrote in 1949 as a preface to a book devoted to his scientific philosophy.

“The essential in the being of a man of my type lies precisely in what he thinks and how he thinks, not in what he does or suffers.”

Again, he said, “my life is a simple thing that would interest no one. It is a known fact that I was born and that is all that is necessary.”

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March 14th each year — the anniversary of Einstein’s birth in 1879, in Ulm, Germany — was an occasion for seeking some celebration comment from the famous mathematician and physicist.

Sometimes Einstein complied, but mostly he took the stand: “What is there to celebrate: birthdays are automatic things; birthdays are for children!”

Hates all the fuss

“He just hates all the fuss people make,” Einstein’s secretary, Helen Dukas, said, adding that Einstein had refused even to have a birthday cake when he reached 73 in 1952.

Another outward symbol of Einstein’s deprecation of self was his disregard for clothes and appearance.

His hair, in later years completely grey, was usually uncut and bushy. He had a scraggly mustache, wore baggy trousers and preferred well-worn sweatshirts and sweaters to starched shirts.

David Rothman & Albert Einstein at the beach in 1939
David Rothman & Albert Einstein at the beach in 1939

Once at a formal dinner when others were eulogizing him, Einstein turned to author Fannie ‘Hurst and confided: “You know, I never wear socks.”

When his wife once objected to his baggy look, he quoted Spinoza to her: “It would be a sad situation if the bag was better than the meat wrapped in it.”

Einstein worked either in his book-lined second-story study in the L-shaped clapboard house on quiet Mercer Road, or in a small cubicle of his two-room office at the Institute for Advanced Study. His tools were paper and pencil. With these, he produced mathematical formulas for some of the most fundamental laws governing the universe.

While many know only of Einstein’s relativity theories, scientist Max Born has said that Einstein “would be one of the greatest theoretical physicists of all time, even if he had not written a single line on relativity.”

Einstein US citizenship application

Daily routine

At Princeton, Einstein was associated with many other world-famous scientists. For years, he carried on his daily routine on a timetable schedule.

At precisely 1 p.m., he left his Institute office, usually deep in discussion with a colleague. He always walked the mile across clipped lawns and through tree-lined Streets to his unpretentious home.

On his walks, Einstein would stop and talk to the children.

“I call him Einstein. He’s my friend,” one little blond boy said proudly.

Einstein frequently exchanged Christmas and birthday presents with his small friends. He was perhaps more free to be himself with children than with anyone else.

The life and work of Albert Einstein 1943

He didn’t own a car

He did not own a car. But great limousines frequently were seen before his modest home, bringing such world figures as Nehru of India and Ben-Gurion of Israel to his door.

As a member of the community, Einstein responded generously to fund-raising appeals. He served as honorary chairman of the Princeton United Jewish Appeal and annually made an appearance at their dinners.

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Among the personal accomplishments Einstein hid from public view was his violin playing. Acknowledged as a fine musician, he sometimes performed for gatherings or friends. He made a few public appearances, but only for charity benefits.

Einstein spoke with an accent. Until later years it was forbidden by doctors, he was an avid pipe smoker. Accepting life membership in a Montreal pipe smokers’ club, he commented, “Pipe smoking contributes to a somewhat calm and objective judgment in our human affairs.”

Einstein once remarked that he probably was the only man in Princeton who had never seen a football game.

But he loved to sail and frequently spent summer vacations at lake resorts. Even this simple pleasure, however, brought him unwanted publicity. In 1944, he and several companions had, to be rescued from lower Saranac Lake, N. Y., when their 18-foot sailboat capsized in choppy waters.

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Albert Einstein sticking out his tongue

Humor and compassion are seen most frequently in the glimpses Einstein gave of himself.

Once in China, he refused to ride in a rickshaw, announcing: “I will not be a part of the making of man a draft animal.” He relented, though, when his wife pointed out that he would, be depriving the man of a livelihood.

He could always stand back and take a laughing look at himself.

He admitted in 1944 that he had to call in a tax expert to help prepare his income tax form.

When an expectant audience burst into applause at his entrance at a meeting, Einstein Whispered to a friend: “I think they ought to wait to see what I say.”

He once said of himself: “I am happy, because I want nothing from anyone, but I do get pleasure out of the appreciation of my fellow workers.”


White-haired, world-famous physicist Albert Einstein dies

Tyrone Daily Herald (Tyrone, Pennsylvania) April 18, 1955

Dr Albert Einstein, whose thinking changed the history of man, died today at Princeton, NJ.

The white-haired, world-famous physicist of the “fourth dimension” had celebrated his 76th birthday on March 14.

He entered the Princeton hospital Friday and died at 1:15 am today of a gall bladder inflammation.

Just 50 years ago, the shy, retiring mathematician had put forth his famed theory of relativity which startled and changed the course of physics. He was then only 20 years old. For the last half a century, the humble man with the baggy pants and wild flowing hair led the scientific world in its tremendous gains.

His theories gave the world the new dimension — time — helped shrink the size of the globe, became vital in 20th century television and electronics and helped split the atom which led to the atomic bomb and the freeing of nuclear energy.

He was always retiring — except in defense of what he considered the liberty and freedom of man. Last March 14 he declared: “I do not consider myself important any more. First, I was nobody, and then I became famous, and people developed illusions of greatness about me that were untrue.”

White-haired, world-famous physicist Albert Einstein

But the world had long been convinced. It awarded Dr Einstein the Nobel Prize in 1922. It had held him in esteem and awe ever since.

Dr Einstein was born in Germany, served as a professor at Prague, Zurich and Berlin before fleeing the Nazis to come to the United States in 1933. He became a citizen in 1940.

He was appointed for life a member of the Institute For Advanced Study at Princeton, where he studied and lectured until he died.

Dr Einstein was born in Ulm, Germany in 1879 to middle class south German Jews. His father was indifferently successful as the operator of an engineering plant.

The family moved to Munich, then to Italy. The schoolboy’s classwork was only fair. But he devoured mathematics and philosophy. He completed schooling at Zurich’s polytechnic academy. He almost starved in the first two years after his graduation.

Then he secured a position as a patent examiner in Berne. There his brilliant mind raced through his work so rapidly that he had time for his mathematical speculations.

In 1903, he married a Serbian Catholic, Mileva Maric, who bore him two sons. They were separated in 1911.

Then, in 1906, he proclaimed his theory of relativity. Men’s senses could not be relied on. Only the speed of light – 186,000 miles a second – was consistent.

He added a new, fourth dimension — time — to the classical three of length, width, and depth. This new dimension existed only as a mathematical symbol.

MORE: What does Einstein’s E equals mc2 mean? 

The same year, as part of his theory, Dr Einstein propounded the theory that eventually led to the atomic bomb — that matter and energy could be changed into energy, and energy into matter.

Albert Einstein and Charlie Chaplin
Albert Einstein and Charlie Chaplin

The revolutionary theories were in conflict with certain aspects of the Sacrosanct axioms of Isaac Newton. A storm of scientific protest fell on the young man’s head.

But in time, not Dr Einstein, but those protesting had to change their beliefs. Newton’s laws were revised to conform with the demonstrated accuracy of Einstein’s observations.

Honors came rapidly. Dr Einstein became a professor at the University of Zurich, and later held teaching posts at the University of Prague, Polytechnic Academy in Zurich, and the Prussian Academy of Science in Berlin.

He reclaimed the German citizenship he had given up when he went to Switzerland only after Germany became a republic in 1919. Meanwhile, he had married his first cousin, Elsa Einstein, in 1915. She died in 1936.

He was awarded the Nobel Prize for physics in 1922. But he replied to the adulation showered on him in these words:

“Let every man be respected as an individual and no man idolized. It is an irony of fate that I myself have been the recipient of excessive admiration and respect from my fellows through no fault of my own.”

Because of his parentage and his unshakable belief in the dignity of the individual, Einstein was an early and inevitable target of the Nazis when they seized power in 1933.

Abroad at the time, the scientist quickly denounced the Hitlerites and emerged from his scientific studies to make such pronouncements as:

“In these days of the persecution of the Jews, it is time to remind the Western world that it owes to the Jewish people its religion and therewith its valuable moral ideas.”

Soon afterward in America, he set aside his long-held pacifist convictions and declared:

“Since the arrival of the Fascist danger, I for the present no longer believe in the effectiveness of absolute passive pacifism.

“As long as Fascism rules in Europe, there will be no peace.

“This despotism must fall if real peace is to prevail.”

Albert Einstein

He went to work for the Navy Bureau of Ordinance for a year, lent his enormous prestige to war bond drives and other war-effort work. In 1939, he wrote a historic letter to the late President Franklin D Roosevelt.

This letter played a large role in starting the government-sponsored research which led to the development of the atomic bomb and the potentials of nuclear power in peace.

During the last years, with an aging body but an ever agile mind, he kept active. He took part in drives to assist the infant state of Israel and back formation of the United Nations to deal with new problems. Many of those problems had been created by his discoveries.

Last March 14 he told of his plans: “Now,” he said, “I plan to live quietly — as quietly as possible — unless I feel it is my duty to come forward.”

He was still working last week in his modest home in the quiet university town of Princeton.

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