Biographies: Albert Einstein, (Gemany, 1879-1955)

Figure 1.--Albert at age 3 appears to be wearing a kilt suit. He has a large white collar and bow and ruffled sleeves. His hair has already been cut short.

Albert is widely regarded as the graetest physicist of modern times. The great theoretical physicist and nobel prize winner was slow to speak and not regarded as a particularly apt pupil as a boy. He graduated as a teacher of mathematics and physics. His therory of relativity as a young physicist revolutionized the science. He was awarded the Nobel Price for Physics in 1921. He was thus a world renowned physcists when the NAZIs seized power in Germany during 1933. He was, as a Jew, among the many authors who books were burned. He escaped the NAZIs and in 1935 was granted residency status in America. His letter tomPresident Roosevelt in 1939 played an important role in the American decission to build an atomic bomb.


Albert's parents were both Germans. They were middle class and attached great importance to education.


Albert was born in Ulm which is located in southern Germany during 1879. The great theoretical physicist and nobel prize winner was slow to speak as a child. His parents became quite worried about this. His first words at the age of 3 years were reportedly a compalaint that his milk was to hot. His parents were stunned that after 2 years of silence, he not only spoke but in complete sentences. When they asked him why he hadn't spoken sooner, Albert replied "Because, previously everything was in order." His sister recalls that although he began speaking late, he had an remarkable astonishing ability to focus on demanding tasks such as constructing a houses of cards. Einstein looking back was to attributed his spectacular success to his slow start in life. "A normal adult never stops to think about problems of space and time. But my intellectual development was retarded, as a result of which I began to wonder about space and time only when I grew up."

Albert was a very bad speller as a boy and also had trouble learning to read. There is an argument that Albert as dyslexıc. A more recent article claims that he suffered from a mild form of autism. This is suggested by the answers he gave to hıs parents about everything being in order thus no need to speek earlier.

Childhood Clothing

We have only limited information about Albert's childhood clothes at thus time. Albert at age 3 appears to be wearing a kiltsuit (figure 1). He has a large white collar and bow and ruffled sleeves. The jacket is worn open with a matching vest (waustcoat) underneath. His hair has already been cut short.


Albert's parents placed a great empahasis on education. Young Albert was not, however, regarded as a particularly successful pupil and some teachers complained about him. He began school about 1886 in Munich when he was 6 years old. He also began violin lessons at about the same time and persued them until he was 13. He received Jewish religious instruction at home. He entered the Luitpold Gymnasium in 1888 and at this time began receiving religious education at school. He was particularly interested in mathematics. His first class in calculus was in 1891. Some authors claim that albert was not a good student. His seventh-grade teacher's assessment is often suited. The teacher concluded that Albert "would never get anywhere in life". It is unlikely that the problem was Albert's ability, but more likely his attitude about the academic program and environment. As an adult, Einstein compalined about Germany's rigid, military-style education system. His teacher's further asssessment, "your mere presence here undermines the class's respect for me", suggests that the teacher was having trouble keeping up with Albert and the boy didn't hold back expressing his opinion. His family moved to Milan in 1894, but Albert stayed in Munich to continue his education. Albert in 1895 narrowly failed an examination needed to persue studies in electrical engineering at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH) in Zurich. The ETH was one of the most prestigious science universities in Europe. After failing the demanding ETH exam, he enrolled in the secondary school at Aarau, hoping to gain admission to ETH through this school. He graduated from Aarau in 1900 with qualifications to teach mathematics and physics. He was accepted to study at ETH. It was there that he met Marcel Grossmann who was in Einstein's class. He avoided Swiss military service, claiming to have flat feet and varicose veins. Einstein was awarded a doctorate from the University of Zurich in 1905 for a thesis written while employed at the Bern patent office. The thesis was "On a new determination of molecular dimensions". He dedicated it to Grossmann.


Einstein renounced his German citizenship in 1896, but did not immeduiately become a citzen of any other country. He was in effect stateless for several years. He applied for Swiss citizenship in 1899 and it was granted in 1901.


Einstein graduated as a teacher of mathematics and physics. He obtained a temporary job in 1901 as math teacher at the Technical High School in Winterthur. Later he taught at a private school in Schaffhausen. Grossmann's father helped Einstein get a job in the Bern patent office. Einstein was appointed as a technical expert. He ein worked in the patent office from 1902 to 1909. While at the patent office he conceived of most of the inovative theories for which he bacame famous.

Theoretical Writings on Physics

The world of science was in a tumult in the late-19th century. A steady stream of discoiveries during the 19th century had provided the basis for a increasingly soophisticated understanding of the natural world. Physics was no exception. This Einstein emerged on the world scene at just the time that his oarticular talents were most needed. His therory of relativity as a young physicist revolutionized the science, but it was only one of his revolutionary theories. Most of these theories were conceived while Einstein was working at the Bern patent office. What is most astonishing is that he wrote after work in his free time and was not in close contact with other physicists or in a position to access the contemporary scientific literature. One of his his first papers dealt with thr theiry of Brownian movement. His most noted papers were three published in 1905.
Electromagnetic radiation of light: Einstein in his first paper examined a phenomenon discovered by Max Planck who noted that electromagnetic energy seemed to be emitted from objects in discrete quantities. Plank believed that the energy of these quanta was directly proportional to the frequency of the radiation. Einstein was one of the few physicists who took Pnlank's writing seriously. This was a controversial theory as it appeared to contradict widely-held electromagnetic theory that were founded on Maxwell's equations and the laws of thermodynamics. These assumed that electromagnetic energy consisted of waves which could contain any small amount of energy. Einstein applied Planck's quantum hypothesis to postulate the electromagnetic radiation of light.
Theory of relativity: It is Einstein second paper on realtivity thatb his reputation is largelyb based. In it he conceived of two fundamental hypothesis. First was his special theory of relativity for which he is now best known. He based his revolutionary theory on a reinterpretation of the classical principle of relativity which postualed that the laws of physics had to have the same form in any given terms of reference. Einstrin's second fundamental hypothesis maintained that the speed of light was a constant as necesitated by Maxwell's theory. It should be noted that not all of the elements of his theory of special relativity were original. His genius was that that he composed a theoretical system which unifyed classical mechanics and Maxwell's electrodynamics. The 1905 paper was his initial theoretical thoughts. He expanded in his theory on several other occassions. Einstein later in 1905 added to this paper by demonstrating how mass and energy were equivalent. He further expanded his theories in 1915.
Statistical mechanics: Einstein's third paper on statistical mechanics is less well known. The field had been earlier assessed by Ludwig Boltzmann and Josiah Gibbs.

After these three ground-breaking papers, any one of which would have established him as a leadeing theoretical physicist, Einstein continued his work, refining and adding to his theories. He made some especially important contributions to quantum theory, but his primary interest was to extend the special theory of relativity to phenomena involving acceleration. Einstein in 1907 theorized the principle of equivalence. Here he maintained that that gravitational acceleration was indistinguishable from the acceleration due to mechanical forces. This meant that gravitational mass was thus the same as inertial mass. He was the first physicist to verify Max Plank's quantum theory.


Einstein in 1908 Einstein was appointed lecturer at the University of Bern after he submitted his Habilitation thesis, "Consequences for the constitution of radiation following from the energy distribution law of black bodies". Then in 1909 with his growing reputation, he was appointed professor of physics at the prestigious University of Zurich. This allowed him to resign his job at the patent office in Bern. Einstein was now recognised as a prominent scientific thinker.

Einstein in 1911 was appointed a full professor at the Karl-Ferdinand University in Prague in 1911. It was at this time that he made his preliminary predictions about how light rays emmited from distant stars that passed near the Sun, would appear to be slightly bent inward toward the sun. This was an important theory as it could lead to actual physical data that could support Einstein's purely theoretical writings. Einstein about 1912 began a new aspect of his gravitational work, collaborating with Grossmann who had become a mathemetician, he began expressing his theories in terms of the tensor calculus of Tullio Levi-Civita and Gregorio Ricci-Curbastro. Einstein referred to this as his general theory of relativity. Also in 1912 he left Prague for Zurich to acceopt a chair at the ETH where he had once failed the entrabnce examination.

Einstein returned to Germany in 1914 just as World War I was breaking out in Europe. He did not, however, reapply for German citizenship. He was attracyed by the offer of a research position in the Prussian Academy of Sciences along with a chair at the University of Berlin. There were no teaching duties connected with the chair so he would be free to cintunue hus work. The Germans also offered him the directorship of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Physics in Berlin which was in the process of being established. Einstein in Berlin during 1915 published his definitive version of general theory. At the same time Hilbert, who shared ideas with Einstein, published the correct field equations of general relativity. Einstein in 1917 extended Plank's lawof radiation and applied it to the atom as a radiating body. He developed in 1920 a unified field theory which addressed both electrical and gravitational forces in a single theoretical structure.

After the War, a British eclipse expeditions in 1919 confirmed Einstein's predictions. Up to this time, Einstein had become widely known in the scientific community, but few laymen had heard of him or his revolutionary theiries. Now the popular press began writing about him. The London Times even a headline on November 7, 1919 that read, "1919:- Revolution in science - New theory of the Universe - Newtonian ideas overthrown."

Einstein's prominence brought unwanted attention in Germany. His lectures in Berlin during 1920 were disrupted by demonstrations. The demonstraions were apparently motivated by anti-Semetic sentiment. which, although officially denied, were almost certainly anti-Jewish. The German press was not as laudatory as the foreign press. Some papers criticized his work. Einstein replied to the press criticism and quoted other prominent physicists (including Lorentz, Planck and Eddington). He also charged that Germans would not have taken issue with him if he had been "... a German national with or without swastika instead of a Jew with liberal international convictions..."

Einstein was a Zionist and supported the Zionist movement. He was offerd the presidency of Israel, but declined. He remained in New Jersey even after Israel was created. He expressed concern about the Palestinians and hoped that 'honest pacts with the Arabs' could be worked out. [Levenson]


Einstein' private life is less exemplory than his public persona. He falls in love anbd evenbtually marries a brilliant Hugarian fellow physics student--Maleva ???. They have three children. The first is a girl who dies from scarlet fever. (Some say she ws given up because she was born before they wer married.) They also have two boys. Hans Albert eventually escaped to America after the rise of the NAZIs. Edward (Teddy) develops schisophrenea. The boys were commonly dressed in saior suits and grew up in Switzerland. There is considerable debate as to his wife's role in Einstein'sfamed papers. The two became stranged. Apparently Albert eventually insisted on rules like Maleva could only speak when spoken to. He had by this time taken a mistress. There was an acrimonious divorce, alothough with the passage of times they developed a more friendly relationship. For his his second marriage when he is nearly 40 he dithers over whether to ask his long-term compansion Elsa or her 20 year old daughter. [Levenson]


Einstein in 1921 visited the United States for the first time. He came to help raise funds for the planned Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He was awarded the Barnard Medal during his visit and gave several lectures on relativity, often to overflowing lecture halls. Einstein received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921. It was for his first paper on the photoelectric effect and for his theory on relativity that he is more widelyb known. Einstein traveled extensively during the early 1920s, not only America, But France, Japan, Plaestine, South Africa, several South Amerucan countries, and other countries. His last important scientific opaper was published in 1924, dealing with the association of waves with matter. A long list of sciebtific honors followed. An ongoing debate with Niels Bohr on quantum theory began at the Solvay Conference in 1927. Einstein hectic schedule and over work resulted in a physical collapse during 1928, but he made a complete recoivery after cutting back on his appaearnces and work


As the NAZIs were rising to power in the early-30s, Einstein having recovered fully began making international visits again. He visited the United States in 1930 and again in 1932. At this time, Princeton University offered him a post. They conceived that he could live and work 7 months a year in Berlin, and then come to Princeton for 5 months. Einstein accepted the offer and left Germany in December 1932, not realizing that he was leaving the country for good. Hitler seized power in March 1933. Einstein was a world renowned physcists when the NAZIs seized power in Germany during 1933. Like other Jewish academics and Government offiicials, he was dusmissed by the NAZIs. In less than 2 months the NAZIs were buring his books. As a Jew, among the many authors condemned for the book burnings and banned in Germany. Einstein never returned. The NAZIs condemed what they called 'Jewish physics' meaning esentially Einsteinian relativity and nuclear physics in general. Iroinically, nuclear physics was the one way that the NAZIs could have won the War. In large prt because of Hitler, Germny which had a lead in atomic physics did not come close to building an atomic bomb.


Einstein in 1933 travelled throughout Europe visiting Oxford, Glasgow, Brussels and Zurich. While unwanted in Germans, he received several offers of academic posts, at Jerusalem, Leiden, Oxford, Madrid, and Paris. His trip to America was intended only as a visit, but as the NAZIs solidified their hold on Germany, it turned into a permanent arrangement in 1935 when he applied and was granted permanent residency status. While at Princeton he worked on attempts to unify the laws of physics. He must have been, however, distracted bythe developments in Europe. He also encountered trouble adjusting to life in America. Einstein became an American citizen in 1940, but never gave up his Swiss citizenship.

Atomic Bomb

His letter to President Roosevelt in 1939 played a critical role in the American decission to build an atomic bomb. While he did not play a direct role in the Manhattan Project to build the bomb, his letter to Roosevelt gave enormous scientific backing to the proposal which was a huge undertaking involving the expenditure of vast sums and resources. He made other contributions to the War effort, such as accurately deducing why so many American torpedos failed to explode. (The Navy ignored his advise.) He copied his 1905 paper on special relativity by hand and auctioned it off to raise funds for the War.

Unanswered Question

Einstein is without question one of the great scientific minds. His work is a water shed in scientific thinking, basivally defining science before and after Einstein. His theiories of special and general relativity in addition to his proof that atomic and light quanta exists were incredible insights. Any one of which were enought to mark their author as a great scientist. It is increbile that one man could ammased such a body of work. And this was accomplished early in his life at a young age. Einstein lived a long life and was unable to follow upo on the implications of his discoveries. He doubted the existence of black holes as well as the Big Bang Theory. He failef to conceive of th indeterminacy in science. This is not a criticism of Einstein,he chieved too much. But it is interesting that the man who rewrote the scientific kaws of space, time, and matter failed to pursue his discovery to the logical outcomes or acceppt the work of other ohysivists in that direction.

Final Years

Einstein's health by 1949 was failing. He improved after hospital treatment. He wrote his will in 1950, leaving his scientific papers to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, a university which he had helped establish. The Israeli Government in 1952 offered him the presidency of the country. He found it embarassing to decline. His last letter was to Bertrand Russell, agreeing to lend his name to a manifesto urging every nation to give up nuclear weapons. Einstein died and was was cremated at Trenton, New Jersey on April 18, 1955. His ashes were scattered at an undisclosed location.


Levenson, Thomas. Einstein in Berlin (Bantam: 2003), 486p.


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Created: July 17, 2003
Last updated: 2:00 AM 11/14/2018