It’s already more than 100 years ago that Einstein developed his general theory of relativity and thereby flipping our understanding of physics upside down. His impact in science but also in our daily life was so huge that his name became a synonym for genius. But he was much more than just a physicist. He was also an impassioned advocate of nuclear disarmament, a potential president of Israel but also a bad father and husband. We collected for you 15 incredible and surprising facts about Einstein to bring you his genius a bit closer.
1. Einstein was rejected from an academic career for nine years.
Although Einstein was a brilliant student during his years at the Swiss Federal School in Zurich, professors neither appreciated his work nor gave him good recommendations due to his penchant for skipping classes and his rebellious personality.
It took Einstein two years searching for an academic position until he realized that he won’t find a job at universities. He, therefore, settled for a job at the Swiss patent office in Bern to make a living.
Of course, it was menial work for him, but it turned out that this job was a perfect fit for Einstein to continue working on his theories. During the early day, he was breezing through his duties while spending the rest of the day writing and doing researches.
1905 was his breakthrough year when he published four of his revolutionary articles about his theory of special relativity and introducing his famous equation E = mc². Despite the fact that these articles have changed the way we think about physics in so many ways it took another four years for Einstein until he got a full professorship.
2. Part of Einstein’s divorce agreement was that his wife Mileva Maric was to receive the monetary award of the Nobel Prize if he would ever win one.
Albert Einstein and his wife Mileva Maric moved to Berlin in April 1914 however Mileva moved back to Zurich pretty quick after finding out that Einstein had a romantic relationship with his cousin Elsa Löwenthal since 1912. The couple finally divorced on 14 February 1919 and Einstein married Elsa in the same year.
Part of the separation agreement with Maric was that Einstein would have to promise her the money he might receive from winning the Nobel Prize in case this would ever happen. Both agreed on that and in 1921 when Einstein received the award for his work on the photoelectric effect Maric was given the prize money.
3. Einstein contractually bound his wife Mileva Maric to marital rules.
This is one of the very strange facts about Albert Einstein. Due to the continuously rising amount of arguments he had with his wife Mileva Maric he proposed a “contract” outlining how they could live together for the sake of their children. His conditions were as follows:
A. You will make sure:
1. that my clothes and laundry are kept in good order;
2. that I will receive my three meals regularly in my room;
3. that my bedroom and study are kept neat, and especially that my desk is left for my use only.
B. You will renounce all personal relations with me insofar as they are not completely necessary for social reasons. Specifically, You will forego:
1. me sitting at home with you;
2. me going out or travelling with you.
C. You will obey the following points in your relations with me:
1. you will not expect any intimacy from me, nor will you reproach me in any way;
2. you will stop talking to me if I request it;
3. you will leave my bedroom or study immediately without protest if I request it.
D. You will undertake not to belittle me in front of our children, either through words or behaviour.
His wife accepted all conditions and Einstein in return promised her, “I assure you of proper comportment on my part, such as I would exercise to any woman as a stranger.” Eventually, they divorced on 14 February 1919, having lived apart for five years.
4. Einstein was supporting the building of the atomic bomb but later became an impassioned advocate of nuclear disarmament.
When Einstein found out that German scientists were on a path toward creating the first atomic bomb, he swiftly realized the danger this would create for the outcome of World War II.
The idea of such a powerful weapon in the hands of the Nazis was intolerable for him so he set aside his pacifist principles and started to work with Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard. Both together were writing a letter to President Roosevelt convincing him to accelerate atomic research.
Although supporting the building of the first atomic bomb Einstein never participated directly in the Manhattan project as he was denied security clearance by the US Army for his proximity to left-leaning politicians. He even later expressed his deepest regrets about his minor participation in that project and kicking off the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
He once told to Newsweek “Had I known that the Germans would not succeed in producing an atomic bomb, I never would have lifted a finger”. He believed that the power of an atomic bomb is the ultimate threat to peace and therefore became a proponent of nuclear disarmament, controls on weapons testing and a supranational world government like the United Nations.
5. Einstein had a close friendship with Fritz Haber – The father of chemical warfare.
Fritz Haber was a German chemist and one of Einstein’s closest friends. During World War I Haber developed a deadly chlorine gas which was heavier than air and could therefore flow down into the trenches. As a result, soldiers died painfully experiencing a feeling as if their throats and lungs were burning. This was the reason that Fritz Haber was sometimes also called the “father of chemical warfare”.
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Historians use to describe this relationship between Einstein and Haber as “friendship in contradiction”. Haber was proud to be a German, just as Einstein was proud to be a Jew but still they were full of respect for the achievements of each other. Einstein always refused Haber’s attitudes towards Germany and even called him a “tragic figure” whose “patriotic attitude had been abused” and was therefore very pleased when his friend left Germany in 1933.
6. The Nobel Prize wasn’t awarded to Einstein for his theory of relativity.
In 1922 when Einstein won the Nobel Prize in Physics “for his services to Theoretical Physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect” his general theory of relativity was still considered as too controversial and was therefore not an appropriate reason for the Nobel Prize committee.
Although Arthur Eddington had proofed Einstein’s theory of relativity in 1919 by showing that the sun’s field of gravity distracted light the Nobel Committee believed that his proof was still too unreliable.
However, in his explanation the Nobel Committee did subliminal acknowledge his theory of relativity by writing “without taking into account the value that will be accorded your relativity and gravitational theories after these are confirmed in the future”.
7. The common myth that Einstein did fail in math as a child is absolutely wrong.
It’s a common myth by underachieving school kids that Einstein failed at math as a youth as school records show something totally different. Based on that Einstein was an exceptional great student and achieved very good grades especially in math. The only thing Einstein was complaining about as a young student was the “mechanical discipline” demanded by his teacher and the prevailing castigation in the German school system.
At age 15 Einstein left his school in Munich and moved with his family to Italy to avoid state-mandated military service. But up to this point, Einstein was consistently at the top of his class. His classmates and teachers were always appreciating his grasp of complex scientific and mathematical concepts. Later in his life when Einstein was informed about a news article claiming he had failed in math during school, he dismissed the whole story. He even said, “Before I was 15 I had mastered differential and integral calculus.”
The origin of this myth can be found in the Swiss school system where Einstein has graduated from school. Here his final grade in math was a “6” which means “excellent” in Switzerland however in the German school system a “6” means “failed”. When German students and teachers were seeing a “6” on Einstein’s school records they were thinking that he failed in math and the myth was born.
8. Albert Einstein had an affair with an alleged Russian spy.
In 1935 Einstein was introduced to a woman called Margarita Konenkova by his stepdaughter Margot. Letters between Einstein and Konenkova from a period between 1945 and 1946 that were auctioned at Sotheby’s in 1998 proofed that they had a love affair. Although not officially confirmed by historians there always was a rumor that Margarita Konenkova was a Russian spy.
Rumor has it that Margarita’s task was to find out about the Manhattan Project, the US research program to produce the first nuclear weapon. She was not only able to seduce Einstein but also came into close contact with Robert Oppenheimer, one of the leading scientists of the atomic bomb. However, as for Einstein, she was not successful in gaining valuable information as he was never working directly with the nuclear project.
9. Einstein’s brain was stolen after his death.
Before Einstein died in April 1955 from an abdominal aortic aneurysm, he requested to have his body be cremated. When Princeton pathologist Thomas Harvey however removed his brain during the autopsy, he kept it for himself trying to find out the secrets of Einstein’s genius.
Harvey later had the brain cut into pieces and distributed it to different scientists around the world for research.
There were a lot of studies on that but none of them were really helpful for answering the question of why Einstein was way more intelligent than an average person. Even more interesting however is the fact that a person as intelligent as Einstein was did not start speaking until at least age three. Such a phenomenon is now often described as the “Einstein Syndrome”.
10. Albert Einstein’s son was institutionalized for most of his adult life.
Eduard Einstein, Albert Einstein’s second son, was diagnosed with schizophrenia and therefore institutionalized for most of his adult life. Historians have been speculating if the drugs Eduard got during that time damaged rather than aided him but in any case, he more and more lost his memory and cognitive abilities.
Einstein occasionally kept in contact with his son by sending him letters however he never saw him again after his immigration to the USA in 1933. Eduard died at the age of 55 in a psychiatric clinic
11. Einstein was asked to become president of Israel.
It’s one of the most interesting facts about Einstein that he was once asked to become the president of Israel. During his whole life, Einstein always felt deeply connected to his Jewish heritage though he never was a devoted Zionist. When Israel’s first president Chaim Weizmann died on November 9, 1952, the Israeli government was offering Einstein the chance to become the second president of the young country.
The 73-year old Einstein was very honest about that request and declined the honor by saying “All my life I have dealt with objective matters, hence I lack both the natural aptitude and the experience to deal properly with people and to exercise official function.”
12. The FBI kept a 1,427-page file on Einstein for decades.
Albert Einstein left Berlin and moved to the United States shortly before Hitler rose to power in 1933. He got a position at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. Already weeks after arriving in the USA the FBI started their observation on Einstein what eventually became a 22-year surveillance campaign. It was believed that Einstein due to his support for civil rights, pacifism, and the left-wing movement was a subversive or a Soviet spy.
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During that observation, agents were constantly listening to Einstein’s phone calls, rooted through his trash, and even opened his mail. There were even rumors that Albert Einstein would be working on a death ray that FBI agents also investigated. The climax of that whole investigation was when FBI director J. Edgar Hoover recommended that Einstein has to be kept out of the US by the Alien Exclusion Act, but this was overruled by the U.S. State Department. Eventually, the agents didn’t find any suspicious about Einstein but when he died in 1955 the FBI dossier totaled 1,427 pages.
13. It’s unclear what happened to his first daughter.
Einstein renounced his German citizenship in 1896 to enroll at the Swiss Federal School in Zurich. During that time, he met Mileva Maric, a fellow physicist-in-training from Serbia with whom he fell in love with. She was passionate about science and math, and also was an ambitious physicist, but she gave up those ambitions when she married Einstein. Later the couple had two sons but around one year before the wedding took place in 1903 Maric gave birth to an illegitimate daughter named Lieserl.
Einstein’s family was never aware of this child as he never spoke about her and even biographers didn’t know about her existence for a long time. Only when private papers from Einstein were examined in the 1980s people found out about the girl. However, her fate still remains a mystery to this day. Some historians think that Lieserl died from scarlet fever in 1903 whereas other people believe that she survived the sickness and was given up for adaption to a family in Serbia.
14. A solar eclipse proved Einstein’s theory and made him famous overnight.
Between 1907 and 1915 Einstein worked on his theory of general relativity, which stated that the observed gravitational attraction between masses results from the warping of space and time by those masses. Although this theory is now an essential tool in modern astrophysics it remained extremely controversial until May 1919. In that month a total solar eclipse was expected that provided the proper conditions to prove Einstein’s claims that a supermassive object – in that case, the sun – would cause a quantifiable curve in the light passing by it.
English astronomer Arthur Eddington was trying to prove Einstein’s theory of general relativity by traveling to West Africa and taking photos of the solar eclipse. Back home he analyzed his pictures and was able to confirm that the sun’s field of gravity did indeed distract the light by round about 1.7 arc seconds. This was exactly the same distraction as predicted by Einstein’s general relativity theory.
As this news spread across Einstein became a celebrity overnight but not just in the academic field. Even the newspaper mentioned his discovery and his work was compared to the achievements of Johannes Kepler and Isaac Newton.
From that point, Einstein was regularly traveling across the globe for giving lectures on his theory. More and more scientists were now trying to further develop Einstein’s theory and in the first six years after that event, more than 600 books and articles were written about the theory of relativity.
15. Einstein’s last words were lost in translation
On 17 April 1955, the day before Einstein died, he experienced internal bleeding caused by a ruptured aneurysm, but he refused surgical treatment. He said “I want to go when I want. It is tasteless to prolong life artificially. I have done my share; it is time to go. I will do it elegantly.” The next day he died at the age of 76.
However, his very last words will remain forever unknown because they were in German. When he was in his bed he said a few last words in that language but the only nurse around did not speak that language.
We hope that you liked our 15 facts about Einstein! He was really an amazing personality and we owe him so much. Without his work, there wouldn’t be any solar power or television. We hope you now have a better understanding of Einstein and his life. If you know even more facts about Einstein please let us know in our comment section and we will add your facts to our list. If you are interested in more fun facts follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest. Or just have a look into our Facts section for more amazing stuff.