Widely considered one of the greatest physicists of all time, Albert Einstein helped lay the foundations for modern physics. Born in 1879 in Germany, he went on to receive the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics and lend his name as a synonym for “genius”.
Here are some facts about the real Albert Einstein.
1. He was born in Germany
Albert Einstein was born in Ulm, Württemberg on 14 March 1879.
His father, Hermann, was at the time joint partner in a bed feather shop. When the family moved to Munich in 1880, he founded an electrical engineering company, Einstein & Cie, with his brother. Albert’s sister, Maja, was born whilst the family lived in Munich.
Both Hermann and Pauline Koch, Albert’s mother, came from Jewish families.
2. He renounced his German citizenship to avoid conscription
Although the Einstein family moved to Italy in 1894 for Hermann’s business, Albert was supposed to remain in Munich to finish his education.
He followed them, however, and then in 1895 moved to Switzerland to complete his secondary education in Aarau. He later enrolled at the Swiss Federal Polytechnic School – Eidgenössische Polytechnische Schule – in Zurich.
To avoid the accusation of desertion which would have resulted from not reporting for conscription in Germany by the age of 17, Albert renounced his German citizenship in January 1896.
He then remained stateless until 1901 when, with his reputation attested for by the police and a payment of 600 Francs, he became a naturalized Swiss citizen.
3. He had trouble finding employment after he graduated
By the time he came to the end of his studies, Einstein was not on good terms with his professors. As such he failed to be employed as an assistant to any of them.
Instead he found employment as an assistant examiner at the patent office and pursued his research mostly outside work hours.
4. He had a ‘miracle year’ when he was 26
During his ‘Annus Mirabilis’ of 1905 Einstein published four papers which were to lead to his recognition in the scientific community by 1908, when he was finally appointed as a lecturer at the University of Bern.
The four papers, published in ‘Annalen der Physik’, concerned the production and transformation of light – the photoelectric effect, proof of the existence of atoms with Brownian motion, special relativity, and mass-energy equivalence. The final paper led to the equation E=mc2.
Albert also submitted his PhD paper to the University of Zürich in 1905. Despite being best remembered as an older man, all of this occurred whilst he was still just 26.
5. He returned to Germany in 1914
After teaching in Bern, Prague and Zürich, Albert moved to Berlin to take membership of the Prussian Academy of Sciences.
He also became director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics in 1917, after a delay caused by the war.
Despite returning to Germany just before its beginning, Albert was not in support of the war. He was one of four signatories of a manifesto published to counter another signed by 93 scientists, scholars and artists which proclaimed support for military action.
As a Swiss, not German, national, Albert had to renew his residence permit for Germany regularly.
6. He was an accomplished musician
In addition to being a gifted mathematician and physicist, and being interested in philosophy, Albert was a talented violinist.
He had begun playing possibly as early as the age of five, at the behest of his mother. During his teenage years he developed a love of Mozart and was noted as ‘remarkable’ when playing Beethoven.
Throughout his life, Albert played in private and occasionally with professional musicians.
7. He had several affairs
During his life Albert Einstein was married twice. First, from 1903 until 1919, to Mileva Marić, a fellow student of the Mathematics and Physics teaching diploma in Zürich, and a Serbian Christian, to the displeasure of Albert’s parents.
During this marriage, Albert remained in contact with an early love of his, the daughter of the family he lodged with in Zürich, Marie Winteler. The marriage broke up, however, after Mileva found that Einstein was attracted to his cousin, Elsa Löwenthal, who became his second wife in 1919.
Prior to Elsa’s death in 1936, Albert spent time with at least six other women. This emerged in 2006 when 1,300 letters, previously in storage at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem were released to the public.
8. He had a daughter and two sons
Whilst married, Albert and his first wife, Mileva, had two sons. First was Hans Albert, born in 1904, who became a professor of Hydraulic Engineering at the University of California.
Second came Eduard, who was musically talented and began studying medicine before being diagnosed with schizophrenia aged 20. Eduard was repeatedly institutionalised and received electroconvulsive therapy.
Prior to having sons, however, and before they were married, the couple had a daughter, Lieserl. Letters between Albert and Mileva were published in 1987 which mentioned this daughter, born in 1902.
It is unknown what happened to Lieserl. She may have been adopted, or have died of scarlet fever in 1903.
9. He was awarded a Nobel Prize for Physics in 1922
Albert Einstein received the 1921 Nobel Prize in 1922, after it was reserved for a year as none of the nominees met Alfred Nobel’s criteria.
His prize was ‘for his services to Theoretical Physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect.’ Einstein was to publish more than 300 scientific and 150 non-scientific papers during his lifetime.
10. He settled in the United States during the Second World War
Although the Einstein family were non-observant, Albert’s Ashkenazi Jewish heritage resulted in backlash from the rising Nazi movement. His ‘Jewish physics’ was denounced with the help of other Nobel prize winners in 1931.
In 1932, Einstein left Germany. He settled in Princeton, New Jersey, and did not return. In 1934, Einstein again relinquished German citizenship. He gained United States citizenship in 1940.
11. He was influential in the creation of an atomic bomb.
When, in 1939, other physicists began to warn that the Nazis were researching the creation of an atomic bomb, Einstein wrote to President Roosevelt to encourage the government of the United States to engage in a similar project.
This was against the pacifist principles Einstein had otherwise demonstrated and later said that ‘had I known that the Germans would not success in developing an atomic bomb, I would have done nothing.’
He was not permitted the security clearance to work on the Manhattan Project because of his left-leaning political beliefs.