8 Interesting Facts About Albert Einstein’s Life and Work You Won’t Learn in School
Albert Einstein was a physicist who developed the special and general theories of relativity and received a Nobel Prize for the explanation of the photoelectric effect. Today, Einstein is considered one of the most influential scientists of the 20th century. To the general public, Einstein is best known for his mass-energy equivalence formula E = mc2, which is considered to be the most famous equation in the world.
Einstein was born in Ulm in Germany in 1879. He died in Princeton, New Jersey, in the United States in 1955 at the age of 76. Even though he was born in Germany, Einstein renounced his German citizenship and acquired a Swiss one in 1901, which he kept for the rest of his life. He lived in Switzerland until 1914 when he and his first wife, Mileva Maric, moved to Berlin.
Einstein stayed in Berlin until 1933 when he immigrated to the United States. He decided to leave Germany because Hitler rose to power, and Einstein had a Jewish background. He spent the rest of his life overseas, living in Princeton and working closely with the Institute for Advanced Study. (1)
No matter where you’re from or how old you are, you’ve definitely heard about Einstein before. You’ve learned some of his theories in your physics classes or heard that he received a Nobel Prize. Still, there are many interesting facts about Albert Einstein’s life and work you probably never heard before.
Without any further ado, let’s find out 8 facts about Albert Einstein you probably won’t be able to learn in school!
1. Einstein married the only female student in his class
When Albert was 17 years old, he enrolled in the 4-year physics and mathematics program at the Zürich Polytechnic School. That’s where he met Mileva Maric, the only female student among a group of six other students who were studying in the mathematics and physics section. They were friends for a few years, and over time their friendship evolved into a romance.
The two of them would spend hours reading books, debating, and studying. Einstein mentioned in his letters to Mileva that he preferred studying alongside her. There’s eyewitness evidence and a couple of letters over the years that imply that Mileva might have collaborated with Einstein on his 1905 papers, known as the Annus Mirabilis papers. This evidence also suggests that they developed some of the concepts together during their studies. On the other side, some physics historians disagree that Mileva made any significant contributions.
When the two of them got married and had a daughter, Lieserl, Mileva gave up on her ambitions to take care of her. It’s not clear what happened to Lieserl, but she probably died from scarlet fever when she was one year old. Later, Mileva and Albert had two more children, Hans and Eduard Einstein. (2)
In the past 30 years, the dark side of their relationship emerged from the letters the couple exchanged, and one of them included a cruel list of conditions which Mileva would have to agree to if she and Albert got married. (3)
2. Albert offered his first wife his Nobel Prize money for a divorce
Einstein and his first wife, Mileva, separated in the early 1910s. Albert left his wife and moved to Berlin. The two of them were still officially married when Albert started another relationship with his first cousin, Elsa. Mileva refused to divorce him several times, and Einstein was desperate to separate.
As a part of their separation agreement, Albert promised her an annual allowance plus money he might get once he wins the Nobel Prize. He promised her this a few years before he actually got the prize, but at the time, he was certain that he would eventually receive it. Mileva and Albert divorced in 1919, and once Einstein received the award in 1922, he handed over a small part of his fortune to her. (2)
3. The FBI followed him for several decades
One of the most intriguing facts about Albert Einstein is that he was followed by the FBI for several decades. In 1933, shortly before Albert’s third trip to the US, the FBI started to keep a file about him. There are several reasons why the FBI saw Einstein as a possible threat. During Albert’s stay in the US, Hitler rose to power, and he decided he won’t be going back to Berlin. Einstein had a Jewish background, and he thought that going back to Germany would be unsafe for him.
Einstein was openly supporting pacifist, civil rights, and left-wing causes. All of this drew some suspicion from J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, who thought that Einstein was a Soviet spy. The 22-year surveillance campaign resulted in 1,427 pages of documents. The investigation was mostly focused on Einstein’s connections to pacifist and socialist organizations.
During the investigation, his calls were tapped, his mail was opened, and agents even went through his trash in the hope of finding the evidence that would prove that he was a Soviet spy, without much success. (4)
4. His brain and eyes were stolen after his death
Einstein died in 1955 at the age of 76, after he suffered from internal bleeding caused by the rupture of an abdominal aortic aneurysm. During his autopsy at the Princeton Hospital, the pathologist Thomas Stoltz Harvey removed Einstein’s brain and eyes without the permission of his family. Harvey gave the eyes to Henry Abrams, Einstein’s ophthalmologist, who kept them in a safe in New York City.
Thomas hoped that the future neuroscience would be able to find out why Einstein was so intelligent. He transferred the brain to a lab at the University of Pennsylvania, and dissected it into several pieces. Thomas kept a couple of pieces to himself and gave the rest to some of the best pathologists at the time to examine them.
The brain was rediscovered in Harvey’s possession in 1978, by the journalist Steven Levy. After Thomas died, his heirs transferred the remains of the brain to the National Museum of Health and Medicine. (5)
5. Einstein never failed math, but he did fail the university entrance exam
The idea that Einstein failed math in school is probably one of the most popular facts about Albert Einstein. To this day, this idea is still widely promoted on the internet, probably as a way to humanize Einstein’s genius. During his early education, Albert was an average student, but unsurprisingly, math was the area where he proved to be very skilled from a young age.
On the other hand, a 16-year old Einstein did fail an entrance exam for the Swiss Federal Polytechnic, a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics school. When that failure happened, it wasn’t the lack of his knowledge in maths or physics that prevented him from enrolling in one of his dream schools. It was the French language, which he didn’t know well enough. Einstein had to retake the exam one year later, and this time – he barely met the criteria. (6)
6. He didn’t get the Nobel Prize for the Theory of Relativity
Today, Einstein’s most famous work is the theory of relativity. However, this theory wasn’t the one that landed him the Nobel Prize. Actually, the theory of relativity didn’t get him any prize at all. Einstein received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921 for his work about the photoelectric effect. (7)
7. Einstein couldn’t get a job in his field for almost a decade
After Einstein finished his studies, he wanted to become a physics professor. However, it took him years before he could land a job as a teacher, even after he came up with the mass-energy equivalence formula. Einstein applied to many jobs, even at several high schools, offering to teach both physics and math.
However, he was rejected time after time. The reason for these rejections might be that he was, in general, an average student who excelled only in physics which was deemed not enough for the job of a professor. Today, we know that Einstein was a genius and well ahead of his time, but his talents would emerge from his work later in his life. (8) (9)
8. Albert Einstein couldn’t swim or drive
Einstein, who didn’t know some of the skills that are considered the basics of life, such as swimming and driving.
However, the most unusual thing about this is that Einstein loved to sail and he frequently went on trips. He would refuse to wear a life vest, and he had to be constantly rescued, sometimes by kids or nearby boaters. (10)
When it comes to driving a car, Einstein never learned to drive one. He preferred to walk, and as he lived in a small town, he didn’t really need one to get around. Albert also thought that driving was a bit too complicated. (11)
There you have it – those were some of the most interesting facts about Albert Einstein. Did you know about these before? Do you have some other ones to suggest? Let us know in the comments below!
Oh, and while you’re here – don’t forget to check out our collection of Albert Einstein quotes!