When Albert Einstein was being divorced from his first wife Mileva in 1919, her lawyer suggested his alimony be the money he'd get when he won the Nobel Prize for Physics.
Two years later, of course, Einstein did win the Nobel Prize for Physics, a copy of which goes on display today at the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of History and Technology. There is a collection of Einstein memorabilia on display at the museum to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his birth, which took place March 14, 1879 in the German city of Ulm.
The exhibit ranges from original correspondence Einstein coducted in German with Sigmund Freud to letters in English to President Roosevelt. Intact and under glass is the blackboard on which Einstein wrote in chalk during his second Rhodes lecture at Oxford in 1931. There are photographs of Einstein by Philippe Halsman and busts by Jo Davidson and Jacob Epstein. His pipe is here under glass, just as it was when he gave it to sculptor Gina Plunguian in 1953 when she asked him for it.
Einstein wouldn't like the Einstein display because he never liked anybody making a fuss over him. He never liked being photographed even through he was endlessly photographed. Once, when a stranger asked Einstein his profession, the mathematician replied: "I am a model."
But like it or not, Einstein goes on display today at the Smithsonian, where he will be exhibited for the next year. As University of Texas physicist John A. Wheeler said not long ago: "Einstein doesn't belong to Einstein any more. He belongs to the world."
Organized by curators Paul Forman and Paul A. Hanle, the exhibit, "Einstein: A Centenary Exhibition," concentrates on letters, papers and manuscripts that illustrate major portions of Einstein's life. Here we find the book rejecting him for military service in Switzerland, where he studied and got his first job in the Swiss patent office. Why was Einstein rejected? He had flat feet.
A Jew with a strong interest in Zionism, Einstein left his native Germany and his beloved Berlin in 1933, the year Hitler became chancellor. Einstein never went back to Germany. Less than a year after arriving at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study, his congressman introduced Joint Resolution 309 "to admit Albert Einstein to citizenship." Einstein's letter asking the congressman to withdraw the resolution is in the exhibit, along with a copy of the resolution never voted on by Congress.
In June 1940, Einstein, his stepdaughter and his secretary Helen Lukas applied at the courthouse in Trenton, M.J., to become American citizens, an event broadcast on the radio. A short time later, Einstein took the oath of allegiance.
The New York Times reported: "Standing at the head of the class of new citizens, he toyed with a fountain pen throughout the taking of the oath and Judge Forman's speech. To requests for a statement he said: 'I do not feel that I should say anything.' Finally, Dr. Einstein said: 'I feel it is an important moment in my life'."
Citizen Einstein took his citizenship seriously, as revealed in a letter to Franklin D. Roosevelt, in which Einstein congratulated him on winning a third term as president. Many of his letters to Roosevelt are in the exhibit, loaned to the Smithsonian by the FDR library at Hyde Park.
Not on exhibit is the famous Einstein letter to Roosevelt warning him of the consequences of Nazi Germany's interest in an atomic bomb. This letter is the property of Princeton and the Einstein estate, which refused to loan anything to the Simth-sonian.
"We tried very hard to get letters and photographs from the Einstein estate,' curator Forman said the other day. "They said no and said they never lend anything out. They maintain it's an unbending policy."
Much of the exhibit has Einstein at work using his only tools -- pencil and paper. There were no computers to elaborate his unique equations. He did it all from his head. His lecture notes are here, with crossed-out lines,corrected formulas, erasures and huge blots of ink where his pen failed. The blackboard where he chalked out at Oxford an equation describing the expansion of the universe is here with the erasure he made with his finger to correct a mistake he'd made in an earlier equation.
Also here: illustrations of his friends and collaborators attempting to prove and disprove his theories of relativity; the famous 1919 experiment at the Solar Observatory in Potsdam confirming his prediction that starlight would be bent by the sun's gravitational field; reconfirmation in 1922 during the total eclipse of the sun over Australia.
Wrote W.W. Campbell, the American leader of the eclipse expedition: "The amount of light deflection from any star is... as predicted by Einstein's theory."
Einstein liked to say he was apolitical, but he wasn't. In 1955, he joined British phiosopher Bertrand Russell in warning the world of the dangers of nuclear war. It was the last of Einstein's hundreds of outright political statements. His letter to Russell is here on exhibit and probably contains Einstein's last signature.
Six days later Einstein died with an incomplete draft at tis bedside of a statement supporting the new state of Israel.