Einstein, Albert

Einstein, Albert (1879-1955) first visited Princeton in 1921 -- the year before he received the Nobel Prize -- to deliver five Stafford Little lectures on the theory of relativity and to accept an honorary degree. He returned again in 1933 as a life member of the newly founded Institute for Advanced Study and lived here for the remaining twenty-two years of his life.

Although his two-month visit to America in 1921 was made primarily to advance the cause of the Zionist movement, Einstein accepted Princeton's invitation to deliver the tour's most extensive series of scientific lectures because he felt more had been done here in relation to this theory of relativity than anywhere else in the United States. At ceremonies in Alexander Hall, President Hibben welcomed Einstein in German and conferred on him Princeton's honorary Doctor of Science, following the reading of a citation by Dean Andrew Fleming West, who saluted him as ``the new Columbus of science, `voyaging through strange seas of thought alone.'''

Scientists from all over the country packed McCosh 50 for all five lectures. Each lecture, which Einstein delivered in German, was followed with a resum‚ in English by Princeton physicist Edwin P. Adams, who was, the Daily Princetonian noted, among the leading American expositors of the relativity theory, along with his Princeton colleagues mathematician Luther P. Eisenhart and astrophysicist Henry Norris Russell. After being submitted to Einstein for revision and final approval, a transcript of the lectures was translated into English by Professor Adams for publication by Princeton University Press, which gained the distinction of being the first United States publisher to bring out a book by the world's most acclaimed living scientist. The Meaning of Relativity has been republished in five editions and is still in print.

After Einstein's acceptance of appointment at the Institute for Advanced Study in 1933, the University enjoyed a renewal of its earlier association with him. All four of his colleagues in the Institute's School of Mathematics -- its first branch -- had previously been professors in the University, and until the Institute erected its first building in 1939, Einstein's office (Room 109) and theirs were located in the University's original Fine Hall, a building that contained several decorative tributes to Einstein's genius -- his relativity equations among the motifs in the leaded windows and his famous remark, ``God is subtle, but he is not malicious,'' carved in the original German over the fireplace in the Common Room.

When the Institute's Fuld Hall was completed in 1939, Einstein took an office there on the ground floor, customarily walking the mile-and-a-half between his white frame house at 112 Mercer Street and the Institute. He found his quiet life at Princeton ``indescribably enjoyable,'' and wrote his friend, the physicist Max Born, that he had ``settled down splendidly'' -- ``I hibernate like a bear in its cave, and really feel more at home than ever before in all my varied existence.''

His chief recreations in Princeton were playing the violin at musical evenings with friends, sailing in a little secondhand sailboat on Lake Carnegie, and walking in the countryside near the Institute.

During the Princeton years, Einstein continued his studies in general relativity, his critical discussion of the interpretation of quantum theory, and his work on a unified field theory, which was included in appendices to The Meaning of Relativity in its third, fourth, and fifth University Press editions. At the same time, he played an increasingly prominent role on the world stage as an advocate of nuclear control and world peace.

On the occasion of Einstein's seventieth birthday, some three hundred scientists gathered in Frick Chemical Laboratory for a symposium on his contributions to modern science, held under the joint auspices of the University and the Institute, whose director, J. Robert Oppenheimer, expressed the universal esteem in which Einstein was held by scientists the world over by referring to him in his opening remarks as ``the greatest member of our brotherhood.''

When Einstein died six years later in 1955, the Daily Princetonian devoted an entire issue to him, with tributes from friends and colleagues. Physics Department chairman Allen G. Shenstone, who was Einstein's neighbor on Mercer Street, said his character was ``the most beautiful'' that he had ever known. Henry D. Smyth, chairman of the University's Research Board and a former member of the Atomic Energy Commission, spoke of ``the informality and simplicity which characterized his relations with lesser scientists of all ages,'' and declared that Physics at Princeton had ``immeasurably benefited by his presence at the Institute for Advanced Study.''

A statement from the Institute voiced the feeling colleagues there ``shared with all the world'' that ``one of the great figures of mankind's struggle for intellectual insight and moral improvement'' had passed ``into the indelible record of history where his lofty place has long been assured.''

In the years since his death, Einstein's association with Princeton has been commemorated in a number of ways. A new United States postage stamp bearing a Philippe Halsman photograph of him was issued in Princeton under the sponsorship of the University and the Institute in 1966, on the eighty-seventh anniversary of his birth. Nine years later, a University professorship was endowed in his name with a $1 million grant from the International Business Machines Corporation, and Robert H. Dicke, a former physics department chairman known for his studies in the field of gravity and for important experimental tests of Einstein's general theory of relativity, was named first Albert Einstein Professor of Science. In the mid-seventies, plans were going forward for publication of Einstein's papers by Princeton University Press in a series expected to run more than twenty volumes -- a project the New York Times called ``one of the more ambitious publishing ventures of the century.''


From Alexander Leitch, A Princeton Companion, copyright Princeton University Press (1978).

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