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6 Mind-Blowing Facts About Albert Einstein

It’s strange to imagine a scientist achieving the widespread recognition and adulation enjoyed by movie stars and elite athletes, but Albert Einstein’s life was seemingly propelled by such contradictions. He was an undistinguished student (according to some accounts) who blew the doors off centuries of established Newtonian physics; a pacifist who encouraged the creation of the atomic bomb; and an inherently soft-spoken individual who became a reliable dispenser of timeless wisdom. Here are six quick-hitting facts about this legendary 20th-century luminary.

His Speech Was Slow to Develop in Childhood

Although he would eventually discover ways to communicate the far-reaching concepts percolating in his imagination, a young Einstein was slow to learn to talk properly. According to Walter Isaacson’s Einstein: His Life and Universe, the future physicist didn't begin speaking until after turning 2 years old, and for several years after that would whisper words quietly to himself before saying them out loud. This behavior sparked concerns that he had an intellectual disability, with the family maid nicknaming him “der Depperte” — “the dopey one.” Nowadays, a child who is slow to pick up language but otherwise exhibits sound analytical thinking is sometimes said to have Einstein’s syndrome.

He Rose to Fame After a Solar Eclipse Confirmed His Theory of General Relativity

Still largely unknown even after publishing a string of revolutionary papers in his “annus mirabilis” of 1905, Einstein was primed for another breakthrough after uncovering the equations to support his theory of general relativity in 1915. However, as Germany was entrenched in warfare with much of the rest of Europe, it took a standup act of international goodwill for English astronomers Arthur Eddington and Frank Watson Dyson to test out the German physicist’s work. Their expeditions to examine the solar eclipse of May 29, 1919, confirmed Einstein’s prediction that gravity would cause light to “bend” around the sun, and the public revelation of those findings a few months later marked the beginning of Einstein’s ascension to the status of world-renowned genius.

He Was an Enthusiastic Amateur Musician

When not immersed in mathematical minutiae, Einstein was known to unwind by playing the violin or piano. He reportedly traveled almost everywhere with his violin — although he owned several throughout his life, he nicknamed all of them “Lina” — and hosted regular Wednesday night chamber sessions during his years living in Princeton, New Jersey. So just how good was this master of the universe at his musical endeavors? He apparently struggled to stay in sync, but otherwise drew solid praise from acquaintances, who described his violin talents with comments ranging from “accurate but not sensuous” to “a good technique and an opulent tone.”

The Famous "Tongue Photo" Was Shot on His 72nd Birthday

Known for an irreverent personality to match his astonishing brainpower, Einstein showcased his cheeky nature following an evening spent celebrating his 72nd birthday at Princeton University on March 14, 1951. Reportedly tired of dealing with the press that swarmed the event, the professor climbed into a car with two colleagues, stuck out his tongue in response to a request for one more photo, and zoomed off into the night. UPI photographer Arthur Sasse timed the shot perfectly, and whatever irritation Einstein felt at the moment the photo was taken, he liked the outcome enough to order nine prints to use for personal greeting cards.

He Declined an Offer to Be President of Israel

After publicly supporting the Zionist movement (even though his relationship with Zionism was complex), Einstein had the opportunity to become Israel’s second president following the death of Chaim Weizmann in 1952. The pitch came late that year in a letter from Israeli ambassador Abba Eban, who promised the academic icon “freedom to pursue your great scientific work” but also stipulated that the move to Israel would be required. Einstein wrote back that he was “saddened and ashamed” he could not accept, citing his advancing age and an inability to “deal properly with people” as reasons for declining the honor.

The FBI Kept a Thick File on the Outspoken Physicist

Although he escaped Nazi persecution by fleeing to the United States in 1932, Einstein soon drew attention from government watchdogs of his adopted home country. FBI concern was initially moderate over his anti-war views and friendships with far-left figures such as actor, singer, and activist Paul Robeson, but bureau chief J. Edgar Hoover upped the ante after Einstein criticized the development of the hydrogen bomb during a TV appearance in 1950. The FBI tried — and failed — to obtain permission to wiretap Einstein’s phone and have him deported, but nevertheless monitored his correspondence and investigated his personal and professional relationships. By the time of his death in 1955, Einstein’s FBI file had swollen to a whopping 1,427 pages.

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