Albert Einstein was born on March 14, 1879, in Ulm, Germany, but he grew up and obtained his early education in Munich, Germany. He was a poor student, and some of his teachers thought he might be retarded (mentally handicapped); he was unable to speak fluently (with ease and grace) at age nine. Still, he was fascinated by the laws of nature, experiencing a deep feeling of wonder when puzzling over the invisible, yet real, force directing the needle of a compass. He began playing the violin at age six and would continue to play throughout his life.
Einstein’s formal secondary education ended at age sixteen. He disliked school, and just as he was planning to find a way to leave without hurting his chances for entering the university, his teacher expelled him because his bad attitude was affecting his classmates.
Einstein passed his examination to graduate from the FIT in 1900, but due to the opposition of one of his professors he was unable to go on to obtain the usual university assistantship. In 1902 he was hired as an inspector in the patent office in Bern, Switzerland. Six months later he married Mileva Maric, a former classmate in Zurich. They had two sons. It was in Bern, too, that Einstein, at twenty-six, completed the requirements for his doctoral degree and wrote the first of his revolutionary scientific papers.
In 1909, after serving as a lecturer at the University of Bern, Einstein was called as an associate professor to the University of Zurich. Two years later he was appointed a full professor at the German University in Prague, Czechoslovakia. Within another year-and-a-half Einstein became a full professor at the FIT. Finally, in 1913 the well-known scientists Max Planck (1858–1947) and Walther Nernst (1864–1941) traveled to Zurich to persuade Einstein to accept a lucrative (profitable) research professorship at the University of Berlin in Germany, as well as full membership in the Prussian Academy of Science.
When he went to Berlin, his wife remained behind in Zurich with their two sons; they divorced, and Einstein married his cousin Elsa in 1917.
In 1920 Einstein was appointed to a lifelong honorary visiting professorship at the University of Leiden in Holland. In 1921 and 1922 Einstein, accompanied by Chaim Weizmann (1874–1952), the future president of the state of Israel, traveled all over the world to win support for the cause of Zionism (the establishing of an independent Jewish state). In Germany, where hatred of Jewish people was growing, the attacks on Einstein began. Philipp Lenard and Johannes Stark, both Nobel Prize–winning physicists, began referring to Einstein’s theory of relativity as “Jewish physics.” These kinds of attacks increased until Einstein resigned from the Prussian Academy of Science in 1933.
On several occasions Einstein had visited the California Institute of Technology, and on his last trip to the United States he was offered a position in the newly established Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, Massachusetts. He went there in 1933.
Einstein played a key role (1939) in the construction of the atomic bomb by signing a famous letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945). It said that the Germans had made scientific advances and that it was possible that Adolf Hitler (1889–1945, the German leader whose actions led to World War II [1939–45]), might become the first to have atomic weapons. This led to an all-out U.S. effort to construct such a bomb. Einstein was deeply shocked and saddened when his famous equation E=mc 2 was finally demonstrated in the most awesome and terrifying way by using the bomb to destroy Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945. For a long time he could only utter “Horrible, horrible.”
It would be difficult to find a more suitable epitaph (a brief statement summing up a person’s person’s life) than the words Einstein himself used in describing his life: “God …gave me the stubbornness of a mule and nothing else; really …He also gave me a keen scent.” On April 18, 1955, Einstein died in Princeton.