More Facts About the Biggest “Facts” Everybody Knows About Albert Einstein

October 8, 2019

Everybody has heard of Albert Einstein, and everybody knows a handful of things about him. The only problem: They don’t know the whole truth about those facts.

Einstein didn’t fail math as a kid.

It’s one of those common factoids that’s most often repeated as words of comfort in times of failure, or to kids having trouble in school. “Hey, so you got a C in English and you want to be a writer,” it might go, “but even Einstein failed math and he went on to become the greatest scientist ever!” The sentiment of encouragement is nice, but the story behind it isn’t true. As a young student, Einstein was a decent student, but his genius-level abilities started to emerge around age 11. By that point, he was reading college-level textbooks and was fascinated with physics. The notion that he “failed math” probably comes from how he did fail a math-heavy entrance exam to get into Zurich Polytechnic. But he can explain: He took it two years early, and it was in French, a language in which Einstein was not particularly fluent.

Einstein didn’t help build the atom bomb.

He didn’t contribute any science, but he did thing an atom bomb might be a good idea…in the right hands. In 1939, Einstein heard that Nazi scientists that learned how to split the uranium atom — a huge step in harnessing atomic energy for use in terrifying military weaponry. Thoroughly frightened that Hitler could have nuclear weapons, Einstein wrote a letter to President Franklin Roosevelt about his concerns, urging him to make sure that the Allies developed the atom bomb before the Nazis could. However, Einstein was an outspoken pacifist with extreme left-wing political beliefs. Because of his socialist-leaning tendencies, he was never granted the proper security clearances to be part of the bomb-building Manhattan Project.

Einstein wasn’t in a good mood when he posed for that famous poster.

It’s a poster that’s adorned the walls of countless dorm rooms and professors offices: Albert Einstein, sticking his tongue out. It’s a humanizing image — that even one of the smartest and hardest-working people who ever lived was also just a regular person who liked to have a good time. But at the time the photograph was taken, Einstein was definitely not in the mood for silliness. In 1951, Einstein was honored on his 72nd birthday with an event at Princeton University. The media showed up, including United Press International photographer Arthur Sasse, who tried in vain to get Einstein to pose and smile for a photo. But Einstein didn’t want to — he’d already smiled for countless other photographers all day, and it left him tired and grouchy. Sasse kept asking, and Einstein, exasperated, stuck his tongue out instead. The photo later ran in several newspapers…and Einstein loved it. He contacted UPI and ordered reproductions of it, and sent the picture of himself with his tongue out as greeting cards. UPI soon licensed the photo for use on posters, and later T-shirts, coffee mugs, stickers, buttons…

It’s a scientific fact that if you enjoyed this article, you’ll enjoy similar ones in Who Knew? Physics, available now from Portable Press.