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Time magazine recently named theoretical physicist Albert Einstein its “person of the century” in its year-end issue (December 27, 1999), citing not only his intellectual brilliance but his humanitarian concerns, and describing him as a “paramount icon of our age.”
Born in Germany in 1879, Einstein is notorious for having been expelled by a headmaster as a young school boy. He went on to win the 1921 Nobel Prize in physics for uncovering the theory of the photo-electric effect.
His early work on the fundamentals of quantum theory and, of course, relativity, laid the groundwork for much of modern physics. This in turn paved the way for an unprecedented degree of technological development, including nuclear fission and fusion – the basis for the atomic bomb, nuclear power, and solar energy.
Einstein emigrated to the US in 1933 to take a post at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ, narrowly escaping persecution by the Nazi government because of his Jewish heritage. He has since become one of the most recognizable faces in American physics, and has even been immortalized on the Silver Screen by actor Walter Matthau in the popular romantic comedy, I.Q
In announcing their selection, the magazine editors wrote, “In a century that will be remembered foremost for its science and technology – in particular for our ability to understand and then harness the forces of the atom and the universe – one person clearly stands out as both the greatest mind and paramount icon of our age: The kindly, absent-minded professor whose wild halo of hair, piercing eyes, engaging humanity and extraordinary brilliance made his face.
The Most Important People of the Century
Time 100: The Most Important People of the Century is a compilation of the 20th century’s 100 most influential people, published in Time magazine in 1999.
The idea for such a list started on February 1, 1998, with a debate at a symposium in Hanoi, Vietnam. The panel participants were former CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, former New York governor Mario Cuomo, then–Stanford Provost Condoleezza Rice, publisher Irving Kristol, and Time managing editor Walter Isaacson.
In a separate issue on December 31, 1999, Time recognized Albert Einstein as the Person of the Century.
Person of the Century
Of the 100 chosen, Albert Einstein was chosen as the Person of the Century, on the grounds that he was the preeminent scientist in a century dominated by science.
The editors of Time believed the 20th century “will be remembered foremost for its science and technology”, and Einstein “serves as a symbol of all the scientists—such as Fermi, Heisenberg, Bohr, Richard Feynman, …who built upon his work”.
The cover of the magazine featured the famous image of Einstein taken in 1947 by American portrait photographer Philippe Halsman.
Runners-up were Mahatma Gandhi and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
It was debated whether Adolf Hitler, responsible for World War II and The Holocaust, and Benito Mussolini for the Second Italo-Ethiopian War, should have been made Persons of the Century for their influence in politics.
The argument was based on Time’s explicit criterion that the persons chosen should have the greatest impact on this century, for better or worse.
In the same 31 December 1999 issue of Time, essayist Nancy Gibbs addressed the topic with the article The Necessary Evil? In the article, she argues that Hitler and Mussolini “were simply the latest in a long line of murderous figures, stretching back to before Genghis Khan.
The only difference was technology: Both Hitler and Mussolini went about their cynical carnage with all the efficiency that modern industry had perfected” and present several rhetorical questions such as “Evil may be a powerful force, a seductive idea, but is it more powerful than genius, creativity, courage or generosity?”
The list of the top 20 Artists and Entertainers, in particular, was criticized for not including Elvis Presley, a decision that Time magazine representative Bruce Handy initially defended in the following way:
One of the most important, innovative things about rock is the whole notion of songwriters singing their own works, of the immediacy of expression. Since Elvis didn’t write his own material, unlike The Beatles or Bob Dylan or Robert Johnson, who’s also someone who could have been included, maybe that cut against him…
I think the Beatles pushed the envelope a lot further. Elvis’ most original recordings were his first. The Beatles started out as imitators, then continued to grow throughout their years together.
The list also received criticism for its inclusion of Lucky Luciano, who was chosen in part because “he modernized the Mafia, shaping it into a smoothly run national crime syndicate focused on the bottom line”.
New York mayor Rudy Giuliani accused Time of “romanticizing” gangsters, and he stated: “The idea that he civilized the Mafia is absurd. He murdered in order to get the position that he had, and then he authorized hundreds and hundreds of murders.
A picture goes around the world – Einstein’s tongue
Who doesn’t know the black and white picture with the head of Albert Einstein, on which he sticks out his tongue to the respective observer. The picture which was taken in 1951, is still present on the front pages of magazines, on posters and t-shirts.
When and where was this picture taken?
It was taken on Einstein’s 72nd birthday in Princeton on March 14, 1951 by a press photographer (Arthur Sasse). The original picture shows Einstein sitting on the backseat of a car between Dr Frank Aydelotte, the former head of the Institute for Advanced Study, and his wife.
Why did Einstein stick out his tongue to the photographer?
Albert Einstein and the Aydelottes were just returning from an event which had taken place in honour of Einstein. Einstein was, though already sitting in the car, still bullied by reporters and photographers. They didn’t let him be and he is said to have shouted: “That’s enough, that’s enough!” However, these words didn’t hinder the photographers from taking some more pictures of Einstein and his companions. And when he still was asked to pose for a birthday picture he really grew tired of the journalists and the photographers and as encouraging words didn’t help any more, he stuck out his tongue to his “prosecutors”. The photographer Arthur Sasse pressed the button of his camera in just this moment.
Einstein liked the picture very much. He cut it into shape so only he can still be seen. Then he had made several copies of it and sent the thus “manipulated” picture as a greeting card to friends later on.
In this form we know it today and though it isn’t shown here the reader clearly remembers the picture with Einstein’s tongue.
Einstein’s written heritage
In his will from March 18, 1950 Albert Einstein left his whole written heritage to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which can today be found in the Albert Einstein Archives in Jerusalem. Duplicates of the Jerusalem Einstein Archives are in Boston, in Princeton and in Zurich (ETH). Smaller collections of Einstein documents are for example in the Leo-Baeck-Institute in New York, in the “Staatsarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz” (State Archive of the Prussian Cultural Heritage) in Berlin and in the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
At the time of his death Einstein’s written heritage consisted of about 14.000 documents. The two personal representatives Dr. Otto Nathan (1893-1987) and Helen Dukas (1896-1982) could expand this number from 1955 to 1982 to about 42.000 documents. However, they are mostly xeroxes or transcripts and today you can be sure that the respective originals are in the possession of the original receiver or their families as well as collectors of autographs.
The Albert Einstein Archives in Jerusalem owns today about 55.000 archive documents from which about 10.000, partly in handwritten form, are from Einstein himself. The other documents are copies or transcripts of Einstein’s originals as well as letters, manuscripts, etc. which Einstein has received.
The number of contemporaries with which Einstein corresponded, is hard to estimate. According to the Jerusalem Einstein Archives there are about 570 known and important names of scientists and far more than 200 non-scientific ones Einstein exchanged letters with. This category includes, among other persons, crowned heads, politicians, writers and artists. Einstein had also uncountable writing contacts with unknown or scientifically interested persons or people looking for help and with children.
The Riverside Church in New York, USA
In New York, 490 Riverside Drive, directly on Hudson River stands the Riverside Church which was built in 1929. The financial means for the protestant church were made available by John D. Rockefeller Jr.
The gothic bell tower has a height of 120 m and from there you have a nice view on Upper Manhattan. In this bell tower there is the biggest carillon in the world. It consists of 74 bells! The hour bell weighs 20 tons and is the biggest and heaviest tuned bell ever manufactured. In the interior of the church there is among many sculptures, paintings and other sacred objetes d’art also the organ. It consists of 22000 pipes, makes a beautiful sound and is one of the biggest organs in the world.
The interior and the outer facades of the church are decorated with many sculptures. On the outer façade the sculptures of great scholars of all times and peoples are to be seen, too. When deciding which scholar should he hewn in stone, also Albert Einstein’s name was mentioned.
What Einstein is supposed to have thought in that moment when he heard that information and saw himself immortalized in stone? Contemporaries reported that he looked at the sculpture calmly and thoughtfully. But it would also be thinkable that there was a mischievous smile on his face and an ironic remark.
Albert Einstein and Albert Schweitzer
Albert Einstein and Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) were kindred spirits and had many things in common. Both were born in Germany, Schweitzer 4 years before Einstein. They experienced the empire, the Weimar Republic, Nazi Germany, two World Wars and the atomic era.
In the course of their lives both received worldwide numerous decorations, prizes and honorary promotions. Among other things they received the Nobel Prize (Einstein: Nobel Prize for Physics, 1921; Schweitzer: Nobel Prize for Peace, 1952) and were bearers of the Ordens Pour le mérite. After Einstein’s death his secretary Helen Dukas wrote to Schweitzer in April 1957: “So many things you say in your letters could have been from Einstein himself.”
Albert Einstein and Albert Schweitzer incessantly strived for truth, peace, liberty and humanity. They fought for prosecuted and threatened people and time and again raised their voices loudly against the craziness of arms race and against the danger of an atomic war.
Einstein said about Schweitzer in 1953:
“Due to my opinion he is the only person in the western world – comparable with Gandhi – who has had a supranational moral effect on this generation. As it is with Gandhi, the force of this effect stems mostly from the example which he has given through his practical life’s work.”