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Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Albert Einstein

Did Einstein show any signs of future greatness as an infant?

His first impression wasn't one of fame, no. Born in Ulm, Germany, on March 14, 1879, Albert was the first child of Pauline and Hermann Einstein. And to say the couple was less than impressed with their newborn son would be an understatement; they thought his head was grotesquely oversized. His parents described Albert to the delivering physician as a "monstrosity." The doctor convinced them that all infant heads appeared larger than normal and that Albert's body would grow to become more proportionate to his cranium. Of course, once that happened, his grandmother clucked over him and complained to his parents that the boy was "much too fat!"

Was he really a slow learner?

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Yes and no. The youngster didn't start to speak until he was two years old, but when he did chatter, he skipped all that "mama, dada" bunk and started off using full sentences. In 1881, Albert's parents presented him with a new little sister, Maria (called "Maja" by family and friends). When two-year-old Albert saw her for the first time, he presumed that she was some sort of toy, and asked "Where does it have its small wheels?" Despite his original skepticism, Maja and Albert soon became best friends.

Did Einstein suffer from a neurological disorder?

Einstein's primary-school teachers reported that the child had a powerful and lingering distaste of authority. Coupled with his late-developing speech, some medical professionals have suggested this behavior as symptomatic of either autism or Asperger's Syndrome. Throughout his childhood and adult life, however, Albert did not exhibit any other behavior that would have been typical of such a diagnosis. He had no difficulty communicating with others, for example. He also demonstrated the emotional capacity to develop both close friendships and passionate relationships.

Is it true that Einstein failed math class as a primary-school student?

This "fact" has circulated for many decades, presumably as encouragement to those of us who actually did struggle with long division. In 1935, a Princeton rabbi showed Albert Einstein a Ripley's Believe It or Not! column that included the anecdote.

Einstein laughed and claimed that he'd been at the top of his class, even in primary school. "Before I was fifteen," he added, "I had mastered differential and integral calculus."

Aside from his theorems and formulae, did Einstein pursue anything else in his laboratory?

In a scenario fitting for a genius, love first bloomed for Albert in the physics lab at the Swiss Polytechnic School in 1901. There, he quickly attached himself to Mileva Maric, a brilliant young Serbian girl who was the only female physics student at the institute at that time. Soon, the two were inseparable. But Pauline, Albert's mother, did not approve of the girl. She felt Mileva was bookish and unattractive. Worse, she belonged to a different faith. "If she has a child," Pauline warned her son, "you'll be in a pretty mess." That was all the prompting Albert needed, and a year later, Mileva returned home to give birth to a daughter. They named the girl Lieserl and left her with Mileva's parents in Serbia, telling no one else of her existence. Some sources indicate that Lieserl was mentally handicapped at birth and then went blind after a bout of scarlet fever at age one. While her ultimate disposition is uncertain, researchers hypothesize that she was put up for adoption and ultimately raised by a friend of Mileva's.

Albert wasn't a particularly warm and fuzzy guy, then?

It doesn't seem so, based on a cache of letters and other papers he bequeathed to Hebrew University. He did marry Mileva in 1903, but continued to have extramarital dalliances throughout their time together. While the couple went on to have two sons, their relationship was a tenuous one. Eventually, Albert drew up a "contract" that required Mileva to keep his clothes and study clean, prepare and serve his meals, and renounce all personal relations with him. He openly discussed his various liaisons with other family members and confided that of all the "dames" he frequented, he liked the "decent, discreet, and harmless" ones best.

Was Al strictly business, or did he enjoy a hearty laugh now and again?

Einstein was known to have a downright bawdy sense of humor, and he enjoyed teasing his wife. While entertaining a group of esteemed and intellectual guests, he'd purposely try to shock Mileva by launching into a risqué story. This would prompt her to cut him off with a sharp "Albert!" followed by a coquettish giggle. He also treasured a gag gift given to him by an engraver friend "“ a tin nameplate inscribed Albert Ritter von Steissbein, which roughly translates to "Albert, Knight of the Backside." Einstein proudly affixed the tag to the door of his apartment.

Did he have any hobbies?

Albert Einstein worked in the Swiss Patent Office from 1902 until 1909. He studied for his doctorate degree during those years, and also published several scientific papers in his spare time. One of these demonstrated how radiation converts mass to energy: the Theory of Special Relativity. Einstein's years in the patent office resulted in a lifelong interest in inventions. He enjoyed tinkering with electronics, which led to a few patents of his own, including one for a noiseless refrigerator and another for a transistorized hearing aid.

What was Einstein's involvement with the Manhattan Project?

His only direct participation in developing the atomic bomb was to solve a theoretical problem posed to him by the bomb's developers, who requested his input on their key task of using gaseous diffusion to separate fissionable material. Einstein did write a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, however, to encourage him to accelerate the development of such a bomb. Albert believed that the Nazis (who were responsible for his hasty emigration to the U.S.) were on the brink of unleashing their own nuclear weaponry.

Did Einstein show any musical aptitude?

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Yes, indeed. In fact, music was one of the few ways that he expressed himself artistically. His mother, a talented pianist, gave little Albert a violin when he was five years old. The young perfectionist was 13 before he finally felt that he'd mastered the instrument. From then on, the violin was his constant companion. Einstein's eldest son, Hans, recalled that his father would take refuge by playing the fiddle when he found himself "stuck" on a difficult challenge. After the session, he'd find a way to resolve the problem.

Did the man own a comb, for heaven's sake?

Yes, but his mind was so busy with other things that he regularly forgot to use it. Einstein's overall neglect of personal appearance began shortly after the birth of his first son, Hans. The baby would keep the entire household awake by crying throughout the night. Albert couldn't miss a day of work, of course. He had to support a family of not only a wife and son, but also his widowed, aging mother.

On an almost daily basis, as he made his way to work at the Swiss Patent Office, he would see his reflection in store windows and realize "I forgot to comb my hair again." In later life, the über-efficient Einstein's attitude was obvious. "Long hair minimizes the need for barbers."

Was he a snappy dresser?

Not so much. As a child, Einstein noted that his big toe would eventually poke a hole in every sock he wore. "Why bother?" the genius thought. He only "dressed up" when it was absolutely necessary.

Albert's typical head-to-toe attire consisted of an undershirt, baggy pants held up with a rope, and sandals.

His attitude was either people knew and accepted him, or they didn't. Case closed.

What's the deal with that tongue picture?

0101-cover.jpgThe photograph in question was taken on his 72nd birthday — March 14, 1951. Einstein was leaving an event held in his honor at Princeton University, and got into the back seat of a car along with Dr. Frank Aydelotte, the former head of the Institute for Advanced Study. The paparazzi were coaxing Mr. Einstein through the car windows to "smile for camera" for the umpteenth time that day. A weary Albert responded by sticking out his tongue. UPI shutterbug Arthur Sasse snapped the iconic image, which originally included the faces of Dr. and Mrs. Aydelotte in the car as well. The classic photo was cropped to its current format by none other than Einstein himself, who liked it so much that he sent his friends greeting cards decorated with the image.

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
Michael Campanella/Getty Images
Michael Campanella/Getty Images

Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.

1. ON SCIENCE

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.

2. ON NASA FUNDING

"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles

3. ON GOD AND HURRICANES

"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole

4. ON THE BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY INVENTED FOR USE IN SPACE

"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles

5. ON THE DEMOTION OF PLUTO FROM PLANET STATUS 


PBS

"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

6. ON JAMES CAMERON'S TITANIC

"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole

7. ON DEATH BY ASTEROID

"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles

8. ON THE MOTIVATIONS BEHIND AMERICA'S MOONSHOT

"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

9. ON INTELLIGENT LIFE (OR THE LACK THEREOF)

Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."

10. PRACTICAL ADVICE IN THE EVENT OF ALIEN CONTACT 

A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios

"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole

How Apple's '1984' Super Bowl Ad Was Almost Canceled

More than 30 years ago, Apple defined the Super Bowl commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII, nobody watched the game "just for the commercials"—but one epic TV spot, directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, changed all that. Read on for the inside story of the commercial that rocked the world of advertising, even though Apple's Board of Directors didn't want to run it at all.

THE AD

If you haven't seen it, here's a fuzzy YouTube version:

"WHY 1984 WON'T BE LIKE 1984"

The tagline "Why 1984 Won't Be Like '1984'" references George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984, which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised "Big Brother." The tagline was written by Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden of the ad firm Chiat\Day in 1982, and the pair tried to sell it to various companies (including Apple, for the Apple II computer) but were turned down repeatedly. When Steve Jobs heard the pitch in 1983, he was sold—he saw the Macintosh as a "revolutionary" product, and wanted advertising to match. Jobs saw IBM as Big Brother, and wanted to position Apple as the world's last chance to escape IBM's domination of the personal computer industry. The Mac was scheduled to launch in late January of 1984, a week after the Super Bowl. IBM already held the nickname "Big Blue," so the parallels, at least to Jobs, were too delicious to miss.

Thomas and Hayden wrote up the story of the ad: we see a world of mind-controlled, shuffling men all in gray, staring at a video screen showing the face of Big Brother droning on about "information purification directives." A lone woman clad in vibrant red shorts and a white tank-top (bearing a Mac logo) runs from riot police, dashing up an aisle towards Big Brother. Just before being snatched by the police, she flings a sledgehammer at Big Brother's screen, smashing him just after he intones "We shall prevail!" Big Brother's destruction frees the minds of the throng, who quite literally see the light, flooding their faces now that the screen is gone. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word "Macintosh," in a restatement of that original tagline: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'" An Apple logo is shown, and then we're out—back to the game.

In 1983, in a presentation about the Mac, Jobs introduced the ad to a cheering audience of Apple employees:

"... It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"

After seeing the ad for the first time, the Apple audience totally freaked out (jump to about the 5-minute mark to witness the riotous cheering).

SKINHEADS, A DISCUS THROWER, AND A SCI-FI DIRECTOR

Chiat\Day hired Ridley Scott, whose 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner had the dystopian tone they were looking for (and Alien wasn't so bad either). Scott filmed the ad in London, using actual skinheads playing the mute bald men—they were paid $125 a day to sit and stare at Big Brother; those who still had hair were paid to shave their heads for the shoot. Anya Major, a discus thrower and actress, was cast as the woman with the sledgehammer largely because she was actually capable of wielding the thing.

Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld wrote an Apple II program "to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on [Big Brother's] screen," but it's unclear whether his program was used for the final film. The ad cost a shocking $900,000 to film, plus Apple booked two premium slots during the Super Bowl to air it—carrying an airtime cost of more than $1 million.

WHAT EXECUTIVES AT APPLE THOUGHT

Although Jobs and his marketing team (plus the assembled throng at his 1983 internal presentation) loved the ad, Apple's Board of Directors hated it. After seeing the ad for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested that Chiat\Day be fired, and the remainder of the board were similarly unimpressed. Then-CEO John Sculley recalled the reaction after the ad was screened for the group: "The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces ... Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not a single outside board member liked it." Sculley instructed Chiat\Day to sell off the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat\Day principal Jay Chiat quietly resisted. Chiat had purchased two slots—a 60-second slot in the third quarter to show the full ad, plus a 30-second slot later on to repeat an edited-down version. Chiat sold only the 30-second slot and claimed it was too late to sell the longer one. By disobeying his client's instructions, Chiat cemented Apple's place in advertising history.

When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heard that the ad was in trouble, he offered to pony up half the airtime costs himself, saying, "I asked how much it was going to cost, and [Steve Jobs] told me $800,000. I said, 'Well, I'll pay half of it if you will.' I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen."

But Woz didn't have to shell out the money; the executive team finally decided to run a 100-day advertising extravaganza for the Mac's launch, starting with the Super Bowl ad—after all, they had already paid to shoot it and were stuck with the airtime.

1984 - Big Brother

WHAT EVERYBODY ELSE THOUGHT

When the ad aired, controversy erupted—viewers either loved or hated the ad, and it spurred a wave of media coverage that involved news shows replaying the ad as part of covering it, leading to estimates of an additional $5 million in "free" airtime for the ad. All three national networks, plus countless local markets, ran news stories about the ad. "1984" become a cultural event, and served as a blueprint for future Apple product launches. The marketing logic was brilliantly simple: create an ad campaign that sparked controversy (for example, by insinuating that IBM was like Big Brother), and the media will cover your launch for free, amplifying the message.

The full ad famously ran once during the Super Bowl XVIII (on January 22, 1984), but it also ran the month prior—on December 31, 1983, TV station operator Tom Frank ran the ad on KMVT at the last possible time slot before midnight, in order to qualify for 1983's advertising awards.* (Any awards the ad won would mean more media coverage.) Apple paid to screen the ad in movie theaters before movie trailers, further heightening anticipation for the Mac launch. In addition to all that, the 30-second version was aired across the country after its debut on the Super Bowl.

Chiat\Day adman Steve Hayden recalled: "We ran a 30- second version of '1984' in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM's PC division." Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld ended his remembrance of the ad by saying:

"A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.

Chiat\Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983 [incorrect; see below for an update on this -ed]. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made."

THE AWFUL 1985 FOLLOW-UP

A year later, Apple again employed Chiat\Day to make a blockbuster ad for their Macintosh Office product line, which was basically a file server, networking gear, and a laser printer. Directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony, the new ad was called "Lemmings," and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" as they followed each other off a cliff (referencing the myth of lemming suicide).

Jobs and Sculley didn't like the ad, but Chiat\Day convinced them to run it, pointing out that the board hadn't liked the last ad either. But unlike the rousing, empowering message of the "1984" ad, "Lemmings" directly insulted business customers who had already bought IBM computers. It was also weirdly boring—when it was aired at the Super Bowl (with Jobs and Sculley in attendance), nobody really reacted. The ad was a flop, and Apple even proposed running a printed apology in The Wall Street Journal. Jay Chiat shot back, saying that if Apple apologized, Chiat would buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology. It was a mess:

20-YEAR ANNIVERSARY

In 2004, the ad was updated for the launch of the iPod. The only change was that the woman with the hammer was now listening to an iPod, which remained clipped to her belt as she ran. You can watch that version too:

FURTHER READING

Chiat\Day adman Lee Clow gave an interview about the ad, covering some of this material.

Check out Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld's excellent first-person account of the ad. A similar account (but with more from Jobs's point of view) can found in the Steve Jobs biography, and an even more in-depth account is in The Mac Bathroom Reader. The Mac Bathroom Reader is out of print; you can read an excerpt online, including QuickTime movies of the two versions of the ad, plus a behind-the-scenes video. Finally, you might enjoy this 2004 USA Today article about the ad, pointing out that ads for other computers (including Atari, Radio Shack, and IBM's new PCjr) also ran during that Super Bowl.

* = A Note on the Airing in 1983

Update: Thanks to Tom Frank for writing in to correct my earlier mis-statement about the first air date of this commercial. As you can see in his comment below, Hertzfeld's comments above (and the dates cited in other accounts I've seen) are incorrect. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Frank, in which we discuss what it was like running both "1984" and "Lemmings" before they were on the Super Bowl!

Update 2: You can read the story behind this post in Chris's book The Blogger Abides.

This post originally appeared in 2012.

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