all the books in the einstein archives in hebrew university in jerusalem all the books in the einstein archives in hebrew university in jerusalem He had a lot of books, although nobody knows how many he actually read. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss)

Weird things I found in Albert Einstein's archives

Learn about the time Einstein wanted to be a plumber and other strange things I found while digging through his letters.

You might expect Albert Einstein's archives to be in Switzerland, his country of citizenship, or New Jersey, where he spent a good good deal of his adult life. But his archives are actually in Jerusalem. They sit in Israel's Hebrew University, the institution that Albert Einstein himself helped start.

A couple months ago, I traveled to Israel and checked out these archives first-hand. I dug through folders and files like a grad student to find ... well, I'm not sure what I was looking for. Something interesting? Humanizing? To my delight, I ran across some very unusual papers that put the famous physicist in a different light. Here's what I found.

When Einstein wanted to be a plumber for a hot second

a plumbing association wrote einstein a letterThis was so beautifully tongue and cheek. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss)

For some reason, Einstein wrote a letter to an Ohio newspaper saying, "If I would be a young man again and had to decide how to make a living, I would not try to become a scientist or a scholar or a teacher. I would rather choose to be a plumber or a peddler in the hope [of finding] that modest degree of independence still available under present circumstances."

In response, an Ohio tool manufacturer sent him a bunch of plumbing tools to help him get started with his career change. "They are so easy to operate that we are sure you will enjoy using them on any little piping jobs you may have about your home," wrote the company's vice president in what was a pretty tongue-and-cheek letter.

That wasn't the end of it. A plumber sent Einstein a letter saying that he (the plumber) had always wanted to be a scholar. He suggested that he and Einstein team up to be scholar-plumbers.

plumbing association sending a letter to albert einsteinFinally, Einstein's chance to be a plumber. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss)

That time Einstein sent Upton Sinclair a cake

einstein gave upton sinclair a cakeEinstein seems like a chocolate cake kind of guy. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss)

Upton Sinclair, the American author famous for writing "The Jungle," came home one day to find a large cake on his desk. He suspected his friend Einstein was responsible. The physicist must have taken a break from uncovering the mysteries of the universe to break into Sinclair's house with a cake, which was apparently socially acceptable in the 1930s.

There was actually quite a lot of correspondence between the two, so this was probably more than just a wacky guess on Sinclair's part. I also found a bunch of letters Einstein sent Sinclair thanking him for his books. No word yet on whether the cake was decorated like Einstein's face.

What is love?

fan writing einstein about relativity and loveMy favorite part is the illustration. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss)

Someone named Frank Wall sent Einstein a letter that began by explaining how people must be in all kinds of weird positions thanks to the Earth's rotation — sometimes we're standing up straight, sometimes we're sticking out the sides of the planet, and sometimes we're upside down.

"Would it be reasonable to assume that while a person is standing on his head — or rather upside down — he falls in love and does other foolish things?" asked Wall.

The opera based on Einstein's life

newspaper clipping about an einstein operaI'd love to see this opera. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss)

So apparently someone made an opera based on the famous physicist's life and presented it in Berlin. German composer Paul Dessau, who composed the opera, immigrated to New York and later to Hollywood (a town Einstein himself was pretty into) before eventually returning to Germany.

The show premiered on Feb. 16, 1974 at the Staatsoper, an opera house in Germany. I tried to find records of the script or even video footage of the opera (I can dream), but to no avail.

Just kidding! The internet is magical, and I found audio of the whole thing on YouTube:

The 'Challenger'

a mysterious message from "the challenger"Every hero needs a villain. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss)

Albert Einstein was a hero. And where there are heroes, there are also villains. Einstein apparently had a supervillain after him called "The Challenger."

"You are dizzy with hypodermis," wrote "The Challenger" in the shortest and least threatening villain letter ever.

Hypodermis is the skin beneath our skin that holds our fat. So I guess The Challenger was calling Einstein fat?

The shoemakers that wanted Einstein's old shoe

shoemakers wanted einstein's shoesThey probably just wanted to auction off his shoe. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss)

An organization of shoemakers called the "Shoe Club" decided to start a collection of shoes worn by "outstanding persons." They asked Einstein if he'd send them one of his old shoes, which they would display and preserve "permanently" in their headquarters in a New York City hotel.

"The Shoe Club feels that a collection of shoes that have been worn by men of renown will be an inspiration to the younger members of the shoe industry not only in craftsmanship, but to show them that their livelihood is of a service to mankind that they can be proud of," wrote the club's executive secretary.

I'm not sure if Einstein actually sent the shoes. If not, it might have been out of consideration for everyone's noses — the physicist is famous for not wearing socks.


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Weird things I found in Albert Einstein's archives
Learn about the time physicist Albert Einstein wanted to be a plumber and other strange things I found while digging through his letters.