EINSTEIN, ALBERT. 1879-1955. Autograph Letter Signed ("Papa"), 2 pp recto and verso, 4to (280 x 215 mm),
Lot 27
EINSTEIN, ALBERT. 1879-1955.
Autograph Letter Signed ("Papa"), 2 pp recto and verso, 4to (280 x 215 mm),
Sold for US$ 106,250 inc. premium

Lot Details
EINSTEIN, ALBERT. 1879-1955. Autograph Letter Signed ("Papa"), 2 pp recto and verso, 4to (280 x 215 mm), EINSTEIN, ALBERT. 1879-1955. Autograph Letter Signed ("Papa"), 2 pp recto and verso, 4to (280 x 215 mm), EINSTEIN, ALBERT. 1879-1955. Autograph Letter Signed ("Papa"), 2 pp recto and verso, 4to (280 x 215 mm),
EINSTEIN, ALBERT. 1879-1955.
Autograph Letter Signed ("Papa"), 2 pp recto and verso, 4to (280 x 215 mm), [Saranac Lake, NY, September 2, 1945], to his son Hans Albert, with an extensive postscript by his sister Maja Winteler-Einstein, with original stamped transmittal envelope.
Provenance: The Einstein Family Correspondence, sold Christie's, New York, November 25, 1996, lot 110.

HIGHLY IMPORTANT EINSTEIN LETTER ADDRESSING HIS INVOLVEMENT WITH THE CREATION OF THE ATOM BOMB, SENT THE DAY OF JAPAN'S FORMAL SURRENDER. In what is likely his first written statement on his role in the development of the atomic bomb, he writes to his son Hans Albert:

"My scientific work has only a very indirect connection with the atomic bomb. Indeed, I showed (39 years ago already) that according to the special theory of relativity, there exists an equivalence between the mass and energy of a system, that is, that the two are only different manifestations of the same thing. Also I noted that the energies released by radioactive decay are great enough to be emitted in a nuclear reaction when there is an imbalance of mass. That is all."

This historically significant letter, written to his son the very day WWII officially ends, directly points at his great 1905 discovery of the equivalence of mass and energy, immortalized in the equation e=mc2, and poignantly reveals the central tension of Einstein's later life: that his greatest achievement could be his greatest error. A lifelong pacifist, Einstein was morally outraged by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and he writes to his son at the first available opportunity to defuse the widespread public perception, perhaps shared by his own son, that he was responsible for the creation of the bomb. Though Einstein did not himself work on the Manhattan Project (his security clearance was denied in early 1940), the American public and press could not separate him from the atomic bomb, including a Time magazine cover depicting him in front of a mushroom cloud emblazoned with "E=MC2." By all accounts the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 were extremely painful for the great scientist, and the idea that his greatest achievement could be used to inflict the greatest catastrophes gnawed at him for the rest of his life – so much so that Einstein declared [in a 1948 interview with William Hermanns] "if I had foreseen Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I would have torn up my formula in 1905" (Hermanns, Einstein and the Poet, Brookline Village, 1983).

Einstein's admission, "I also noted that the energies released by radioactive decay are great enough to be emitted in a nuclear reaction when there is an imbalance of mass," strongly echoes, and may be a direct reference to, Einstein's famous 1939 letter to President Franklin Roosevelt, in which Einstein informed FDR of the possibility of setting up "a nuclear chain reaction in a large mass of uranium, by which vast amounts of power... would be generated..." such that "extremely powerful bombs of a new type may thus be constructed." This fateful letter of course led to the inception of the Manhattan Project and the ultimate construction of the Atom Bomb; a letter which Einstein would later acknowledge to his friend Linus Pauling as his "one great mistake – when he signed the letter to Pres. Roosevelt recommending that atom bombs be made" (Pauling diary notes, November 1954, Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers, 1873-2013, Oregon State University).

In an attempt to put the genie back in the bottle, Einstein spent the final years of his life actively trying to contain the horrible destructive power he had helped unleash. As early as 1946, he became involved with the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists, and wrote letters to the public in which he affirmed that "We scientists who unleashed this immense power have an overwhelming responsibility in the world life-and-death struggle to harness the atom for the benefit of mankind and not for humanity's destruction." Indeed, the final public statement Einstein signed his name to was the "Russell-Einstein Manifesto", one of the most powerful anti-nuclear and anti-war statements ever written.

In the present letter Einstein also discusses an invention of Hans Albert's for which he is helping to arrange a patent, displaying his knowledge of the internal combustion engine as well as a broad grasp of the history of invention, and warns his son away from the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, citing its corruption, and advising Hans Albert to "Just be patient and deal with your current miseries...."

In closing, Einstein confides a new discovery in his cherished quest for the Unified Field Theory: "I have made great progress again and I'm convinced that I latched onto the right puzzle piece for future developments, but I am probably too old to develop it into tangible results. But that changes nothing in my satisfaction." Published as "Generalization of the Relativity Theory of Gravitation" in 1945, his "great progress" constituted Einstein's final approach to the problem, one which he would pursue for the last 10 years of his life.

This remarkable letter brilliantly bookends Einstein's scientific career—from his 1905 formulation of e=mc2 to the Unified Field Theory he would leave unfinished at the end of his life 50 years later. Of great historical significance, this unpublished letter captures at the earliest moment what was to become a terrible and moving tension in Einstein's post-war life: his unwitting implication in one of the world's greatest tragedies—the atom bomb.

Saleroom notices

  • Please note the transmittal envelope is not present in this lot.
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