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2018


Two Fascinating Weeks Filled with Puzzles and Mysteries

Marie Winteler The two weeks I spent in an office of the Bernisches Historisches Museum in Switzerland were the most exciting I had during preparations of Volume 15.

Two years earlier, the museum had received a previously unknown collection of private letters from the Swiss Winteler family. Many letters in the collection had been torn and available only as fragments, which the museum staff scanned and catalogued. But a museum's mission and interest is different from that of an archive’s. While a few of the letters from the collection were exhibited, others that were just as significant for scientists and historians remained behind closed doors.

The 34 documents from this collection, now published in Volume 15, reveal Einstein’s earliest romantic love for the eighteen-year old Marie Winteler, daughter of his hosts in Aarau when he was a high school student. Prior to the release of this new correspondence, only one letter by Einstein to Marie and two letters by Marie to Einstein were known to scholars.

Torn LetterSo there I was trying to decipher, understand, combine, and transcribe the partly and sometimes almost impossible to read bits and pieces left from the outpourings of affectionate and playful sentiments for Marie written by the seventeen-year-old Albert some 125 years ago.

I think these letters, now published in Volume 15 of The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, offer novel glimpses into the evolving personality of the young man. The letters reveal Einstein’s attempt to reestablish a close relationship with Marie Winteler some 15 years after their initial teenage romance. These documents seem to confirm what I have suspected for a long time, namely, that Einstein’s marriage to his first wife Mileva Marić was in shambles as early as 1909/1910, two to three years before Elsa Einstein, who would become his second wife, entered the scene. 4-16-18

Photo Credits: Marie Winteler, Aarau, Switzerland, ca. mid-1890s. (Courtesy of Benvenuto Bandi and Franziska Rogger)
Autograph Letter, Fragment held at the Bernisches Historisches Museum, Bern, Switzerland, Nachlass Familie Winteler, item number 62822. The transcription is found on page 10 of Volume 15 CPAE; the document is labeled: Vol. 1, 16j. To Marie Winteler.


ON FACEBOOK, Princeton University Press's most popular post of the month was, by far, the announcement of Volume 15 of The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein. The post reached almost 400,000 people organically across the social media platform, making it one of the Press's most popular posts of all time. 4-13-18


The Miller Rebuttal

Aguste Piccard LetterIn Volume 15 of The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, Einstein is confronted with the final chapter in the debate over the principle of relativity, which began with the Michelson-Morley experiment. Michelson's successor, Dayton Miller, reported that he had found evidence for an ether drift at altitude on Mount Wilson in California. What piqued the interest of many physicists was that Miller made an effort to tie in his experiment with the latest findings on the motion of the solar system in the galaxy, which he learned about from contact with astronomers at the observatory on Mount Wilson. Einstein corresponded with many fellow scientists who conducted experiments to check Miller's controversial findings. He was particularly close to Auguste Piccard of Brussels who replicated the experiment on a balloon. Piccard and many others found no evidence to support Miller's claims. Piccard's subsequent balloon experiments earned him undying fame, not least through his incarnation as the archetypal absent-minded Professor Calculus of the Tintin comics. By the conclusion of the volume, Einstein feels confident in declaring Miller to be firmly rebutted. 4-9-18

Photo of manuscript transcribed and published as Document 87, CPAE Volume 15. This diagram is on Page 4 of a letter written by Auguste Piccard to Albert Einstein, dated 14 October 1925. (Courtesy The Albert Einstein Archives, Hebrew University of Jerusalem)


A Concerned Father and his Sons

Cover imageDuring the period covered by Volume 15 of The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, Einstein faces dramatic challenges in his role as a father. He is deeply concerned with the wellbeing of both his sons, albeit for entirely different reasons.

In the fall of 1925, his elder son Hans Albert expresses his intention to marry Frieda Knecht, a former Zurich neighbor and nine years his senior. Einstein immediately opposes the planned wedding, citing both Knecht's age and alleged "unfavorable hereditary factors," particularly on her mother's side. He fervently hopes that Hans Albert abandon his plans as they would be a "pity for the good breed!" In his opinion, it would be "a crime" for Hans Albert to have children with Knecht — everything should be done to avert "a catastrophe." Einstein temporarily even breaks off ties with his elder son, yet a visit by Hans Albert to Berlin in early 1927 softens his father’s stance. He eventually resigns himself to the planned betrothal as long as the couple refrains from having children.

The intellectual development of Einstein's younger son Eduard, as reflected in the correspondence with his father in this volume, is truly remarkable. Their exchanges reveal Eduard's increasingly probing mind and, at times, agonized self-analysis. Einstein is both obviously delighted at his son's intellectual growth, yet deeply concerned for the boy's emotional resilience and "delicate nervous system." Eventually, Eduard begins to express beliefs that may well have been intended to provoke. In his opinion, the importance of the mind was "overrated." In reaction, Einstein strongly disagrees "about the worthlessness of intellectual production." He also confides in Eduard that his letters remind him of his own adolescence, and recalls having similarly alternated between despondency and self-confidence. He tries to allay Eduard's pessimism and nihilism, rooted in his fear of worthlessness, and assures his son that he brings him "great joy" since he does not "go through life apathetically but rather as a seeing and thinking being." 4-3-18

Photo Information and Credit: Einstein with his sons, Hans Albert and Eduard, Huttenstrasse 62, Zurich, ca. 1925. (Courtesy The Albert Einstein Archives, Hebrew University of Jerusalem)



Caltech and Princeton University Press Release 15th Volume of Einstein Papers


The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein: Volume 15: The Berlin Years: Writings & Correspondence, June 1925–May 1927, Documentary Edition is the latest collection published as a collaboration between Caltech's Einstein Papers Project, Princeton University Press, and Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Cover imageEinstein aficionados, take heed. Caltech's Einstein Papers Project is set to release its latest curated volume of Albert Einstein's scientific and personal papers.

The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein: Volume 15: The Berlin Years: Writings & Correspondence, June 1925–May 1927, Documentary Edition focuses on a period in Einstein's life when he wrestled with new and competing models of quantum mechanics, fell victim to an academic fraudster, and continued his work as an ambassador for post-WWI European peace efforts. The book will be available April 6 through Princeton University Press.

Diana Kormos-Buchwald, Robert M. Abbey Professor of History at Caltech and director of the Einstein Papers Project, says the latest volume describes the two years as an "extraordinarily busy, engaged, and, at times, turbulent" period in Einstein's life. Despite having won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921 for work he produced nearly two decades earlier, Einstein remained busy at the front lines of scientific research and academia.

"We find him working daily on the latest developments in modern physics; engaging with his colleagues and perfect strangers in considerate discussions; being a referee for scientific journals; applying for grants; administering funds and institutions; grappling with personnel issues; and being bored in meetings," Kormos-Buchwald says. For this volume, the international team of collaborators at the Einstein Papers Project collected, transcribed, translated, and researched around 100 writings by Einstein and about 1,400 letters.

The mid to late 1920s were a dynamic time in the world of physics. A new theory of quantum mechanics, which describes the properties and behavior of atomic and subatomic particles, was beginning to emerge. One model, matrix mechanics, was championed by German physicists Werner Heisenberg, Max Born, and Pascual Jordan. Meanwhile, Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger was developing his own model of wave mechanics. Einstein's papers show him favoring the latter, though the models were later shown to be equivalent.

Einstein also found himself in the company of Emil Rupp, a well-respected German physicist whose experiments seemed to support Einstein's hypothesis that excited atoms emitted light over a short amount of time rather than instantly. The two men collaborated, but Rupp was eventually revealed to be a fraud who had fabricated much of his work and findings.

While the new volume focuses on the years 1925–27, it also includes newly discovered letters from the late 1890s between Einstein and Marie Winteler, the 18-year-old daughter of a family he lived with while he attended school in Switzerland. Winteler is described by the editors as perhaps his "first romantic love."

"We are always asked, 'Is there anything we don't know about Einstein after all these years?' And as editors of the Einstein Papers Project, we always reply, 'Yes, there is a lot that we are learning and discovering,'" Kormos-Buchwald says.

The first volume of The Collected Papers was published in 1987. When completed, they will comprise nearly 30 volumes and will contain more than 14,000 documents. The project is located at Caltech, and supported by Caltech, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Princeton University Press. 3-19-18


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