Who Were the Most Important People in Einstein's Life

Video highlights from GENIUS

Einstein's nearest and dearest

Einstein knew some amazing people. Below is a list of all the characters who played a role in his amazing life.

 

Michele Angello Besso - 1873–1955

Einstein’s best friend, he was an unfocused engineer who met Einstein in Zurich and worked with him in Bern as a patent officer.
Besso was a sounding board in 1905 for Einstein’s special relativity paper. He married Anna Winteler sister of Einstein’s first girlfriend. The two exchanged 229 letters, Einstein wrote of his best friend:

“Nobody else is so close to me, nobody knows me so well, nobody is so kindly disposed to me as you are.”

Neils Bohr 1885–1962

The pioneer of Quantum Theory, he deflected Einstein’s challenges to his Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics.  He received a Nobel Prize for his work on Quantum theory.

Max Born 1882–1970

Max Born

Image: Max Born, Wikimedia Commons

A physicist and mathematician, he corresponded with Einstein intimately for forty years. He often tried to convince Einstein to receive quantum mechanics comfortably. His wife, Hedwig often grilled Einstein about his personal life.

Helen Dukas 1896–1982

Image: 

Einstein’s secretary and housemate from 1928 till his death, she became the protector of his legacy and papers. The never-married Dukas was fiercely protective of his time, his privacy, his reputation, and later his legacy. …

“Although she could display a pleasant smile and lively directness with those she liked, she was generally austere, hard-boiled, and at times quite prickly. More than a secretary, she could appear to intrusive outsiders as Einstein’s pit bull—or, as he referred to her, his Cerberus, the guard dog at the gates of his own little kingdom of Hades. She would keep journalists at bay, shield him from letters she thought a waste of his time, and cover up any matters that she decreed should remain private. After a while, she became like a member of the family.” (Isaacson)

Arthur Stanley Eddington 1882–1944

Arthur Eddington

Image: 

An astrophysicist he confirmed Einstein’s prediction of how much gravity bends light. He refused military service in England and faced imprisonment, but after consultation with Astronomer Royal Sir Frank Dyson was allowed to serve his country by leading an expedition to test the theory of relativity during the next full solar eclipse.

Paul Ehrenfest 1880–1933

A professor in Leiden, Holland he and Einstein became friends on a visit to Prague in 1912. He frequently hosted Einstein. He had one son, Wassik who had Down Syndrome. Ehrenfest was deeply affected by his son’s illness and in 1933 he shot his son and then himself.

Eduard Einstein 1910-1965

Image: Left Hans, Right Eduard

The second born of Mileva and Einstein he was smart and artistic. He was obsessed with Freud and hoped to be a psychiatrist. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia and institutionalised in his 20s in Switzerland and remained there till he died in 1965.

Hans Albert Einstein- 1904–1973

First born of Mileva and Einstein, he studied engineering at Zurich Polytechnic, where his mother and father met. He married Frieda Knecht in 1927. Nine years his senior, the pair had two sons, Bernard and Klaus and one adopted daughter Evelyn. Hans moved to the US in 1938, becoming a professor of engineering at Berkeley.

Elsa Einstein- 1876–1936

Einstein’s second wife and also his first cousin. She was far smarter than she appeared to be and knew how to handle Einstein.

Hermann Einstein 1847–1902

Einstein’s father, he came from a Jewish family in Swabia Germany. He ran electrical companies in Munich and Italy but was not successful.

Isle Einstein- 1897–1934

Daughter of Elsa from her previous marriage, she was known for her sexual encounters. One such encounter was with physician Georg Nicolai. She married literary journalist Rudolph Kayser. He wrote a book about Einstein under the pseudonym, Anton Reiser.

Lieserl Einstein - 1902–?

Illegitimate child of Einstein and first wife Mileva, Einstein probably never met her. No-one knows what happened Lieserl but most believe she died of Scarlet fever in late 1903.

Margot Einstein 1899–1986

Daughter of Else from her previous marriage, she was a sculptor. She married Russian: Dimitri Marianoff in 1930, she bore no children. Dimitri later wrote a book on Einstein. Margot divorced him in 1937 and moved in with Einstein at Princeton until her death in 1986.

Maria “Maja” Einstein 1881–1951

Einstein’s sister, she was one of his closest confidantes. She married Paul Winteler, had no children and in 1938 moved to Princeton without her husband to live with her brother.

Pauline Koch Einstein 1858–1920

Einstein’s mother, Pauline was strong-willed. She was a daughter of a successful Jewish grain dealer from Wurttemberg. She married Einstein’s father in 1876.

Abraham Flexner 1866–1959

An education reformer, he founded the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton where he recruited Einstein.

Philipp Frank 1884–1966

A physicist he succeeded Einstein as the German University of Prague and later wrote a book about Einstein.

Marcel Grossman 1878–1936

Helped Einstein get a job as a patent officer, he was a professor of descriptive geometry at the Polytechnic. His work guided Einstein to the math he needed for general relativity.

Fritz Haber 1868–1934

A chemist who helped recruit Einstein to Berlin, he acted as a mediator between Einstein and his wife Mileva. Haber converted from Judaism to Christianity to assimilate into German culture. During WWII he developed a deadly chlorine gas which was heavier than air and could flow down into the trenches to painfully asphyxiate soldiers by burning through their throats and lungs.

Conrad Habicht 1876–1958

The Olympia Academy founders: Conrad Habicht, Maurice Solovine and Albert Einstein

An amateur inventor and member of the “Olympia Academy”, he received two famous letters in 1905 about Einstein’s coming papers.
“… a banker’s son and former student of mathematics at the Zurich Polytechnic. Poking a little fun at pompous scholarly societies, they dubbed themselves the Olympia Academy. Einstein, even though he was the youngest, was designated the president, and Solovine prepared a certificate with a drawing of an Einstein bust in profile beneath a string of sausages.” (Isaacson)

Werner Heisenberg- 1901–1976

A German physicist he was a pioneer of quantum mechanics, he formulated the uncertainty principle that Einstein spent years resisting.

David Hilbert 1862–1943

A mathematician who raised Einstein to discover the mathematical equations for general relativity.

Philipp Lenard 1862–1947

His theories on the photoelectric effect were explained by Einstein in his 1905 light quanta paper. He hated Einstein and became a Nazi and anti-Semite during WWII.

Hendrik Antoon Lorentz 1853–1928

A physicist whose theories paved the way for special relativity, he was a father figure to Einstein.

Mileva Maric 1875–1948

Physics student at Zurich Polytechnic where she met her future husband Einstein. She mothered three of Einstein’s children: Hans Albert, Eduard and Lieserl. She was passionate and known for her gloomy moods, she triumphed over most, but not all obstacles that faced a female physicist at the time.  She separated from Einstein in 1914 and divorced in 1919.

Robert Andrews Millikan 1868–1953

An experimental physicist, he confirmed Einstein’s law of the photoelectric effect and recruited him as a visiting scholar at Caltech.

Hermann Minkowski 1864–1909

Einstein’s math teacher at Zurich Polytechnic, he often referred to Einstein as the ‘lazy dog’.

Georg Friedrich Nicolai 1874–1964

A friend of Elsa Einstein and probable lover of her daughter Ilse, he wrote a pacifist tract with Einstein in 1915.

Abraham Pais 1918–2000

A theoretical physicist who became a colleague of Einstein’s at Princeton.

Max Planck 1858–1947

A theoretical physicist who was an early patron of Einstein and helped recruit him to Berlin. A stark contrast to Einstein in life and physics he was a loyal colleague to Einstein until the Nazi’s took power in WWII.

Erwin Schrodinger 1887–1961

Pioneer of quantum mechanics his best-known theory was “Schrodinger’s Cat.”

Leo Szilard 1898-1964

Szilard met Einstein in Berlin and patented the refrigerator with him. He conceived the nuclear chain reaction and co-wrote the 1939 letter Einstein sent to President Franklin Roosevelt alerting him of the possibility of an atomic bomb.

Chaim Weizmann 1874-1952

President of the World Zionist Organization, he brought Einstein to America for the first time. He was the first president of Israel, a position that was offered to Einstein at his death. Einstein declined.

The Winteler Family

Einstein boarded with them while he was a student in Switzerland. Jost Winteler was his history and Greek Teacher. Marie was Einstein’s first girlfriend, Anna married Einstein’s best friend, Michele Besso and Paul married Einstein’s sister, Maja.

Don't' miss Genius on Monday, April 24th on National Geographic

Related Articles

Discuss this article

Newsletter

Never miss a Nat Geo moment

Your email address
Submit