5 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Albert Einstein

By | January 24, 2022

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A colourized portrait of German-born American physicist Albert Einstein (1879–1955) on his arrival in New York from Europe on the S.S. Rotterdam, April 2, 1921. (Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)

He Actually Did Do Well In School

Despite the common myth that genius physicist Albert Einstein flunked math, he was a pretty stellar student who apparently just didn't test well. When he took his college entrance exams at age 16, he even did great on his math test but scored fairly low in other subjects, resulting in his attendance of a less-demanding post-secondary program in Switzerland (which also allowed him to avoid Germany's compulsive military enlistment) and possibly the rumor that he was a scholastic delinquent.

But It Didn't Help Much

After receiving his degree from Zurich Polytechnic, Einstein spent two long years trying and failing to obtain a teaching position. He received little help from his professors, but on the whole, it seemed he was simply not cut out for academia. Eventually, he gave up and took a job at a patent office, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise because this remedial job gave him enough money to live and enough head space to dedicate his mind to his true passion. His greatest hits suddenly came tumbling out of him, including the 1905 publication of "E = mc2," and the rest was history.

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Einstein with his second wife, Elsa, in 1921. (Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons)

He Married His Cousin

Einstein's first marriage was to a woman named Mileva Maric from 1903 to 1919, who actually received the money from the Nobel Prize he won two years later per their divorce settlement. They had two sons, the younger of whom spent his life in and out of institutions after being diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 20, and possibly a daughter. Little is known about her other than the possible name of Lieserl, as Einstein and Maric referred to her in their letters, and hints in those letters that the girl, who was born before the couple's marriage, either died as an infant or was placed for adoption. During his marriage to Maric, Einstein fell in love with his maternal first cousin, Elsa Lowenthal, who was also somehow his second cousin on his father's side. Their marriage lasted from the year he divorced Maric until Lowenthal's death in 1936.

He Was An Anti-Racism Activist

Obviously, being a Jewish man from Germany who was alive to witness Hitler's reign (if not, thankfully, up close and personally, having immigrated to the U.S. the year before the Fuhrer took office), Einstein was outspoken about prejudice and racial persecution. He became fast friends with activist and sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois, joined the N.A.A.C.P. soon after its formation, and practiced what he preached, such as opening his home to a black singer named Marian Anderson after she was invited to perform at Princeton but was denied hotel accommodations. Anderson made it a point to visit him any time she was in the area for the rest of his life.