Today’s post comes from National Archives Office of Strategy and Communications staff writer Rob Crotty.
In 1885, Munich’s Oktoberfest was celebrated under the glow of the electric light for the first time. Who was responsible for that feat? None other than Albert Einstein himself.
Granted, it may have been his father and uncle who are truly due the credit (Albert was a teetotaling six-year-old at the time), but the math whiz extraordinaire was there checking wiring and ensuring that the Einstein Brothers lights stayed on at the world’s largest fair.
Despite this illuminating achievement, the future was not so bright for the young Einstein or his folks. By 1894, Albert’s uncle and father had mortgaged their home in a bid to grow their flourishing electric company. But the Oktoberfest contract was lost to Siemens, and the Einstein Brothers enterprise fell flat. The family moved to northern Italy to try their luck there, and instructed the 15-year-old Albert to remain in Munich to finish his schooling.
Albert had other ideas. By the next year, Albert had coaxed a doctor to diagnose him with nervous exhaustion which excused him from school (his teacher thought he was a nuisance anyway) and shortly thereafter he arrived on his parent’s doorstep in Italy. By his sixteenth birthday he had written his first essay on theoretical physics, “On the Investigation of the State of the Ether in a Magnetic Field.”
Still, school evaded him, and soon he had taken up work at a Swiss Patent Office in Bern, Switzerland, studying on the side. By 1905, at the age of 26, he had written the theory of relativity, which launched him into the history books. His return to Germany came when he was offered a post at the prestigious Kaiser Wilhelm institute in Berlin. By 1936, however, the growing antisemitism of the Third Reich found the professor emigrating to Princeton, New Jersey.
The above image is clipped from his naturalization paperwork and is here at the National Archives, along with his letter to President Franklin Roosevelt stating that recent advancements in the study of uranium could lead to the construction of “extremely powerful bombs.” Germany’s loss proved an historic Allied gain.
While Einstein didn’t get a chance to see another Oktoberfest in Munich after leaving Germany, a Minnesota town that owes its name to Einstein’s hometown, Ulm, captured the harvest spirit. A series of Documerica photos, show the German descendants of New Ulm celebrating their German heritage in true Bavarian fashion, electric lights and all.
We hope everyone had a great Oktoberfest! Happy 200!