One of the greatest heroes of American(and international) science and culture in the past century has been German physicist Albert Einstein. Born in 1879, Einstein used his early years to educate himself and began to think up his own methods for solving his newly found inquiries into science and higher-level mathematics. In a short time during the beginning of the twentieth century, Einstein pulled together his research and incredible intellect for unprecedented gains in science and theory used throughout the world. One need not go far to view the incredible impact that innovative genius Albert Einstein has had upon the twentieth century. His impact stretches far beyond the reaches of physics and life in the early 1900’s. This physicist of phenomenal philosophy, logic, and imagination has been and still is the subject of countless catch phrases and expressions of intelligence. Albert Einstein is a forerunner of influential American icons. Because of his contribution to American science and society as an immigrant, intellectual accomplishments, and discoveries in nuclear technology, it is my belief that Albert Einstein was the most influential person of the twentieth century.
First of all, Albert Einstein was the most important figure of the twentieth century because of his contribution to American science and society as an immigrant. This is foremost important because of the U.S.’s status as the premier nation of the world. Albert Einstein has had one of the greatest ever influences upon the American way of life. He is responsible for many of the most famous scientific and philosophical standards used in America today. He was born in Germany in 1879, but Albert did not come to America until 1933, when he feared for his life and fled from Nazi Germany. It was at this time that he was at his greatest fame.(PBS 1) He then began his work for the United States. His discoveries have impacted all facets of American culture. The sophisticated Special Theory of Relativity in physics that he created models the behavior of the entire universe. As stated on Nova, General Relativity has spawned the most important results in modern astronomy.(Levenson 4)
Perhaps his largest contribution to America, Albert Einstein played a role in preserving American power. Einstein provided the biggest contribution to American science, setting most precedents for scientific study and standards. He evoked theories then thought radical and was then able to prove them and have since been followed. Albert Einstein catapulted into a revolution for U.S. defense as well as higher intellectual thought and goal-setting. After all, there have been many revolutions in the vast field of science, but that of Einstein has become the most famous. Albert Einstein’s work was vastly important Sadly, his revolution has been taken for granted by this generation. Einstein was a visionary, a new mind that saw through the limitations of his day. Without Albert Einstein’s research into motion and relativity theory, there would be no quantum theory or MRI for medical research. Einstein’s reach extends through every fiber of American independence and ingenuity. Albert Einstein epitomizes even today the cutting edge of technology. As “Genius Among Geniuses” states, “From 1905 to 1925, Einstein transformed humankind’s understanding of nature on every scaleNow, nearly a century after he began to make his mark, we are still exploring Einstein’s universe. The problems he could not solve remain the ones that define the cutting edge, the most tantalizing and compelling.”(Levenson 5)
In addition, Albert Einstein was so important because of his intellectual accomplishments. He is considered by most to be an incredible genius. Einstein had a knack for inventive ideas. Imagination thrilled him more so than science. Of this matter, Albert said,
“When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledgeI am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”(Knowledge 1)
Einstein leapt into the vast expanses of physics and accomplished more in that short period of time than had ever been discovered before. While trying to hold down a job at the patent office, he was busy working on physics on his own. He developed his extremely famous Special Theory of Relativity(which states that measurements of time and distance vary systematically as one object moves relative to another), proving Newton wrong. In March, Einstein creates the quantum theory of light, followed by two papers in April and May on atom size and motion(proving that atoms exist), and then completes “Special Relativity” in June.(Levenson) Amazing, but that’s not all. This incredible outbreak of study is compounded by the daddy of them all. Yes, the world-renowned “E=MC2”, the most famous relationship in science. So many amazing discoveries, and the magnitude of any of them would be astounding for someone in any field. All of this sprang forth from the mind of Einstein in one year! It is best phrased by PBS associate Thomas Levenson: In sum-an amazing outburst: Einstein’s 1905 still evokes awe. Historians call it annus mirabilis, the miracle year. Einstein ranges from the smallest scale to the largest (for special relativity is embodied in all motion throughout the universe),through fundamental problems about the nature of energy, matter, motion, time, and space-all the while putting in forty hours a week at the patent office. Well said. But, the best had yet to appear. After achieving a lifetime’s work in 1905, Einstein achieved what Thomas Levenson calls ‘a twenty year run at the cutting edge of physics.’ “For all the miracles of his miracle year, his best work is(was) still to come.” In 1907, he taught that gravity and acceleration are equivalent. He began to solve the central problems in all of physics in 1911, followed by developing his theories of relativity through the twenties, searching through quantum mechanics for some years, and then developing more theories about dimensions of the universe.(Levenson 4-5) Some of the most influential work of the century,
1915’s General Theory of Relativity had taken eight years to complete and was quite a feat. This theory and the accompanying ideas that he proved come close to encompassing the vastness of Einstein’s mind. Just think about how revolutionary his ideas were. Albert himself said, “Physical Objects are not in space, but these objects are spacially extended. In this way the concept of “empty space” loses its meaning.”(Relativity, vi) This theory was deep! While formulating in 1915, Einstein took his mind to the edge. He wrote a letter telling about his discovery. “This month,” he wrote to physicist Arnold Sommerfield, “I have lived through the most exacting period of my life…and the most fruitful.” Sommerfield was not immediately impressed, a fact which induced Einstein to send him a postcard: “You will become convinced of the General Theory of Relativity as soon as you have studied it. Therefore I will not utter a word in its defense.”(Clark, 252) Nor was it needed. This principle, which took so long to perfect, was completed in 1915 and states that all matter and energy in the universe mold the shape of space and the flow of time. Its a little deeper than that, but Einstein explains it well in his book Relativity. Although not initially recognized as so, Albert Einstein was perhaps the most intelligent human ever.
Finally, Albert Einstein was extremely influential in the research toward America’s (as well as the world’s)nuclear technology, demonstrating his ability as the most influential person of the twentieth century.The aforementioned E=MC2 proved that energy and matter are linked. At first, even Einstein did not understand what he had, but even then he suggests that the heat produced by the element radium could mark the conversion of tiny amounts into energy. (Levenson) This led to the work toward the infamous atomic bomb, making Einstein the father of the most famous weapon in history. Because of his studies and his efforts to make President Roosevelt aware of the potential crisis at hand, Albert Einstein has helped to put America in place as perhaps the greatest and most powerful nation in the world. He is credited with the development of the most powerful energy supply ever. Although most notable, Albert himself was not that pleased with the work on the atomic bomb. He took full responsibility for the creation of the effort toward it but absolutely despised the fact that harm could arise. Regardless, Einstein stated, “The discovery of nuclear chain reactions need not bring about the destruction of mankind than did the discovery of matches. We only must do everything in our power to safeguard against its abuse.”(War/A-Bomb 1) Over a short period of time, Einstein wrote four letters to president Franklin D. Roosevelt regarding the use of atomic energy. The first in this series launched the arms race. It was a warning to president Roosevelt of the possibility of the German government constructing powerful new bombs. Nevertheless, Einstein took full responsibility for its consequences, calling it “the greatest mistake” of his life.(Elert 1) In his letters to the president, Einstein and his associates wrote out exactly what were the best interests to pursue. Einstein did not want war, he simply thought that his only recourse was to notify the U.S. government of the possibility of producing chain reactions of nuclear energy so that they would have it before Germany did.(Elert 2)In his letters, Einstein states that it is extremely important to pursue the development of radium(element of the atomic bombs) before Germany can.(Clark 678-9) This was due to the fact that the war had already begun and Einstein was trying to ensure that the federal government had the advantage and that some order of peace, if at all possible, would be reached by the efforts of America.
Albert Einstein differed from other scientists and professionals because of the incredible importance attached to the philosophical aspect of physics. Through the practical application of his teachings, the world becomes more educated on intelligence and technology. As we look behind at what he achieved and ahead to what his legacy holds for the future, we see the magnitude of this genius of a man’s impact upon the twentieth century. Through his immigration and contribution to American science and society, extreme intelligence, and preservation of the United States through intuition in nuclear technology, Albert Einstein was the most influential person of the twentieth century.
Clark, Ronald W. Einstein: The Life and Times. New York: Avon, 1984.
Einstein, Albert. Relativity: The Special and General Theory. Tran. by Robert W. Lawson. 15th ed. New York: Bonanza-Crown, 1961.
Einstein, Albert. The World as I See It. Translated by Alan Harris. Carol Publishing Group Edition. New York: Carol, 1995.
Elert, Glenn. “Albert Einstein’s letters to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.” 1997. Online. Internet. Available (15 Nov. 2001).
“Knowledge/Imagination/Creativity.” Words of Wisdom from Albert Einstein . Online. Internet. Available
(2 Nov. 2001).
Levenson, Thomas. “Genius Among Geniuses.” Einstein Revealed. 1996. Online. Internet. Available (3 Nov. 2001).
PBS (Nova). “Timeline.” Einstein Revealed. 1996. Online. Internet. Available (3 Nov. 2001).
“War/A-Bomb.” Words of Wisdom from Albert Einstein. Online. Internet. Available (2 Nov. 2001).