Close your eyes and imagine a short man with gray and white hair that sticks up off his head and grows in all directions. He has a big mustache and wears a coat that is rumpled, pants that are short, and socks that don’t match. But he has a kind smile on his face and deep, thoughtful eyes. This is what Albert Einstein looked like. And it might be easy to judge him by his funny appearance, but Einstein is one of the most famous scientists of all time. And many of his big ideas changed the world! But where did Albert Einstein come from? What was his childhood like? What was his life like? Listen closely, because it all starts in Ulm, Germany on March 14, 1879 when Albert was born.
Albert was quiet and very shy as a child. It took him longer to say his first words than most kids. His parents thought this meant there was something wrong with him. They took him to the doctor, but the doctor said everything was just fine. As a child, Albert liked to play by himself. He played with blocks and built towers of cards. He was very curious and often sat and just day-dreamed. His parents thought this meant he had some kind of problem, but really he just liked to sit and think and dream and make things on his own.
Albert also liked the play the violin. Often he and his mother played together. Albert’s mind was always imagining and wondering about the world around him. He went to school, but wasn’t learning the things that interested him, so he started searching for answers on his own. He read and found many of his answers in books and by asking others. His parents began to see how curious and bright he was and appreciate his talents, even though he was quiet and shy.
In high school, Albert struggled in school. Kids had to sit perfectly still, wear uniforms, and march in line. If they asked questions they were punished. His teachers told his parents he’d never do anything useful in life because he was so disobedient by asking questions and speaking out of turn. These years were very frustrating for Albert, because he was curious and wanted to learn. Math was one of his favorite subjects. His parents found a book about geometry, the study of shapes, and he taught it to himself.
Eventually, Albert was told to leave his school, because he refused to stop asking questions and wouldn’t blindly obey his teachers. He moved with his family to Italy and there spent his time hiking in the mountains and learning on his own. He read about great scientists and astronomers like Copernicus and Galileo who had great ideas. But because their ideas were different than what was believed, they were treated poorly. Albert understood these scientists because he felt he was being treated the same way. In Italy, he wrote his first scientific paper, but it received very little attention because he was young and no one thought someone his age would have great ideas. In Italy, he decided to move to Zurich Switzerland to study physics.
There he loved the Swiss people and his new college. He was able to ask tough questions and talk about them with his classmates. There he met a woman named Mileva who was also a big thinker. They enjoyed their time together and were later married.
In Switzerland, Albert started working at the patent office. When someone comes up with an idea for a new invention, they draw up the plans and get a patent — which means no one else can take their idea. Albert’s job was to read about all of the new inventions and approve them. He enjoyed this job and was able to work so fast that he could take off early and spend time hiking and thinking. These were some of Albert’s happiest years of his life. So many marvelous ideas came to him at this time. He started writing scientific papers about his ideas and published five of them. These included big ideas about space travel and electricity. Albert was known for wearing the same wrinkled clothes every day and didn’t comb his hair, so it stuck up all over the place. He liked to spend time deep in thought rather than taking care of himself. People began to know him for his big ideas and recognized him for his funny appearance.
As Albert became more popular, he finally got his dream job — teaching physics for the university. Now he was able to spend all of his time thinking and teaching his students. The students loved their quirky professor. He was able to take difficult ideas and explain them in a simple way.
One of his big ideas was called The Theory of Relativity. This idea was that all things move at different speeds except for light. Think about how as a car passes it’s moving at a different speed as it drives by. But if you’re inside the car it doesn’t appear to be moving at all. So speed is “relative” to where you are. Another example is that the Earth is flying around the sun and spinning at incredible speeds, but because you’re standing on the Earth it doesn’t appear to be moving at all.
Another of Einstein’s big idea was that not only are the planets moving around the Sun, but the Sun is moving through the galaxy as well, it just doesn’t appear to move because our planet is moving around it.
Some funny things about Albert is that even though he was a scientific genius he was often absent-minded, which means he forgot simple things. For example, often when he went out he forgot his keys, lost his bags, and forgot to eat. He was so focused on what went on in his wonderful brain that he often didn’t consider what was going on around him. He found simpler ways to live his life, so he could focus all his energy on thinking. For example, he wore the same clothes every day and only buttoned his top button because it took less time and energy. He often wore socks that didn’t match, his clothes were rumpled and his hair stuck all over the place. But his fans loved it and people all over the world talked about this brilliant, quirky genius.
Albert’s next job took him back to Germany, but over the years he and his wife were growing apart. He was so busy being a professor and speaking around the world that he didn’t give Mileva and his children the time they needed. Mileva decided not to move him and they divorced. Albert admitted he was not always a good father and chose writing his papers and teaching over his family responsibilities.
While Albert was living in Germany, World War I started. He was sad to see soldiers marching down the street because he knew what war did to people. He refused to support the war and the leaders of Germany were upset at him. He could have gone to jail, but he stood up for his beliefs anyway. When World War I ended Albert was very happy.
In Germany, Albert met a woman named Elsa. They grew close and she spent her time taking care of him, making sure he ate and shaved and didn’t lose his keys. They were married. Albert loved Elsa and she loved him.
By this time, Albert was so popular it made his life difficult. You might think being popular is a great thing, but for people who are very famous, you can’t walk anywhere without people talking to you or wanting a picture or asking for your autograph. Albert loved being alone, so this was very hard for him. He was offered a lot of money to speak and do other things, but he refused. For him, his research and his ideas were more important than money or fame.
Sadly, new problems began in Germany. Albert Einstein was Jewish, which is a race and religion. Many Jews who lived in Germany wrote to Albert and asked him to defend them because they were being treated badly. Their shops were taken from them and they were often beaten up by non-Jews. The Nazis, who had taken control of Germany, falsely blamed all their problems on the Jewish people. They burned their books and many Jews started leaving Germany. Albert spoke out against the Nazis and refused to leave even though his life was at risk. Hitler, the powerful leader of the Nazis, said Albert was a spy and eventually Albert realized it was too dangerous for him to stay. He and Elsa moved to the United States and became a professor at Princeton University in New Jersey.
Albert’s years at Princeton were hard. He was sad to see what was happening to Jews in Germany. Then sadly Elsa died. Albert often kept to himself and played his violin. He also didn’t have as many big ideas as when he was younger.
One of Albert’s most famous ideas was an equation, E = MC2. It basically said that all things are energy. Even the hard walls around you, your body, mass are energy, too, but just in a different form. He also had the idea that if an atom could be broken it would cause a HUGE explosion, called a nuclear explosion. He worried that the Nazis might create a nuclear bomb and use it against the United States and her Allies. Even though he hated the idea that such a weapon would ever be used, he wrote President Roosevelt and told him that the United States must create the bomb first. Eventually, the United States did create an atomic bomb and used it against its enemy Japan. For the rest of his life, Albert wondered whether he should have ever shared his ideas about a nuclear bomb. But he also thought the consequence of the Nazis making it first would be even worse.
After World War II ended, Einstein spent many years speaking out against atomic bombs. The United States and Russia had made thousands of them and it made the world a very dangerous place. Fortunately, after World War II nuclear bombs were never used.
Albert Einstein spent the last years of his life growing old while living in Princeton, New Jersey. His hair was now white and grew widely in all directions. He was still a quirky and funny sight to see with his rumpled, mismatched clothes. He continued to play his violin and go on walks around his home. He often stopped to help people in need or invite them into his home. He was a very gentle, kind person who had changed the world with his ideas but didn’t care about money or being famous. He just wanted the world to be a peaceful place. On April 17, 1955 Einstein passed away while thinking through a problem and writing equations on a piece of paper. To his last day, he was a thinker!
Spend a moment thinking about what it was like to be Albert. When he was young he loved to go on walks and observe the world around him. He saw everything through the eyes of wonder and curiosity. The world to him was an exciting, mysterious place. He loved to understand how it worked and dream about how the parts he didn’t understand might work. His imagination led to some of his amazing ideas. You can wonder, too. Remember in the times when you might be bored, it’s ok to be bored. Say it out loud “it’s ok to bored!” When you’re bored, you can take a deep breath and look closely at the world around you. It’s the perfect chance to see things with new eyes.
Even though Einstein became very famous, he didn’t care about having lots of money and expensive things. He wanted the world to be fair and peaceful. He also wasn’t perfect. No one really is. We all have different strengths and weaknesses. Einstein wasn’t a very good father, but he ended up helping the world in many other ways.
If you want to learn more about Albert Einstein we shared our favorite videos and books on our website, BedtimeHistoryStories.com. Be sure to check it out.