Einsteins Legacy: The Final Chapter

Part of the Einstein exhibition.

"When I was young, all I wanted and expected from life was to sit quietly in some corner doing my work without the public paying attention to me," said Einstein after being honored at a social function. "And now see what has become of me." Yet he never let the burden of fame squash his youthful enthusiasm for simple joys. Einstein still wrote lovesick poems to the object of his affection; he enjoyed strolling to his nearby office at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton; and always, he thought about science.

Einstein objected to what he called the "cult of individuals," but he accepted his celebrity status with grace. With the help of his secretary, he answered scores of letters each day and greeted a constant flow of visitors with a down-to-earth manner unexpected from someone so prominent. "Why is it nobody understands me, yet everybody likes me?" he once questioned during an interview. Einstein the mortal—who capsized his sailboat, had a less-than-perfect family life, and had trouble getting his first job—quietly slipped away in a Princeton hospital. Einstein the legend will remain an icon of genius for generations to come

Einstein's Expanding Legacy

"What has remained is the relentless work on difficult scientific problems. The fascinating magic of that work will continue to my last breath," Einstein wrote in 1951. He left it up to future generations to solve the lingering questions raised by his theories, many of which were years ahead of their time. For example, Einstein's 1917 "cosmological constant" was once considered his biggest blunder, but modern physicists use it today as an essential element in understanding the fate of the universe.

March 14, 1949—Albert Einstein celebrates his 70th birthday.

Einstein didn't feel the need to celebrate his birthday. "It is a known fact that I was born, and that is all that is necessary," he said. Friends, colleagues and complete strangers still felt the need to send telegrams, cards, letters, gifts, and an elaborate birthday cake.

Friendly neighbor

Those who met Einstein recalled his human side. He walked to work or rode the bus in bad weather; visited the neighbors' newborn kittens; greeted carolers on winter nights; refused to update his eyeglass prescription; and declined to wear socks because they would get holes in them. But he didn't seem to mind fuzzy slippers!

April 18, 1955—Albert Einstein dies soon after a blood vessel bursts near his heart.

When asked if he wanted to undergo surgery, Einstein refused, saying, "I want to go when I want to go. It is tasteless to prolong life artificially. I have done my share; it is time to go. I will do it elegantly." After an autopsy, Einstein's body was cremated and his ashes spread in an undisclosed location.

The world mourned Einstein's death. At his request, his office and house were not turned into memorials.