Happy Birthday, Albert Einstein

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Portrait of Albert Einstein in his later years, sporting his iconic longish and unruly grey hair.
Albert Einstein photographed by Pren Jack Turner, Princeton, NJ, 1947.
Courtesy of Oren Jack Turner/Library of Congress

Albert Einstein didn’t care too much for birthdays. “It is a known fact that I was born, and that is all that is necessary,” he once said.

Perhaps another year didn’t seem so important to celebrate because, thanks to Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, we know that time is relative—even for the human body.

And yet, the daring, ingenious, and passionately curious scientist fundamentally changed the way we look at the universe. Celebrate his 139th by looking back at a few memorable birthday moments in his lifetime.


Young Albert Einstein stands leaning against a carved, wooden chair.
Albert Einstein at age 3 in 1882.
Courtesy of Wikimedia

First Birthday: A Big-Headed Baby

Einstein was born in Ulm, Germany on March 14, 1879. According to his younger sister Maja, family lore held that there was something different about the groundbreaking scientist from the very beginning: “At his birth, his mother was shocked at the sight of the back of his head, which was extremely large and angular,” Maja recounted.


22nd Birthday: Celebrating as a Swiss Citizen

In 1901, Einstein, who had renounced his German citizenship in 1896 because of his dislike for the country’s militarism and nationalism, became a citizen of Switzerland—in part, because of his appreciation for its democratic government. Even after he became a U.S. citizen in 1940, Einstein never relinquished his Swiss citizenship.


37th Birthday: Nearing His Masterpiece

Building on Isaac Newton’s 1687 Principia, Einstein tried to apply gravity to his Special Theory of Relativity. He struggled for years to formulate his General Theory of Relativity, and it wasn’t until he enlisted the help of mathematician Marcel Grossmann in 1913 that he was able to grasp the geometry of the universe. After many drafts, Einstein sent this final manuscript of the General Theory of Relativity for publication on March 18, 1916, shortly after his 37th birthday.


Profile portrait of Albert Einstein.
A portrait of Einstein featured in The Scientific Monthly in 1921.
Courtesy of Library of Congress/ Wikimedia

50th Birthday: Wind In His Sails

One of Einstein’s favorite pastimes was sailing, and he often carried a little black notebook with him while he sailed so he could write down his thoughts. For his 50th birthday in 1929, his friends gave him a 21-foot sloop he called Tummler, which he sailed for years before it was seized by the Gestapo in 1933.


Albert Einstein holds papers and shakes the hand of a judge.
Einstein being given his certificate of American citizenship from Judge Phillip Forman in 1940.
Courtesy of Al Aumuller for the New York World-Telegram and Sun/Library of Congress

70th Birthday: Formulae in Frosting

Even though Einstein wasn’t fond of birthdays, his friends, family, and even complete strangers celebrated by sending him telegrams, cards, and gifts. When the physicist turned 70, his cake was decorated with formulae from his book, The Meaning of Relativity


For more about Albert Einstein’s life and scientific work, visit the archived special exhibition Einstein online.