One of science's greatest minds of all time, Albert Einstein, was born on March 14, 1879, at his family's home in Ulm, Germany. He shares his birthday with Pi Day, a celebration of this special never-ending number. Einstein's life in science started early, with him writing his first scientific paper when he was only a teenager. In 1905, Einstein published several influential works, tackling such topics as relativity and introducing his most famous equation on mass and energy E=mc2. And, in 1921, he earned the Nobel Prize in physics.
While his scientific feats are legendary, there is so much more to know about the great Albert Einstein than just his work. What was he like as a kid? How did he spend his free time? What causes did he care about? Let's take a closer look at the life of this incredible genius with some bonus factoids about the fascinating number — π — that he shares a special day with.
Einstein was a late talker. His parents worried that there was something wrong with him early on and even had him examined by doctors. He didn't really start using words until after he was two years old, but even after he started speaking, he often took unnatural pauses. No one knew in these very early years that they had a genius on their hands. In fact, many biographies on Einstein include the family maid's opinion of young Einstein. She thought he was "a dope." While he was slow with language, Einstein showed early sparks of interest in science. A gift of a compass from his father when he was five years old led to a lifetime fascination with magnetic fields.
Pi Day Fun Fact: Pi Day is celebrated around the world on March 14 or 3.14 and officially kicks off at 1:59 pm. Now do the math: when combined the date and time results in 3.14159, the approximate numerical value of pi. (Source: RandomHistory.com)
Einstein wasn't a big fan of school. Despite some claims, he actually did well in his classes, especially math and science. Einstein, however, didn't like the way he was taught. He later remarked that "It is almost a miracle that modern teaching methods have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for what this delicate little plant needs more than anything, besides stimulation, is freedom," according to an article on the American Institute of Physics website.
Some of his most important learning was done outside of class. His uncle, Jakob Einstein, introduced him to algebra. A young Jewish medical student, Max Talmud, also served as an advisor of sorts. Talmud visited the Einstein home for dinner weekly for a time and brought books for young Albert to read. These influential texts included People's Books on Natural Science and philosophical works by Immanuel Kant and David Hume.
Pi Day Fun Fact: Star Trek’s Mr. Spock knew the value of pi. In the “Wolf in the Fold” TV episode, Spock thwarts an evil entity inside the Enterprise’s computer system by ordering it to “compute to last digit the value of pi,” which can never be computed. (Source: RandomHistory.com)
Einstein had a lifelong passion for music. At the age of six, he took up the violin at his mother's request. Einstein was quickly won over by classical music, especially the works of Wolfgang Mozart. According to Jürgen Neffe's Einstein: A Biography, Einstein once said that "Mozart's music is so pure and beautiful that I see it as a reflection of the inner beauty of the universe."
Over the years, Einstein became quite a skilled musician. A 17-year-old Einstein earned praise from his rendition of a Beethoven sonata he played for an exam at school. The evaluator stated that he "shone in a deeply felt performance," according to Physics World magazine. For the rest of his life, music would be a source of joy for the famous scientist.
Pi Day Fun Fact: Ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes of Syracuse (287-212 B.C.) was one of the first scholars to calculate pi. One of the many theories surrounding Archimedes's death is that when Roman soldiers stormed Syracuse, the passionate mathematician continued his calculations and told them “Do not touch my circles!” which resulted in his beheading. (Source: RandomHistory.com)
Einstein had a daughter, but no one really knows what happened to her. He became involved with fellow student Mileva Marić and she gave birth to a daughter in 1902. The child was named Lieserl. Albert and Mileva were unwed and living apart at the time of the child's birth. When they were reunited later, Mileva did not have the baby with her. There has been much speculation about Lieserl's fate over the years, from her being raised by relatives or put up for adoption or dying young from illness. But no one knows for certain what became of Lieserl. Albert and Mileva later married and had two sons, Hans Albert and Eduard, before divorcing in 1919.
Pi Day Fun Fact: Many of history's greatest minds have been fascinated by pi. They include Leonardo da Vinci, who attempted to approximate pi, and Isaac Newton, who calculated pi to at least 16 decimal places. (Source: RandomHistory.com)
Not only was he a great scientist, Einstein was passionate about social issues. He had been a pacifist during World War I, but he became concerned at the rising anti-Semitism in Germany following the war. He began to speak out in favor of creating a homeland for the Jewish people in Palestine. Einstein visited the United States in the early 1920s to raise funds for what is now known as Hebrew University. In 1952, he was even invited to become the president of Israel, but he turned the job down.
Einstein also supported the Civil Rights movement in America. In the 1940s, he penned the essay "The Negro Question," which appeared in Pageant magazine. Einstein wrote that the racial divide in his new homeland (he became a U.S. citizen in 1940) deeply troubled him. "I can escape the feeling of complicity in it only by speaking out." A member of the NAACP, Einstein considered racism to be the "worst disease" in the country.