Lot 384

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Einstein in English on “theory of relativity” and the Importance of E=mc2 to Development of Atom Bomb, “a formula…about the energy which can be freed by nuclear reactions”, One of the Very Best!

Albert Einstein (1879-1955). Typed Letter Signed, "A. Einstein", 1p, on his blind-embossed personal stationery, 8.5" x 11", Princeton, August 14, 1950. Includes original transmittal envelope. Remnants of previous mounting at verso. Expected mailing folds with minor toning and scattered foxing; else, in near fine condition. Professionally matted and displayed to the left of a high-quality photo reproduction of the July 1, 1946 cover of "Time" Magazine. Although the famous formula E=mc2 is not explicitly stated, this is about as close as it gets. The last example where it was explicitly stated brought over $1 million at auction.

Einstein writes to Dr. F. G. Garcia in Puerto Rico, in full, "To the theory of relativity is due a formula informing us about the energy which can be freed by nuclear reactions. If you are interested in this matter you may read the popular book 'Explaining the Atom' by Selig Hecht which is really excellent."

Although Einstein does not cite it explicitly, the "formula" which reveals "the energy which can be freed by nuclear reactions" is none other than E=mc2, the equation derived from special relativity which expresses the fact that mass and energy are equivalent and can be changed into each other. In the book Einstein recommends, Selig Hecht describes E=mc2 as "probably the most important equation in history...In 1905 Einstein wondered how to test this equation experimentally, and suggested that it might apply to the enormous energies released in radioactivity, which had only recently been discovered...little did Einstein imagine then that his equation would be demonstrated forty years later on so large a scale as was done at Hiroshima [and] Nagasaki..." (p.111).

At that time, nuclear devices had been applied solely to military purposes; the first experimental use of nuclear power to generate electricity was not until the following year. Although inextricably linked to the development of atomic weapons both scientifically and practically, Einstein deeply regretted the connection, and was notably reluctant to discuss it; he also extended this reluctance to quoting his most famous theory in correspondence. Letters connecting E=mc2 to the bomb are therefore of extreme rarity. Even when writing to his son Hans Albert immediately after the war, in a letter dated September 2, 1945, Einstein wrote only obliquely, "I showed (39 years ago already) that according to the special theory of relativity there exists an equivalence between the mass and energy of a system [and] that the energies released by radioactive decay are great enough to be emitted in a nuclear reaction when there is an imbalance of mass. That is all..."

Selig Hecht (1892-1947) was a professor of biophysics at Columbia University in New York City, and an honorary vice-chairman of Einstein's Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists. He wrote Explaining the Atom in 1947 to educate the public on this new source of energy. Einstein formed the committee in 1946 to warn the public of the dangers associated with the development of nuclear weapons, promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and work toward world peace.

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.


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March 15, 2023 11:00 AM EDT
Wilton, CT, US

University Archives

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Bid Increments
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$0 $99 $10
$100 $299 $20
$300 $499 $25
$500 $999 $50
$1,000 $1,999 $100
$2,000 $2,999 $200
$3,000 $4,999 $250
$5,000 $9,999 $500
$10,000 $19,999 $1,000
$20,000 $49,999 $2,500
$50,000 + $5,000