Photos That Changed History: Einstein Edition

After the first post in this series, I have to admit I was a bit confused on what to do next. I didn’t want to get too boring by just doing well-known photos all the time and I didn’t want to pick things that are so obscure that no one but me would know about them. So, while I was batting around ideas for more photos to write about with History Geek earlier and asked him to send me the silliest historically significant photograph he could think of. Remind me never to challenge him like that again. I should have known that a guy who spends his weekends picking out bass riffs would give me more than I’d asked for. So, without further ado…behold, today’s photo.

Everyone knows who that is, right? I mean, even I knew it. Albert Einstein. One of the greatest minds of the 20th century. The guy who brought us general relativity and special relativity. The man responsible for quantum physics even if he didn’t like it. Einstein is synonymous with “genius.” History Geek points out that Einstein developed his theories without computers of any kind. He pretty much came up with general relativity while working in the Swiss patent office.

All of the Astronuts swear (and I have to agree) that Einstein is one of the giants of the 20th century. Without his work in physics, most of the modern marvels we have today might not exist. He laid the foundation that other scientists — Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, Neil deGrasse Tyson — have used to make their own great breakthroughs. Again, according to History Geek, if Einstein hadn’t been so resistant to quantum theory (“God does not play dice with the universe!”), then there might already be some kind of Superunification Theory developed and physics would be moving on to still greater and grander things (what those things are I don’t know but History Geek assures me that they would be quote-unquote “awesome.”)

Now, why is this photo so historically significant? Because most photos of great thinkers, revolutionaries, or leaders show them with a grim, dour expression. I mean, unless you hang around with the Space Aces, most people’s idea of scientists are guys in white coats who are completely serious and have no sense of humor or wonder or that one crazy scientist who is going to build a Kill-O-Zap ray cannon in his basement and blow up the whole world. However, this photo goes a long way towards proving that scientists are human. They can be humorous, irreverent, silly, and fun to hang around. Before this photo was taken on Einstein’s 72nd birthday, most people thought that scientists were always serious and always determined to ruin everyone’s fun with dry facts. The image of one of the greatest minds of the 20th century — possibly one of the greatest minds of all time — sticking his tongue out at a photographer…that’s an image that helped make science fun.

— da Bird