Immigrant Profile: Albert Einstein


Of all the immigrants who have entered the United States to work and live, Albert Einstein is among the most famous. He was born on March 14, 1879, to Hermann and Pauline Einstein, in the Kingdom of Wurttemberg of the German Empire. When Einstein was still an infant, the family moved to Munich, where he spent his childhood. Although the Einsteins were secular Jews, Einstein attended a Catholic elementary school for three years and then the Luitpold Gymnasium for seven years. Between ages 12 and 14, Einstein mastered algebra, geometry, and integral and differential calculus.

Professional Background & Achievements

In 1895, Albert Einstein moved to Switzerland and attended the Argovian cantonal school in Aarau, to complete his secondary school. In 1896, with the support of his father, Einstein renounced his German citizenship to avoid being drafted into military service for the German Kingdom of Wurttemberg. Later, he attended the mathematics and physics teaching diploma program at Zürich Polytechnic and completed his examinations in 1900. After searching for a teaching position to no avail, he took a position at the Federal Office for Intellectual Property, the patent office, in 1901.

The patent office, where he worked for years during his early twenties, was actually not a dead end at all; while reading innovative applications for machines and other inventions, Einstein became fascinated with the transmission of electric signals and the electrical-mechanical synchronization of time, both of which undergird his major works. Einstein wrote four of his most influential papers in mathematics and physics in 1905 (including his most famous, on “special relativity”), while working at the patent office and on his Ph.D. in physics, which he earned in 1905 from the University of Zurich. By age 26, in 1908, he was already considered a great mind in physics and soon was hired for professorships in Zurich, Prague, and Berlin. Unlike most of the important German intellectuals of the time–who supported Germany’s war efforts during World War I—Einstein was an ardent pacifist, and for the rest of his life became known for his peace advocacy.

Immigration to the United States

However, change began after he was awarded the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922. He traveled to the United States for the first time and gave a number of lectures at Columbia University and Princeton University. Einstein was quite pleased with America and was impressed by the welcome he received in New York City. He became an international celebrity, with lecture tours all over the world, including a second visit to the United States in 1930-1931 and a third in 1933. It was during this third visit that Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany, and with him the Nazi Party rose to power. Because of Einstein’s Jewish heritage and prominence, he would be in great danger should he return to Germany; during his 1933 trip to the United States, the Nazis raided his house, his works were publicly condemned and his books burned as evidence of dangerous Jewish intellectualism, and a German magazine offered a cash reward for his assassination. Wisely, Einstein renounced his German citizenship and took a position at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University in New Jersey, where he remained for the rest of his life. Einstein was granted permanent citizenship in the United States in 1940.

Contributions to the U.S. Economy

The knowledge and understanding derived from Einstein’s research is still relevant today, not only that derived from his work in physics and mathematics, but also in the United States in space and aeronautics. While a direct link to economic contributions may be difficult to point to, there is no doubt that America has become a greater nation because of its friendship and partnership with Albert Einstein.

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