'Regards to your old lady'

Mar 03, 2011
A previously unpublished postcard from Albert Einstein to his university friend Jakob Ehrat, December 1911. Credit: ETH-Bibliothek, Archives and Private Collections, Hs1509:4

The ETH-Bibliothek at ETH Zurich (Switzerland) is to post six new Einstein letters to his university friend Jakob Ehrat and the latter's mother Emma Ehrat-Uhlinger on the web. The ETH-Bibliothek currently holds over one hundred Einstein letters.

When he graduated in around 1900, was the only one of his classmates not to obtain an assistant position at the Federal Polytechnical School (now ETH Zurich). Following a brief stint in Schaffhausen, Einstein took a job at the Patent Office in Berne. The first of the six Einstein letters the ETH-Bibliothek inherited dates from this period of his life. The letter to Emma Ehrat-Ühlinger from 1903 reveals that she had been greatly vexed by Einstein’s phrase “regards to your old lady”. In it, he excuses his faux pas by explaining to her that the proper and official title for the mother of an academic is in fact “the man’s old lady”. Besides, he told her, he’d also used the same salutation in countless letters to his own mother. The contents of the other five letters to Jakob Ehrat are also of a personal nature and show that the friendship continued way beyond their time together at university.

Underestimated genius

Over one hundred letters and documents, sorted according to the biographical stages of Einstein’s life, are available in the ETH-Bibliothek’s online collection: The original letters, however, many of which were written in Sütterlin, are only brought out for promotional purposes nowadays. Many of the letters hail from private collections; others were purchased, including the correspondence between Albert Einstein and the mathematician Conrad Habicht. In one of the most profound letters in the collection dated 1905, Einstein already mentions four of his most notable research projects to Habicht. That same year, he completed a PhD at the University of Zurich and first came up with the idea for the “special theory of relativity”, two years later the “general theory of relativity”. ETH Zurich finally expressed an interest in its alumnus and Einstein was appointed a professor of theoretical physics in 1912. The Archives and Private Collections section at the ETH-Bibliothek contains course programmes from the time that list lectures given by Einstein, such as “Continuum Mechanics” or the “Molecular Theory of Heat”.

Survivor of Nazism and two wives

In the spring of 1914 Einstein moved to Berlin, where he perfected the “general theory of relativity” during his professorship at the Prussian Academy of Sciences. Numerous letters and postcards to the mathematicians Hermann Weyl and David Reichinstein from Einstein’s “Berlin years” (1914-1933) are available on the platform “Einstein Online”. When the Nazis came to power, Einstein emigrated to the United States and took up a position at Princeton University. In the 1950s, he corresponded fervently with his first biographer, Carl Seelig, who also bequeathed his collection of documents from and about Einstein to the ETH-Bibliothek after his death. It was also during this period that Einstein’s correspondence with his university friend Ehrat ended after a long hiatus. In his sixth and final in 1952, Einstein shows his wry sense of humour: “I’m doing just fine, considering that I have triumphantly survived Nazism and two wives”.

Explore further: Can science eliminate extreme poverty?

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Einstein doctorate up for auction

Mar 06, 2009

The doctorate certificate that Albert Einstein obtained from the University of Zurich in 1906 will come up for auction in June, auctioneers Fischer Galerie said Friday.

The World Year of Physics: 2005

Jul 01, 2005

Exactly 100 years ago (on June 30, 1905), a 26-year-old patent clerk named Albert Einstein published an strange research paper about a principle he called relativity -- and gave us a whole new way to think ...

The Genesis of Relativity

Feb 22, 2007

New insights into the premises, assumptions and preconditions that underlie Einstein’s Relativity Theory, as well as the intellectual, and cultural contexts that shaped it, are the subject of a comprehensive study published ...

New light shed on old dispute between Einstein and Bohr

Jan 18, 2010

In classical physics there are no uncertainties - the properties of matter on an atomic level are deterministic, that is to say predetermined. The theories of quantum mechanics, however, only say something ...

Recommended for you

Can science eliminate extreme poverty?

Apr 16, 2014

Science has often come to the rescue when it comes to the world's big problems, be it the Green Revolution that helped avoid mass starvation or the small pox vaccine that eradicated the disease. There is ...

Japan stem cell body splashes cash on luxury furniture

Apr 14, 2014

A publicly-funded research institute in Japan, already embattled after accusing one of its own stem cell scientists of faking data, has spent tens of thousands of dollars on designer Italian furniture, reportedly to use up ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Roman dig 'transforms understanding' of ancient port

(Phys.org) —Researchers from the universities of Cambridge and Southampton have discovered a new section of the boundary wall of the ancient Roman port of Ostia, proving the city was much larger than previously ...

Crowd-sourcing Britain's Bronze Age

A new joint project by the British Museum and the UCL Institute of Archaeology is seeking online contributions from members of the public to enhance a major British Bronze Age archive and artefact collection.

Hackathon team's GoogolPlex gives Siri extra powers

(Phys.org) —Four freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania have taken Apple's personal assistant Siri to behave as a graduate-level executive assistant which, when asked, is capable of adjusting the temperature ...

Better thermal-imaging lens from waste sulfur

Sulfur left over from refining fossil fuels can be transformed into cheap, lightweight, plastic lenses for infrared devices, including night-vision goggles, a University of Arizona-led international team ...