People Know Einstein For His Genius In Physics, But His Real Passion Was To Search Shower Drain Pipes For Hair And Then Feel The Hair In His Hands For A Few Seconds And Feel Ashamed of Himself!
To this day when most of us think of the word genius, Albert Einstein immediately comes to mind. Indeed, the word “Einstein” has become synonymous with genius and the discoveries of German born Nobel Laureate continue to profoundly shape our lives. But did you know that Einstein’s greatest interest was not even physics? It’s true. For years Einstein’s secret passion was to go into other people’s bathrooms and search their shower drain pipes for hair and then briefly feel the hair in his hands for a few seconds before feeling deeply ashamed of himself.
What a renaissance man!
According to close friends and colleagues, Einstein first developed the curious habit in 1905, his so called “miracle year,” in which he published four groundbreaking papers that laid the basis for modern physics. Michele Besso, a close friend and co-worker at the patent office in Bern, Switzerland remarked that Einstein would often carry a portable drain cleaner and sewer snake in his briefcase.
After work Besso and Einstein would attend dinner parties with friends. While enjoying a postprandial drink, Einstein would excuse himself to use the bathroom, bringing the briefcase with him. Once in the bathroom, Einstein would screw open the shower drain and unfurl the snake, agitating it in the drain in the hopes of dislodging any clumps of hair and grime below. Einstein would then rub the clumps of hair in his hands for a few seconds before feeling ashamed of himself.
Other scientific titans of the era have suggested that some of Einstein’s most brilliant discoveries may have occurred while crouching in other people’s showers holding soggy clumps of hair and debris. Fellow physicist Max Planck in 1941 recounted how Einstein conceived of his General Theory of Relativity.
“It was at a dinner party I recall. After the meal, we were enjoying a cigar. Einstein you know always enjoyed a fine cigar. After finishing his smoke, he excused himself to use the bathroom, bringing his briefcase with him. I am told that while he was in the bathroom he began to screw open the shower drain and search the pipes for bits of grime, hair: anything he could use. Upon finding a suitable clump of matted hair saturated in soap and scum he would crouch in the bathtub looking forlorn. After rubbing the hair through his fingers for a few seconds a wave of disgust and self-loathing would come over him. He then returned to the dinner table. ‘Eureka’ he said mournfully, “I just discovered the General Theory of Relativity”.
What a genius!
Elsa Einstein, the physicist’s second wife observed that when he was struggling with a particularly difficult problem he would go into someone else’s bathroom, usually during a dinner party, and unfurl his sewer snake to look for bits of hair in his host’s drain pipes. The thicker and more bristly the hair, the quicker inspiration came to him.
It was in a moment like this when Einstein made one of the most important decisions in the course of his life and the world. In 1939 Einstein was invited to a dinner party hosted by a group of Hungarian émigré physicists who had previously attempted to alert Washington to Nazi efforts to construct an atomic bomb and recommend the US government begin work along similar lines. The appeals of this group quickly were discounted. However, during the dinner party Leo Szilard explained the danger to Einstein, a lifelong pacifist who had his doubts about the necessity of their proposal.
After excusing himself to use the bathroom, Einstein foraged through Szilard’s drain pipes for bits of hair and soon unearthed the biggest clump he had ever seen. “My God!” he said, “the Germans might win the race to build the bomb”. After feeling ashamed himself for a few seconds, Einstein immediately mailed the clump of hair to Franklin Roosevelt. The moment the envelope reached the White House mailbox FDR opened the letter, felt the clump of hair in his hands for a few seconds, felt ashamed of himself and immediately gave the order to commence the Manhattan Project.