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7/29/2017 Why Albert Einstein, the Genius Behind the Theory of Relativity, Loved His Pipe | At the Smithsonian

| At the Smithsonian | Smithsonian

Smithsonian.com
Why Albert Einstein, the Genius Behind the Theory of Relativity, Loved His
Pipe
Einstein reportedly believed that pipe smoking contributed to a calm and objective judgment, but his
doctor said give it up

Albert Einstein's Pipe, one of the museum's most requested artifacts, is on loan to Philadelphia's National Museum of American Jewish History. (National
Museum of American History)

By Roger Catlin
smithsonian.com
April 16, 2015

Its not exactly the thing that made Albert Einstein renown in human history. But the modest smoking device just may have helped create his world-changing theories and
formulas.

Since it first arrived at the Smithsonian more than 30 years ago, Einsteins pipe isnt just a notable personal item from one of historys great thinkers, it is also the most
popular single exhibit in the museums entire modern physics collection, officials there say.

It beats the Nier mass spectrograph, the first atombeam block and even the Bose-Einstein Condensation Apparatus.

Its in a class by itself, says Roger Sherman, the Smithsonians associate curator for the modern physics collection, says of the modest wooden pipe from before 1948.

The pipe itself is not currently on display among the science holdings of the Smithsonians National Museum of American History in Washington. Instead, as proof of its
popularity, its at the National Museum of American Jewish History, a Smithsonian affiliate in Philadelphia, for several years.

We get requests from other museums to borrow it, Sherman says. Requests from other museums is the main way to measure popularity of an artifact, he says, and Its
been on loan many, many times.

It may be only 6 inches long with a bowl standing less than 1 inches high, but the pipe takes on added importance since it is one of the few personal objects
remaining from the Nobel Prize winning creator of the theory of relativity.

People associate him with the life of the mind and writing theoretical papers, Sherman says. So anything that is a material presence related to him has a particular
appeal that perhaps doesnt apply to other people.

The fact that there arent many surviving artifacts of Einsteinsor pipes, though he was pictured as having a variety of themis an aspect of how Einstein lived,
Sherman says. "He did not value material possessions."

For example, the house he lived in [in Princeton, New Jersey], is not a museum; its just a private house. And there arent museum sites with collections of things that
belonged to him anywhere. His most valuable legacy is his papers.

And most of them are preserved today in Jerusalem, Sherman says.


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7/29/2017 Why Albert Einstein, the Genius Behind the Theory of Relativity, Loved His Pipe | At the Smithsonian | Smithsonian
The pipe, however, may have been a crucial tool in the formulation of his theories.

I believe that pipe smoking contributes to a somewhat calm and objective judgment in all human affairs, Einstein was once quoted as saying in 1950.

It didnt take an Einstein to know that smoking wasnt good for his health, though. He enjoyed smoking, Sherman says. But at one point his doctor told him to give it
up, so he did. But he didnt give up on the pipes themselves and he would fairly often stick an empty one in his mouth and just chew on it.

And in fact we have evidence of that, he says, because the pipe that we have is partly chewed through. He definitely used it in one way or another.

The pipe came from the collection of Gina Plunguian, a sculptor from Newark, Delaware.

Sculptor Gina Plunguian (the donor of the pipe) with Albert Einstein (a pipe in hand, lower right) and the bust she made of him. (Courtesy of the Archives of
American Art)

She had been a friend of Einsteins and also worked for him and helped him with his paper work in his office, Sherman says. She was a sculptor, so she made a bust of
Einstein. At one point he gave her one of the pipes that he had.

The Smithsonian acquired the artifact in 1979, from her widower. The Smithsonian Archives of American Art also has a photograph from 1947 of Plunguian working on
her bust of Einstein as the artists holds what may well be the pipe in question.

Part of the popularity of the pipe is due to the fact that it humanizes him, Sherman says. Smart as he was, it was hard for him to give up on smoking.

Einstein died in Princeton on April 18, 1955, at age 76 after a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm.

About Roger Catlin

Roger Catlin is a freelance writer in Washington D.C. who writes frequently about the arts for The Washington Post and other outlets. He wrote for many years at The
Hartford Courant and writes mostly about TV on his blog rogercatlin.com.

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