Everyone knows Einstein's quirky and iconic tongue photo, but few know the story behind it. Here's what was happening at that exact moment.
You know Einstein, right? Sure you do. You know him for what others say of him: that he was one of the greatest geniuses in history. You know him for what he did: revolutionize physics as we know it. You know him for his famous equation: E=mc2. But you probably know him most for this one iconic, wacky, and outright quirky photo:
Einstein is arguably the single most famous scientist of the 20th century. As a Nobel Laureate and the author of the Theory of Relativity, he was and remains one of the most highly respected figures in history, with an other-wordly aura that comes with the 'genius' label—a label that generates high expectations as well. So, to see a photo like that coming from a figure like him is nothing short of surprising. And we all love it. Here's the true story behind Einstein's most iconic and quirky photo.
On a related note: The Chilling Story Behind Winston Churchill's Most Badass WWII Photo
A day to celebrate
One happy day on March 14, 1951, Einstein was ready to celebrate his 72nd birthday. He was working at Princeton University at the time, and friends and colleagues gathered to honor the rockstar of the science world in a party that, as it turned out, would be remembered forever.
Being the famed scientist that he was, it's no surprise that the party was swarming with photographers. Among them was Arthur Sasse, from UPI. He and the rest kept taking one photo after another, which eventually left Einstein exhausted. Spent all night smiling for the cameras, after all.
Einstein visibly tired moments before the famous picture was taken. Via Twitter.
As Einstein prepared to leave, photographers were still pressuring. So, he jumped into a car with Frank Aydelotte, the former head of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University, and Marie Jeanette, Aydelotte's wife. But soon, a new wave of photographers appeared alongside them, attempting to take one last picture of the birthday man.
One photo too many was one perfect photo
But Einstein was tired. His face was tired. He couldn't smile anymore—nor was he willing to at that point. So, when Sasse approached the car's open door and asked him for one last look at the camera, Einstein quickly responded with an ironic, dismissive, irreverent expression. Sasse seized the opportunity and captured that exact moment, not knowing then that in his camera he had what would become the most famous picture of the genius.
Einstein seemed truly fed up, didn't he? Photo via Quora.
When Sasse delivered the whole bunch of photos from that night to his editors, most of them thought it would be inappropriate to publish that particular one. But Einstein was nothing if not a good sport with a sense of humor. When he first saw the picture, he reportedly loved it, and asked UPI for nine prints for his personal use. He himself had Frank and Marie cropped out so he could send it to friends and family as a greeting card. Thus, the version of the photo we all know and love was born. Needless to say, UPI had no qualms about publishing it after that.
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The road to immortality
Einstein died four years later, and his estate ultimately licensed the photograph for wider circulation. Many copies sprung up back then, and over the next six decades all kinds of imprints, edits, renditions, homages, and reimaginings made their way into popular culture like few pictures before it ever did.
After all these years, the photo remains one of the most iconic images of a whole century, which captures the joyous spirit of a truly extraordinary human being.
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