Einstein’s Letters

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The Manhattan Project: the code name for the effort to develop atomic bombs for the United States during WW2. The definition of this historical project is not that difficult to come by. But what was the reason behind it? Why did the United States have a need to develop atomic bombs? The answer to these questions lies with a series of four letters written by legendary physicist Albert Einstein to President FDR between 1939 and 1945 at the request of friend/former-student Leo Szilard and fellow physicist Eugene Wigner.

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Although, this answer seems to raise a couple more questions doesn’t it? Like, why did these two young men need Einstein to write a letter to the president? Not an answer, but fun fact, FDR wasn’t going to be the recipient when these two young men came to Einstein and the story hasn’t even begun yet.

Einstein had never expected to write such a letter; it may not have been written by Einstein and Einstein alone but that’s not the point. It was perfectly natural for Szilard and Wigner to seek out the most famous scientist in the world his name would command much more respect than their own. Along with the fact that Einstein was the author of relativity theory and the equation relating mass and energy to which all atomic development could be traced and many other reasons as well, Einstein seems to be the best man to take initiative; and he was.

One day in mid-July of 1939, Szilard and Wigner came to the Long Island summer home of Albert Einstein to ask for his immediate help with a gargantuan concern. At this point in time, Germany had recently stopped the sale of uranium from mines in Czechoslovakia and to Szilard, this could only mean one thing: Nazi Germany was developing an atomic bomb. Originally, Szilard wanted Einstein to write a letter to Queen Mother Elisabeth of Belgium, seeing as the Belgian Congo was rich in uranium, and Szilard was worried that if the Germans were able to get their hands on the ore, they may have all the materials they needed to make the ultimate weapon. After Szilard expressed his concerns and explained to Einstein the theory upon which the weapon rested, Einstein was astonished but not willing to write the Queen Mother. However, hope was not lost; Wigner, after seeming to be a silent supportive figure through all this, was able to convince Einstein to write a note to one of Belgium’s cabinet members. Wigner recorded what Einstein dictated in German and the two physicians left Einstein to return to New York with the draft soon after. Although, within days of returning to New York, Szilard received a proposal from Alexander Sachs, an adviser to President FDR.

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