Hans Albert became a scientist in his own right and a professor in hydraulic engineering, a career his father initially dubbed "a disgusting idea."
Albert Einstein was a formidable mind, known worldwide for his academic achievements. A legacy like that would be incredibly heavy for a son to carry. It’s hard to believe that an heir of a scientific genius such as that could even come close – but Hans Albert Einstein in a sense did.
While he wasn’t quite as internationally regarded or awarded as his father, Hans Albert Einstein was an engineer who spent his life in academia, thriving as an educator, and ultimately created a legacy in his own right, despite his father’s initial misgivings about his career choice.
Hans Albert Einstein’s Early Life And Career
Born in Bern, Switzerland on May 14, 1904, Hans Albert Einstein was the second child of Albert and his wife Mileva Marić. His older sister Lieserl’s fate remains unknown, though it is believed that she died of scarlet fever shortly after her birth a year before Hans was born.
When he was six-years-old, his younger brother Eduard Einstein was born, and four years later his parents separated. After living apart for five years, Albert Einstein and Mileva Marić finally divorced.
The split reportedly did affect young Hans, and in turn, as soon as he could he threw himself into school. Meanwhile, he corresponded with his father by mail, and the elder Einstein would send the young boy geometry problems. He also confided in Hans Albert, telling him about his discoveries and his successes.
His mother was responsible for his education, and the youngster eventually studied at ETH Zurich, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, as his parents had. He ultimately earned a diploma in civil engineering as a top-level student.
This career choice was not to the liking of the elder Einstein, though. When asked his opinion about this career path, the famous physicist told his son that it was “a disgusting idea.”
The two Einsteins continued to disagree over areas of their lives until Hans left for school. They would not repair their relationship for many years.
Einstein Family Ties
Soon after he left school, Hans moved to Germany and spent several years working as an engineer, and more specifically a steel designer on a bridge project, and continued his education.
In letters to his second son Eduard, who was detained in a psychiatric unit after being diagnosed with extreme schizophrenia, Albert Einstein wrote of his worry for Hans Albert. His concerns ranged from his career path to his extracurriculars, to his eventual marriage, ironically as detested by him as his own had been by his parents.
In 1927, the other Einstein met and married his first wife, Frieda Knecht, whom his father referred to as a “plain” woman nine years his senior. He vehemently disapproved of her. In fact, so vehement was this disapproval that Albert encouraged his son not to have children with her, and feared the worst if there should come a day when Hans wanted to leave his wife. “After all,” Albert told his son, “that day will come.”
Albert would never quite welcome Frieda into the family. In one particular letter to his former wife Mileva, Albert expressed a newfound fondness for his son, but included his continued distaste for his daughter-in-law, though this time seemed more resigned to the idea.
“He has such a great personality,” Einstein Sr. wrote following a lengthy visit from his son. “It is unfortunate that he has this wife, but what can you do if he’s happy?”
Hans Albert had three children, though only one would live into adulthood. He ultimately earned a doctorate in technical science but would not get much time to put it to use.
In 1933, Albert Einstein was forced to flee his home in Germany as anti-Semitic ideology and support for the Nazi party increased. Fearing for his son’s wellbeing, he urged him to flee as well – though farther than he had. In 1938, Hans Albert Einstein left his homeland and emigrated to Greenville, S.C., USA.
Hans Albert Einstein went on to work for the Department of Agriculture and lent his talents to the department by studying sediment transfer in which he specialized. He shortly thereafter moved to California and continued his work at the California Institute of Technology. In 1947 he took a job with the University of California, Berkely as a professor where he taught hydraulic engineering until his death in 1973.
Throughout this time, Hans Albert corresponded with his father about career advice, their mutual successes, and mutual worries for their family.
The Einstein Legacy
Though their relationship was never that of a loving son and doting father, the two Einstein men managed to create a cordial partnership that lasted over the years and occasionally edged into an affectionate relationship.
Despite their resolved differences, though, the older Einstein continued to carry a bit of resentment that his son chose to focus on engineering rather than his own subject. Hans Albert Einstein had a handful of awards in his own right — including a Guggenheim Fellowship, research awards from the American Society of Civil Engineers, and various awards from the Department of Agriculture — they were, of course, no Nobel Prize.
The power of family superseded the differences between father and son. In 1939, when Hans’ second son David was dying of diphtheria, Albert called upon his own history of losing a child and sought to comfort his son. The two began a less troubled relationship with the death of two of Hans’ three sons, and the adoption of his daughter.
When Albert Einstein died in Princeton in 1955, it is reported that Hans Albert was at his father’s side most of that time. His own wife died three years later and Hans Albert did remarry, though he had no more children.
Hans Albert himself died of heart failure on July 26, 1973. His adopted daughter, Evelyn, reportedly lived a difficult and impoverished life following this.
Albert Einstein seemed to enjoy having young grandchildren and later in life spent more time visiting the young Einstein family in South Carolina. Despite Einstein’s earlier worries, his legacy continues beyond his family’s lineage.