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Einstein's Letter to President Roosevelt

Albert Einstein signed this letter, on August 2nd 1939, but he did not write it.  His colleagues asked him to sign it because Einstein had a personal relationship with the Roosevelts which his fellow scientists did not. 

Additionally, of course, Einstein had an international reputation.

It's ironic, when we really think about it, that Einstein even agreed to sign this letter given his personal beliefs. Beyond his brilliance as a physicist, he was known as a pacifist. Among other things, he had this to say about war:

Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.

There would be, unfortunately, little "understanding" in the world for numerous years after Einstein "approved this message."

After Einstein signed the letter, it was supposed to be hand-delivered to the President.  A major event delayed its delivery, however.  In early September, Germany invaded Poland.  World War II had erupted in Europe.

Alexander Sachs, FDR's economic adviser, gave Roosevelt Einstein's letter on the 11th of October, 1939.  Ten days later - on the 21st of October - a newly formed "Advisory Committee on Uranium" met for the first time. 

The committee's recommendations, and the President's actions on them, gave birth to the "Manhattan Project."  The "Manhattan Project" gave birth to the world's first atomic bomb.

Hereafter are the first-page words of this world-changing document:

Albert Einstein
                                             Old Grove Rd.
                                             Nassau Point
                                             Peconic, Long Island

                                             August 2nd 1939

F.D. Roosevelt
President of the United States
White House
Washington, D.C.



Sir:

      Some recent work by E.Fermi and L. Szilard, which has been com-

municated to me in manuscript, leads me to expect that the element uran-

ium may be turned into a new and important source of energy in the im-

mediate future. Certain aspects of the situation which has arisen seem

to call for watchfulness and, if necessary, quick action on the part

of the Administration. I believe therefore that it is my duty to bring

to your attention the following facts and recommendations:

      In the course of the last four months it has been made probable -

through the work of Joliot in France as well as Fermi and Szilard in

America - that it may become possible to set up a nuclear chain reaction

in a large mass of uranium, by which vast amounts of power and large quant-

ities of new radium-like elements would be generated. Now it appears

almost certain that this could be achieved in the immediate future.

      This new phenomenon would also lead to the construction of bombs,

and it is conceivable - though much less certain - that extremely power-

ful bombs of a new type may thus be constructed. A single bomb of this

type, carried by boat and exploded in a port, might very well destroy

the whole port together with some of the surrounding territory. However,

such bombs might very well prove to be too heavy for transportation by

air.

Click on the image for a better view.

See, also, page 2 of Einstein's letter.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5124stories and lessons created

Original Release: Oct 07, 2013

Updated Last Revision: Oct 21, 2017


Media Credits

Online, courtesy U.S. National Archives

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