Early in Albert Einstein’s career he worked at the Patent Office in Switzerland. I have collected various snippets from around the web relating to Einstein’s relationship with the patent office.
Einstein did some of his work on the job.
“Einstein could complete his tasks so quickly and so well that he had ample spare time in which to pursue his scientific work, and was even granted a raise of 400 francs soon after being hired.”
“When he did have a few free moments during the day, he would scribble on sheets he kept in one drawer of his desk—which he jokingly called his department of theoretical physics. But Haller kept a strict eye on him, and the drawer stayed closed most of the time”
“Luckily, the young genius never gave up on his passion for physics. Whenever he had a spare moment during the workday, he would jot down notes and hide them in a drawer that he jokingly called his department of theoretical physics.”
Einstein had a circle of friends outside of work.
“While living in Bern, Einstein met regularly with a close circle of friends who shared his interests in physics and philosophy. These individuals included the Romanian student Maurice Solovine, his old friend Conrad Habicht, an electrical engineer Lucien Chavan, and Einstein’s closest friend from the Polytechnic, Michele Angelo Besso. These men met late into the night to discuss their intellectual interests and referred to themselves as the Olympia Academy.”
“Nevertheless, the friendships he had made with his former fellow students continued beyond their studies, as is reflected in his correspondence with Jakob Ehrat, or rather Ehrat’s mother”
Einstein’s co-workers helped sharpen his abilities.
“In June 1902, Einstein received the letter he’d been impatiently waiting for: a positive answer regarding his application to be a technical assistant – level III at the federal patent office in Bern. One month later he was examining inventions applications for patentability at his famous lectern in room 86, on the third floor of the building on the corner of the Speichergasse and the Genfergasse. The director at the time, Friedrich Haller, was a strict boss. However, Einstein appreciated his superior’s tough-but-benevolent and logical-but-uncompromising character which seemed to stimulate Einstein’s natural critical tendency.”
“What did the patent office job mean to Einstein? Three things:
– second, “He (Haller) taught me to express myself correctly”, and”
Einstein’s job stability helped him focus on his work.
“The patent office job — Einstein referred to it, tongue-in-cheek, as his «cobbler’s trade» — turned out to be stroke of good fortune because it was excellently paid (3,500 Swiss francs per year) and was undemanding for his nimble intelligence. He spoke of the patent office as «a worldly cloister where he hatched his most beautiful ideas». With his courteousness and modesty and his humorous approach to life, Einstein was very well-liked. On April 1, 1906 he was promoted to technical assistant-level II. He managed his time exactly: eight hours of work, eight hours of «allotria» (miscellaneous) and scientific work and eight hours of sleep (which he often used instead for writing his manuscripts). ”
“What did the patent office job mean to Einstein? Three things:
– One – “Besides eight hours of work … eight hours of idleness plus a whole Sunday”, <snip> – third, what Einstein mentioned on his seventieth birthday, “It gave me the opportunity to think abut Physics.”
“Einstein’s job in the patent office was a blessing. After years of financial instability and depending on his father for an income, he was finally able to marry Mileva and begin to raise a family in Bern. The relative monotony of the patent office, with its clearly defined tasks and lack of distractions, seemed to be an ideal setting for Einstein to think things through. His assigned work took only a few hours to complete each day, leaving him time to focus on his puzzles. Sitting at his small wooden desk with only a few books and the papers from his “theoretical physics department,” he would perform experiments in his head. In these thought experiments (gedankenexperimenten as he called them in German) he would imagine situations and constructions in which he could explore physical laws to find out what they might do to the real world. In the absence of a real lab, he would play out carefully crafted games in his head, enacting events that he would scrutinize in detail. With the results of these experiments, Einstein knew just enough mathematics to be able to put his ideas to paper, creating exquisitely crafted jewels that would ultimately change the direction of physics.”
Einstein had trouble finding a job in his field.
“While the other graduates from his year took up their posts at the Polytechnic Institute, Einstein tried unsuccessfully to gain a position as an assistant lecturer at various universities in Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands and Italy”
Einstein got his job through a friend.
“Grossman’s help was necessary not so much because Einstein’s final university grades were unusually low—through cramming with the ever-useful Grossman’s notes, Einstein had just managed to reach a 4.91 average out of a possible 6, which was almost average—but because one professor, furious at Einstein for telling jokes and cutting classes, had spitefully written unacceptable references. Teachers over the years had been irritated by his lack of obedience, most notably Einstein’s high school Greek grammar teacher, Joseph Degenhart, the one who has achieved immortality in the history books through insisting that “nothing will ever become of you.” ”
Einstein’s situation allowed his ideas to percolate together, coalesce, and gel into mature ideas.
“The year 1905 became an “annus mirabilis” for Einstein. Altogether he wrote five significant works on three areas of application, namely on the reality and size of the atom, about photons and about the theory of special relativity. Four of these works are mentioned by him in a letter (pdf, 535 kB) to Conrad Habicht. The brilliant concept of special relativity occurred to Einstein in May 1905 in a discussion with Michele Besso in Berne. During the following six weeks he wrote his essay, which appeared three months later in the “Annalen der Physik” under the inconspicuous title of “Zur Elektrodynamik bewegter Körper” and which would revolutionise physics as well as the established ideas about space and time.”
Einstein’s job kept him from getting sucked into current fashions in physics theory.
“Even the hours he had to keep at the patent office worked against him. By the time he got off for the day, the one science library in Bern was usually closed. How would he have a chance if he couldn’t even stay up to date with the latest findings? <snip> Einstein was slipping behind, measurably, compared to the friends he’d made at the university. He talked with his wife about quitting Bern and trying to find a job teaching high school. But even that wasn’t any guarantee: he had tried it before, only four years earlier, but never managed to get a permanent post.”
Einstein’s job helped keep him from going off the academic eccentric ‘deep end’.
“He managed to get a few physics articles published in his spare time, but they didn’t make much of an impression. He was reportedly always aiming for grand linkages that he couldn’t quite prove.”
“Einstein in the Bern patent office. “A practical profession is a salvation for a man of my type; an academic career compels a young man to scientific production, and only strong characters can resist the temptation of superficial analysis.””
“What did the patent office job mean to Einstein? Three things: <snip>
– Moreover, a practical profession is a salvation for a man of my type; an academic career compels a young man to scientific production, and only strong characters can resist the temptation of superficial analysis”.”
Einstein’s native intelligence and dedication helped him do well on the job.
“Haller then wrote, “Einstein had continued to familiarize himself with the work, so that he handles very difficult patent applications with the greatest success and is one of the most valued experts in the office.”
“His employers at the patent office were pleased with Einstein’s work and promoted him to Expert II Class, yet they remained oblivious to his growing reputation.”
Einstein’s real work was not appreciated by his boss but was appreciated by a few important others.
“Moral of the story? If you have a game-changing idea, don’t expect to get “excellent” rating from your boss, at least not in the next appraisal cycle.”
“Even by the turn of the decade (1910) there were only a handful of people in the world who had understood the impact of relativity.”
“Einstein’s idea was appreciated by
Max Plank, Lorentz and a few others. You need to find who your “Plank” is.”
“Unfortunately, Einstein’s 1905 achievements were not immediately recognized as the work of a genius. He kept his day job in the patent office for the next few years (though he did get a promotion in 1906). In 1908, Albert Einstein finally moved into academia to focus full-time on an extraordinary career as a physicist and undisputed genius.”
“Einstein was still working on a daily quota of patents in 1907 when the German physicist Johannes Stark commissioned Einstein to write his review “On the Relativity Principle and the Conclusions Drawn From It.” He was given two months to write it, and in those two months Einstein realized that his principle of relativity was incomplete. It would need a thorough overhaul if it was to be truly general.”
Einstein got to appreciate the good qualities of people outside his field.
“I love this Einstein quote: “There’s a Genius in all of us.” “