The Journey of Einstein’s Brain

“Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared.”

Everyone knows who Albert Einstein was. The German-born theoretical physicist is one of the greatest and most influential physicists ever. He’s best known for developing the theory of relativity and had a hand in the development of quantum mechanics.

Albert Einstein died on April 18th, 1955 after a blood vessel burst near his heart. Upon being asked if he wanted to undergo surgery, Einstein refused, saying, “I want to go when I want to go. It is tasteless to prolong life artificially.”

But what happened to his brain?

After his death, Einstein’s body was removed from Princeton Hospital in Plainsboro and taken to a funeral home for cremation. The man who performed the autopsy, named Thomas Stoltz Harvey, hung on to a couple of Einstein’s parts before releasing the body. Harvey, without asking, kept Einstein’s brain and eyeballs.

His eyeballs too?

His eyeballs were given to Einstein’s long-time eye doctor, Henry Abrams. Abrams purchased a safety deposit box at a New York bank, where they remain today.

They were supposed to cremate all of him

Harvey was able to convince Einstein’s son, Hans, that it was important to hang on to the brain despite his father’s wishes. The hospital’s director was not as easy to convince and fired Harvey shortly after the autopsy after the now former pathologist refused to give up the brain.

Everyone gets a piece

Harvey took Einstein’s brain to a hospital in Philadelphia where he had a technician section it into over two hundred blocks. The pieces were then embedded in celloidin. Harvey gave a handful of pieces to his former boss and Einstein’s personal physician, Harry Zimmerman. The rest of the brain was placed inside two formalin-filled jars.

Einstein rides shotgun

Over the years, Harvey always claimed he was within a year or so of a big breakthrough. He distributed the pieces to an unknown number of researchers, always keeping his promise that he would not sell them. Einstein’s brain traveled with Harvey back and forth across the United States and parts of Canada.

If it’s good enough for Russia!

The US army received parts of Einstein’s brain. The author of “Possessing Genius: The Bizarre Odyssey of Einstein’s Brain”, Carolyn Abrahams stated that “the US army felt that having it would put them on a par with the Russians, who were collecting their own brains at the time. People were collecting brains — it was a thing.”

Take a closer look

One recipient of a portion of Einstein’s brain was Dr. Marian Diamond from UC Berkeley. Diamond studied the brain and discovered that Einstein’s neurons probably had a greater metabolic need then most men, they needed and used more energy.

Pack your things, don’t forget the brain

Harvey kept the majority of Einstein’s brain in the basement of his Princeton home. Eventually his marriage ended and he left Princeton in search of work. He forgot the brain however, and his wife threatened to throw it away so he returned home to grab it.

Einstein’s brain heads to the Midwest

Harvey brought Einstein’s brain with him to the Midwest where he worked as a medical supervisor in a Wichita, Kansas Biological testing lab. At this point, the brain was kept in a cider box which he hid underneath a beer cooler.

Career move

From Wichita, he moved to Weston, Missouri. There, he practiced medicine until 1988 when he failed a competency exam and lost his license. He then relocated to Lawrence, Kansas, took an assembly-line job in a plastic-extrusion factory.

Road Trip!

In 1997 Harvey took a cross-country road trip with a freelance magazine writer named Michael Paterniti. Harvey wanted to meet Einstein’s granddaughter in California. They drove from New Jersey to California in Harvey’s Buick Skylark. He met the granddaughter, thought about giving the brain to her, and left it at her house accidentally but in the end, she didn’t want it.

Here’s your brain back

After moving back to New Jersey, Harvey returned any remaining pieces of Einstein’s brain to Dr. Elliot Krauss, the chief pathologist at Princeton Hospital. Numerous reputable scientists were given access and new findings were released.

New findings

It was discovered that Einstein’s brain was remarkable in several ways. “The researchers found that Einstein’s brain was 15% wider than average because the inferior parietal regions on both hemispheres were much more developed than most. This would have given Einstein some powerful visualization skills. They also found that Einstein’s brain lacked the groove which usually runs through part of this area, which suggests that the neurons might have been able to work together more easily given their proximity.” – from

At the museum

According to Smithsonian Magazine, if you want to see Einstein’s brain, you need to visit the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia. The rest of it is being studied at various medical facilities and a small portion has gone missing, unaccounted for due to Harvey’s various travels and loans.

The best intentions

Thomas Stoltz Harvey died at the University Medical Center at Princeton on April 5, 2007, after suffering complications of a stroke. In 2010, Harvey’s heirs transferred the remains of Albert Einstein’s brain to the National Museum of Health and Medicine, including 14 photographs of the whole brain.

Ever heard Albert Einstein speak?

Leave a Reply