Thursday, May 28, 2009

Szilard the lightning quick thinker and eccentric -these qualities not fortuitious Einstein Letter

Leo Szilard was eccentric in his career from inception .I would like to address in this post the Einstein Letter to FDR as instigated in part by Szilard. Also Jacob Bronowki's The Ascent of Man, "The Making of the Atomic Bomb". Also the Szilard Lecture on War.

The Einstein Letter contains prefatory comments and the body proper of the letter:

  1. Einstein was troubled and ambivalent by his participation in the letter to FDR

  2. This comprised a tragic paradox of fate for this avowed pacifist

  3. He started the signal unleashing the most horrible weapons of destruction.

  4. The scientific community in totum was aware of the possibilities of atomic energy.

  5. These were actively discussed in American newspapers and magazines.

  6. Scientists that fled Nazi persecution suspected their former collaborators would pursue the "development" of atomic weapons

  7. Leo Szilard, Eugene Wigner and Edward Teller would approach Einstein and ask him to communicate a sense of urgency to Roosevelt.The letter was delivered by Alexander Sachs but not until October 11,1939.

  8. FDR's reply . He wrote einstein October 19th that he formed a committee consisting of Sachs and representatives from the Army and Navy to study uranium.

  9. The president acted in the belief (Uranium Committee of 1939) that he could not risk allowing Hitler to achieve unilateral possession of "powerful bombs".

  10. This was the first of many decisions leading to the Manhattan Project. (And the atomic bomb of WWII.)

  11. The text of the actual letter begins August 2,1939 and alerts FR to the work of Fermi and Szilard and alludes to a manuscript communicated to him (Einstein)

  12. The element uranium could be an important source of energy in the immediate future.

  13. Certain situations call for watchfulness and quick action re: the following facts and situations.Through Joliot in France and Szilard and Fermi 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 quantities of new radium-like elements would be generated. (Quote) A single bomb might destroy a port but be too heavy for air transport.

  14. The US has poor uranium supply areas-Some good ore in Canada and the former Czechoslovakia. The richest source is the Belgian Congo.

  15. Necessity for unofficial permanent contact that the government trusts, between administration and US physicists working on these chain reactions.

  16. This liaison would maintain government contact, and secure ongoing funding beyond the modest university budgets., securing cooperation of industrial laboratories and private contributions

  17. Germany has stopped the sale of uranium from the Czech mines. Her hasty action might be understood in the context that the son of the German under secretary of state von Weiznacker is attached to the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute where American work on Uranium is being repeated at present.

Einstein's Letter to Franklin D. Roosevelt
Manhattan Project
History The Early Years (1900 - 1939)
"I really only acted as a mail box.
They (Szilard, et al) brought me a finished letter and I simply signed it" -
Albert Einstein
in a apology to his biographer Antonina Vallentin.
later years, those close to Einstein would report that he was very troubled by
his participation. In a tragic paradox of
fate, he, a vowed pacifist, gave
the starting signal for the most horrible of weapons of
Webmaster's Note: Keeping in mind what you have learned thus
far, it is important to realize that not only was the
scientific community as
a whole acutely aware of the possibilities of atomic energy, it was also
actively discussed in
American magazines and newspapers
. In addition, the
scientists that had fled Nazi persecution were worried that their
scientific collaborators would actively pursue the possibility of atomic
weapons. This led Leo Szilard, with the
assistance of Eugene Wigner and
Edward Teller, to approach is friend, Albert Einstein, and encourage him
communicate a "sense of urgency" to President Roosevelt.
Sachs, a friend and unofficial advisor to Roosevelt, was tapped to carry
Einsteins' letter. However, for a variety
of reasons, Sachs was not able to
meet with F.D.R. and deliver the letter until October 11, 1939
wrote Einstein back on October 19th and informed him that he had set up a
committee consisting of Sachs
and representatives from the Army and Navy to
study uranium
. Events ultimately proved that the President was a man
considerable action once a course of action was chosen. In fact,
Roosevelt's approval of the Uranium Committee in
October of 1939, based on
his belief that the United States could not take the risk of allowing Hitler to
achieve unilateral
possession of "extremely powerful bombs,"
was merely the
first decision among many that ultimately led to the
establishment of the
only atomic bomb effort that succeeded in World War II - the Manhattan


August 2, 1939
Albert Einstein
Old Grove Rd.
Paconic, Long Island, NY
F. D. Roosevelt
President of the United
White House
Washington, DC
Some recent work by E. Fermi
and L. Szilard, which has been communicated to me in a manuscript, leads me to
that the element uranium may be turned into a new and important source
of energy in the immediate future. Certain
aspects of the situation which has
arisen seem to call for watchfulness and, if necessary, quick action on the part
of the
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 quantities of new radium-like elements would be
. 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
powerful 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,
bombs might very well prove to be too heavy for transportation by
Page 2...
The United States has only very poor areas of uranium in
moderate quantities. There is some good ore in Canada and
the former
Czechoslovakia, while the most important source of uranium is the Belgian
In view of this situation you may think it desirable to have some
permanent contact maintained between the
Administration and the group of
physicists working on chain reactions in America. One possible way of achieving
The Atomic Heritage Foundation Powered by
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might be for you to entrust with this
task a person who has your confidence and who could perhaps serve in an
His task might comprise the following:
a) to approach
Government Departments, keep them informed of the further development, and put
recommendations for Government action, giving particular attention to
the problem of securing a supply of uranium ore
for the United States.
to speed up the experimental work, which is at present being carried on within
the limits of the budgets of University
laboratories, by providing funds, if
such funds be required,
through his contacts with private persons who are
willing to
make contributions for this cause, and perhaps also by obtaining
the co-operation of industrial laboratories which have
the necessary
I understand that Germany has actually stopped the sale of uranium
from the Czechoslovakian mines which she has
taken over. That she should have
taken such hasty action might perhaps be understood on the ground that the son
of the
German Under-Secretary of State, von Weiznacker, is attached to the
Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute in Berlin where some of
the American work on uranium
is now being repeated
Yours very truly,
(Albert Einstein)
The Atomic
Heritage Foundation


Szilárd was well known to his colleagues as an eccentric,
lightning-quick thinker who "seemed fond of startling people" with strange,
seemingly incongruous, yet extremely perceptive statements and questions. He was
also extremely good at predicting political events. He is said to have predicted World War
as a boy, and when the Nazi party first appeared, he
predicted that it would one day control Europe. In 1934, he foresaw the
details of World War II. He then made
a habit of residing in hotel rooms, with a packed suitcase always on hand. He
often did a lot of his best thinking while taking a bath.

Academy of Arts and Sciences
American Physical

Inventors Hall of Fame

Humanist of
the Year
The crater Szilárd (34.0°N,
105.7°E, 122km dia.) on the far side of the Moon is named after him.

See also
of low-temperature technology

^ "Knowledge or
Certainty". Jacob Bronowski (writer,
presenter). The Ascent of Man.
39:01 minutes in.
^ Rhodes, "The
Making Of The Atomic Bomb", Simon & Schuster, 1986
^ Bethe, Hans A.
(2000-03-27). "The
German Uranium Project". Physics Today Online 53: 34. doi:10.1063/1.1292473.
^ The Atomic
Heritage Foundation. "Einstein's Letter to Franklin D. Roosevelt".
Retrieved on 2007-05-26.
^ The Atomic
Heritage Foundation. ""Pa, this requires action!"".
Retrieved on 2007-05-26.
^ "Knowledge or
Certainty". Jacob Bronowski (writer,
presenter). The Ascent of Man.
41:14 minutes in.
^ Esterer, Arnulf
K.; Luise A. Esterer (1972). Prophet of the Atomic Age: Leo Szilard. Julian
Messner. pp. 148. ISBN

Szilard, Leo (1992). The Voice of the Dolphins: And Other Stories
(Expanded edition from 1961 original ed.). Stanford, CA.: Stanford University
Press. ISBN
Szilard, Leo; Gertrud Weiss-Szilard (1978). Leo
Szilard: His Version of the Facts : Selected Recollections and
Correspondence. Spencer R. Weart (ed.). Cambridge, MA.: The MIT Press. ISBN
Lanouette, William; Bela Silard (1992). Genius in the
Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilárd: The Man Behind The Bomb. New York: Charles
Scribner's Sons. ISBN
Esterer, Arnulf K.; Luise A. Esterer (1972). Prophet
of the Atomic Age: Leo Szilard. New York: Julian Messner. ISBN

External links

Wikiquote has
a collection of quotations related to: Leó

Leo Szilárd Online -
an "Internet Historic Site" (first created March 30, 1995) maintained by Gene
Szilárd's page at

Einstein's Letter to President Roosevelt - 1939
Annotated bibliography for Leo Szilárd from the Alsos Digital

Szilárd biography at
Council for a
Livable World

The Szilard Library at
the European Molecular Biology Laboratory

Szilard lecture on

Szilard's math genealogy

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