A Man Steals Albert Einstein’s Brain And Keeps It In His Basement For 23 Years


Einstein, the Nobel Prize winning physicist
and one of the most brilliant scientific minds in history, left very specific instructions
to have his body cremated after his death. He said “scatter the ashes secretly in order
to discourage idolators.” He was well aware of his celebrity status
and loathed the thought of being memorialized or studied. But on the night of April 17th, 1955 he arrived
at Princeton Hospital with a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm and died early the next morning. What happened next would set the course for
a long and wild ride. The pathologist on call the day Einstein died
was Dr. Thomas Stoltz Harvey. He autopsied the body and without direct instruction
to do so, took the extra step of removing Einstein’s brain, under the assumption it
would be studied. In what he thought would be a career making
move, he seized the opportunity and vowed to lead the study of Einstein’s brain himself
“to make a major professional contribution.” So he preserved the brain in formaldehyde
and took it home with him. Reporters quickly found out that he didn’t
have permission nor any legal right to remove the brain or keep it for himself. When Einstein’s son Hans Albert found out
the next day, he was outraged. His father, a private and modest man had left
explicit instruction to cremate his body so as not to be exploited. This was exactly the kind of scandal he wanted
to avoid. And yet, somehow Harvey still managed to get
permission, albeit reluctantly, from Hans Albert to keep the brain. Though it was granted only on the condition
that it be used for scientific research and any results would be published in reputable
scientific journals. It has been speculated that there were two
possible reasons for Harvey to remove and keep the brain for himself. The first one was that it was at the request
of Harry Zimmerman, Einstein’s personal physician and professional mentor to Harvey. Zimmerman never publicly admitted this to
be true, though he did make the request for the brain once it had been removed. The other possible theory is that perhaps
Harvey was inspired by the study done on Lenin’s brain in 1926 and simply got “caught up
in the moment, transfixed in the presence of greatness.” Either way, he thought that removing Einstein’s
brain would change the course of his career and believed he was on the brink of a Scientific
discovery. Things didn’t quite pan out that way though. Harvey was in way over his head. He was neither a neurosurgeon, nor a brain
specialist. His responsibility that day was to determine
the cause of death, which was heart failure. There was no instruction to remove the brain
or indication that the brain would be studied. You can’t blame the guy for thinking that
it would be a loss to lose such an incredible brain. I mean, who wouldn’t want to study the brain
that came up with the theory of relativity, the photoelectric effect, and the concept
of E=mc^2 (squared). But you can’t steal a brain and not expect
some repercussions. Naturally, amid all the controversy surrounding
the unauthorized removal of the brain, Harvey lost his job. So with the brain in tow, Harvey drove to
Philadelphia where there was a rare instrument called a microtome that was used to section
a brain. The team there carved the brain into 240 pieces
and preserved it in celloidin, a gelatinous rubbery material. Other parts were preserved in slides, and
a bit of the brain remained unsectioned. Harvey divvied up the pieces into two glass
jars and stored them in his basement. For two decades the brain sat there, with
not one study published. Eventually Harvey and the brain moved to the
Midwest settling in Wichita Kansas in the mid 70s where he worked as a medical supervisor
in a biological testing lab and kept the brain in a cider box under a beer cooler. In 1978 a journalist named Steven Levy who
worked for a regional magazine called the New Jersey Monthly was given the assignment
to find Einstein’s brain. The editor of the magazine had read in a biography
on Einstein that his body had been cremated except for his brain which was kept for scientific
research. But Einstein had been dead for 22 years and
no one had heard a thing about the brain since. Levy eventually tracked down Harvey in Wichita
and after a bit of persuasion Harvey finally admitted that he still had the brain in his
possession. Levy had found the brain. Harvey even showed him the brain down to the
red “Costa Cider” box he kept it in. After the article came out in the August 1978
edition of the magazine, the media went a little crazy. They camped out on Harvey’s lawn, Levy had
2 solid days full of radio interviews. Johnny Carson even made a joke about it. And Scientists finally took an interest. In 1984 Harvey sent four blocks of the brain
to Doctor Marian Diamond who worked at the University of California, Berkeley at her
request. Unfortunately the fact that the brain tissue
was preserved in celloidin meant that the methods of examination would be limited and
any experimental results would likely be flawed. In 1985 Harvey and collaborators from Dr.
Diamond’s study in California published the first study of Einstein’s brain claiming
that it had abnormal proportions of neurons and glial cells. This study was followed by five others reporting
differences in individual cells or in particular structures in Einstein’s brain. The researchers behind these studies aimed
to uncover the neurological underpinnings of intelligence. However, they have been largely discredited
by modern science. In 1988 Harvey lost his medical license after
failing a three day competency exam. He moved again, this time to Lawrence, Kansas
where he took a job on an assembly line in a plastic extrusion factory. He moved into a second floor apartment next
to a gas station, and befriended his neighbor, the famed beat generation author William Burroughs. The two men regularly met for drinks on Burroughs’s
front porch. Harvey would tell stories about sending off
pieces of the brain to researchers around the world. Burroughs would then boast to visitors that
he could have a piece of Einstein anytime he wanted. In 1997 a young journalist named Michael Paterniti
jumped at the opportunity for an exclusive and offered to drive Harvey and the brain
to California. Harvey agreed and a few days later he packed
the famous brain into two plastic containers in a gray duffel bag and they hit the road
in a rented Buick skylark. Paterniti even wrote a book about it called
Driving Mr. Albert. After Harvey’s death in 2007, the brain
remained in the possession of Harvey’s family until 2010 when they transferred what was
left of the brain to the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Spring, Maryland
including 14 photographs of the whole brain. There are bits and pieces of the brain that
were never returned and likely kept as curios. Although the scientific significance of Einstein’s
brain remains debatable, it’s been culturally significant, spawning countless articles and
stories, a play, a novel, and, of course, the controversy surrounding Harvey’s reasons
for keeping the brain largely to himself for 40 years instead of handing it off to scientists
who would be able to study it more thoroughly. You could chalk all this up to a sad ending
for a great man whose scientific discoveries changed the world. Or you could see this as a sign of a cultural
fascination with greatness and our collective desire to understand what, exactly, makes
a genius, a genius? But as long as photos and memes of Einstein
with his tongue out are getting circulated amongst us, he will continue to be a fascination
among all us normal-brained folks. If you thought this video was interesting,
I suggest you check out our even more interesting video: What Happened To The Man Who Got Hit
With an Iron Rod Through His Head?

100 thoughts on “A Man Steals Albert Einstein’s Brain And Keeps It In His Basement For 23 Years

  1. If a person was given Einsteins brain and they would add up to the person's brain power… Which human alive today could make the biggest breakthrough in science?

  2. so? nobody claims the brain back at that time?
    not event government or other authority

    its a widespread information at that time that he kept the brain,
    yet, nobody takes it back for national preservation?

  3. Uhmm Einstein why you don't want to preserve your body. You should have think about the future generations fascinate at your body.

  4. Are u actually kidding me? If you do a video like this, you need to know science. The man Thomas Harvery, Kept Einstines Brain In his basement For 40 YEARS. NOT 23 YEARS. 🙉🙉🙉

    Edit: If y'all don't believe me search it up. This is not a hate comment.

  5. Albert einstein has 17% more neurons that means he had more synapes fired more in his brain so that means his brain had more power

  6. It could've at least been studied right away. But instead, it was spliced into pieces, kept away for so many years and no thorough research was ever done. What a waste. The poor guy never died in peace.

  7. Steals brain. Installs Einsteins brain in his head.

    Brain successfully upgraded
    "your new IQ is 250! Congratulations sir!"

  8. White privileged lol. So the law/Government allowed this shut the happened and there wasn't no repercussions or mandatory retrieval?????????

  9. I actually know the man who owns the brain and I touched it as a child. I will make a video some day. I believe either this story is partially false and that the guy from tre Midwest made it up or fooled people into believing that the brain he had was Einstein’s…. or they only have a small portion of the brain, but the brain that I was aware of was in a large glass jar that such specimens would be kept in. The person’s who owned/owns it also has a very solid provenance and his possession of it actually makes a lot of sense given location, etc. I’m being intentionally vague because I’m not sure if these details are widely known but I do know that at the time the plan was for the brain to be donated to a large museum. I will ask for more information. Also it is important to note that Einstein was familiar with some of the doctors involved and had made it apparent before his death that he wanted his body donated to science. It was in fact his family (not Einstein) that wanted his body cremated. I also know where it was cremated. I also know fairly specific details of the brain and may even have pictures.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *