Albert Einstein’s Stolen Brain: How Thomas S. Harvey’s Theft Helped Our Understanding Of Genius

Most people know all about how Albert Einstein created the theory of relativity and forever changed our understanding of the universe, however, his brain made contributions to science long after his journey to the grave.

When he was alive, the kind natured Albert Einstein was a formidable intellect. Beyond his discoveries in physics, he was one of science’s predominant philosophers and an eccentric genius whom everyone respected, if not admired. Alive, he subjected himself to a number of studies aimed at unlocking the secrets of the human mind.

Einstein's brain as diagrammed by Dr. Harvey

Einstein had left explicit instructions that he dd not want his brain studied and therefore ordered it cremated along with the rest of his body. This was not good enough for Dr. Thomas S. Harvey, who despite Einstein’s wishes, had other plans for the use of Einstein’s brain.

Einstein’s discoveries of the properties of light, time, gravity, and space changed the universe as we had then known it so it’s no surprise that upon his death in 1955 at the age of 76, the science community was eager to understand how his brain worked. In the chaos surrounding Einstein’s death, there was much commotion.

Within a few hours, the media had swarmed around the quiet town of Princeton, New Jersey, to grab any news and claim a piece of Einstein’s legacy for themselves in some way, says journalist Michael Paternity. Writers were swamped with stories and phone calls trying to research and capture the historic event. Paternity noted that Thomas S. Harvey took full advantage of that mess.

“It was like the death of the prophet, and so it got a little bit crazy. And out of that complete, sort of melee of the moment, he made off with the brain, and it was under somewhat dubious circumstances,”

After Harvey stashed the brain, he presented Einstein’s body to his family to be cremated without a word. Eventually Harvey convinced Einstein’s son to let him keep the brain for research purposes. The son reluctantly gave in and let Harvey have it.

Dr. Harvey was so possessive of the brain that Princeton had to fire him because he refused to give the brain back. Harvey went on the lam, forsaking his reputation to hold onto the brain of Albert Einstein.

Dr Harvey with one of many slides containing Einstein's brain tissue.

Harvey carved up Einstein’s brain into 240 cubes and periodically would send pictures and pieces of the brain off to be examined by neurologists whom he deemed worthy, but never would he give up his prized possession.

Einstein’s brain was studied by many neurologists and scientists over the years. Many insightful discoveries have been made regarding the nature of the human brain but there has been far too much damage to make a full analysis.

Researchers have since determined that although his brain had may unique features, it was in no way abnormal or unusual. It has been concluded that his was a mind crafted over many year through love of science and the encouragement of his intellect by his family.

In the early 1990’s, with jars full of brain in the trunk, Harvey drove his red Buick Skylark to California to meet Einstein’s granddaughter at the behest of Michael Paternity. When Harvey forgot the brain at her house, Evelyn returned it to him, washing her hands of the whole thing. The journalist chronicled the whole experience in his book Driving Mr. Albert.

Harvey passed away in 2007, but before he did he managed to donate the brain to Princeton. Today, the brain resides in the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia where slides and pictures are available for eager scientists looking to expand on the research.