How this letter from a genius pacifist inspired the US to build the most powerful weapon known to man
A month before World War II, German-born genius Albert Einstein wrote a two-page letter that launched the US into a nuclear arms race against the Nazis.
In the 1939 letter, Einstein warned President Franklin D. Roosevelt that a massive nuclear chain reaction involving uranium could lead to the construction of “extremely powerful bombs of a new type” — the atomic bomb.
Einstein, a pacifist who fled Nazi Germany, learned that three chemists in Berlin were on the brink of perfecting a game-changing weapon after they used nuclear fission to successfully split the uranium atom. The reaction released an unprecedented amount of energy, capable of powering a massive bomb.
“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,” Einstein wrote to Roosevelt.
Two years later, and after multiple letters from Einstein, the US created the “Manhattan Project,” America’s plan to design and build the most devastating weapons ever produced up to that time.
Because he did not have a security clearance, Einstein didn’t work on the Manhattan Project. But his simple, eloquent formula E=mc2 appeared in physicist Henry DeWolf Smyth’s report, the first official account of the development of the atomic bomb in 1945.
Einstein’s letters played more of a role in the construction of the bomb than his equation. His formula showed that atomic bombs were theoretically possible, but the equation was irrelevant in the actual creation of a bomb.
Here is the letter that launched America’s A-bomb research:
And here’s President Roosevelt’s response to Einstein:
On August 6, 1945, the US dropped a 5-ton atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The blast killed 80,000 people immediately and leveled four square miles of the city.
Three days later, the US dropped another bomb on Japan’s Nagasaki, killing about 40,000 people instantly; thousands more would die of radiation poisoning.
Eight days later, Japan informally surrendered to the Allied forces, effectively ending World War II.
More from Business Insider:
- Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Albert Einstein
- These 3 charts show just how enormous the US Air Force really is
- Cops in North Dakota can now fly weaponized drones
- An unsettling picture of a US physicist cheerfully holding the ‘Fat Man’ atomic bomb’s core
- These Chinese Military Advancements Are Shifting The Balance Of Power In Asia
If you don't know about Sword & Plough, you are wrong
The Holidays, like a hyped-up drill sergeant, are upon you. Don't you wish you had a 12-day guide to the best vet-made gifts around? Ho! Ho! Hoo-rah!
Why the 'Butcher of Bosnia' faces a life sentence for war crimes
Ratko Mladic, a former Serbian general, will receive a verdict from the International Criminal Tribunal for war crimes he committed, to include genocide.
Russia swears a cloud of radioactive pollution is not a nuclear accident
A radioactive cloud is moving over parts of Europe, seemingly coming from Russia, reminiscent of the Chernobyl nuclear-power-plant disaster in 1986.
Taliban drug labs targeted by B-52 strikes overnight
American aircraft have targeted drug producing facilities in Afghanistan for the first time under a new strategy aimed at cutting off Taliban funding.
Why South Korea is building a unique missile interceptor
A missile system that could be used to target North Korea Scuds will cost Seoul more than $800 million to develop, a Seoul defense committee said.
SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible
Last week, at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, a crowd gathered to commemorate the fateful event that gave rise to what would become the US Navy SEALs.
The 50 most violent cities in the world
Of the fifty cities on the list, forty-three are in Latin America, including nineteen in Brazil, eight in Mexico, and seven in Venezuela.
How the true story of Thanksgiving ended in a war
Just a generation after the famed Thanksgiving feast shared between pilgrims and Native Americans, the two groups were engaged in bloody battles.
The wounded North Korean defector is infected by an unknown parasite
The North Korean defector shot by his fellow soldiers has been found to be riddled with parasites his South Korean doctors have never seen.