Albert Einstein's Letters to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Roosevelt, Einstein's fellow Jew, knew all about this and was working to the same end. Truman just inherited it and went ahead with it.
Letters to President
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
20 February 1997
Table of Contents
- Text of the Letters
- Annotated Bibliography
Text of the Letters
- The letter that launched the arms race. A warning to President Roosevelt of the possibility of constructing "extremely powerful bombs of a new type" with hints that the German government might be doing just that. Addressed and dated Peconic, Long Island, August 2nd 1939, it was most likely written by Leo Szilard, the scientist who invented the chain reaction. Nevertheless, Einstein took full responsibility for its consequences, calling it "the greatest mistake" of his life. I have tried to reproduce the formatting as it appeared in the original. This is the only letter for which I have done this.
- Public Domain. See the list of mirror sites to view photocopies of the original letter.
- No comments at this time.
- Ronald W. Clark. Einstein: The Life and Times. New York: Avon Books, 1970: 678-679.
March 7, 1940
I wish to draw your attention to the development which has taken place since the conference that was arranged through your good offices in October last year between scientists engaged in this work and governmental representatives.
Last year, when I realized that results of national importance might arise out of research on uranium, I thought it my duty to inform the administration of this possibility. You will perhaps remember that in the letter which I addressed to the President I also mentioned the fact that C. F. von Weizsäcker, son of the German Undersecretary of State, was collaborating with a group of chemists working upon uranium at one of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institutes - namely, the Institute of Chemistry.
Since the outbreak of the war, interest in uranium has intensified in Germany. I have now learned that research there is carried out in great secrecy and that it has been extended to another of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institutes, the Institute of Physics. The latter has been taken over by the government and a group of physicists, under the leadership of C. F. von Weizsäcker, who is now working there on uranium in collaboration with the Institute of Chemistry. The former director was sent away on leave of absence, apparently for the duration of the war.
Should you think it advisable to relay this information to the President, please consider yourself free to do so. Will you be kind enough to let me know if you are taking action in this direction?
Dr. Szilard has shown me the manuscript which he is sending to the Physics Review in which he describes in detail a method of setting up a chain reaction in uranium. The papers will appear in print unless they are held up, and the question arises whether something ought to be done to withhold publication.
I have discussed with professor Wigner of Princeton University the situation in the light of the information available. Dr. Szilard will let you have a memorandum informing you of the progress made since October last year so that you will be able to take such action as you think in the circumstances advisable. You will see that the line he has pursued is different and apparently more promising than the line pursued by M. Joliot in France, about whose work you may have seen reports in the papers.
- This is only a fragment of the letter's body.
- Ronald W. Clark. Einstein: The Life and Times. New York: Avon Books, 1970: 681.
April 25, 1940
I am convinced as to the wisdom and the urgency of creating the conditions under which that and related work can be carried out with greater speed and on a larger scale than hitherto. I mwas interested in a suggestion made by Dr. Sachs that the Special Advisory Committee supply names of persons to serve as a board of trustees for a nonprofit organization which, with the approval of the government committee, could secure from governmental or mprivate sources or both, the necessary funds for carrying out the work. Given such a framework and the necessary funds, it (the large-scale experiments and exploration of practical applications) could be carried out much faster than through a loose cooperation of university laboratories and government departments.
- Subject: Fourth Einstein Letter
Date: Mon, 08 Dec 97 16:07:03 EST
From: William Lanouette
To: Glenn Elert
This fourth letter to FDR was [also drafted] by Leo Szilard. In it Einstein proposed that the President hear Szilard's views about setting policies for the A-bomb. Einstein told FDR that it was Szilard who first raised the possibility of nuclear weapons and that this had led Einstein to write the first letter in August 1939. Einstein said that Szilard and other scientists were interested in communicating their views about policy to members of FDR's cabinet and that it was worth the President's time to hear what Szilard had to say. The letter failed to reach President Roosevelt before his death on April 12th 1945.
- William Lanouette with Bela Silard. Genius in the Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilard, The Man Behind the Bomb. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994: 261-2.
112 Mercer Street
The Honorable Franklin Delano Roosevelt
I am writing to introduce Dr. L. Szilard who proposes to submit to you certain consideration and recommendation. Unusual circumstances which I shall describe further below introduce me to take this action in spite of the fact that I do not know the substance of the considerations and recommendations which Dr. Szilard proposes to submit to you.
In the summer of 1939 Dr. Szilard put before me his views concerning the potential importance of uranium for national defense. He was greatly disturbed by the potentialities involved and anxious that the United States Government be advised of them as soon as possible. Dr. Szilard, who is one of the discoverers of the neutron emission of uranium on which all present work on uranium is based, described to me a specific system which he devised and which he thought would make it possible to set up a chain reaction in un-separated uranium in the immediate future. Having known him for over twenty years both from his scientific work and personally, I have much confidence in his judgment and it was on the basis of his judgment as well as my own that I took the liberty to approach you in connection with this subject. You responded to my letter dated August 2, 1939 by the appointment of a committee under the chairmanship of Dr. Briggs and thus started the Government's activity in this field.
The terms of secrecy under which Dr. Szilard is working at present do not permit him to give me information about his work; however, I understand that he now is greatly concerned about the lack of adequate contact between scientist who are doing this work and those members of your Cabinet who are responsible for formulating policy. In the circumstances I consider it my duty to give Dr. Szilard this introduction and I wish to express the hope that you will be able to give his presentation of the case your personal attention.
Very truly yours,
- Letter from Albert Einstein to President Franklin D. Roosevelt: 08/02/1939. ARC Identifier 593374.
- The letter itself is in the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park, NY. The link above takes you to the National Archives copy of this item in pdf form.
- Einstein to Roosevelt, August 2, 1939. Leo Szilard Home Page. Gene Dannen.
- An html document that includes an inline image of the letter with some insightful commentary on its origin. Part of the truly excellent Leo Szilard Online. (As noted earlier, Szilard was the primary author of the letter.) This is easily the best site from a content standpoint.
- Einstein's Letter to FDR. Frontiers: Research Highlights 1946-1996. Argonne National Laboratory.
- An html document with inline images of the letter.
- Einstein/Sachs Document Collection. Manhattan Project Heritage Preservation Association.
- A series of 20 documents represent the complete written communication that took place between President Roosevelt and the scientific community (represented by Albert Einstein, Leo Szilard, Edward Teller, and Eugene Wigner) in the Fall of 1939.
- Albert Einstein Online. S. Morgan Friedman.
- The source of all things Einstein (formerly located at the University of Pennsylvania).
- Albert Einstein's Long Island Summer. Chuck Rothman.
- An interesting brush with greatness story from the period in Einstein's life when he was approached to "author" the letter.
- Atomkeller-Museum. Stadt Haigerloch, Deutschland.
- The site where the last German experiments on nuclear fission were conducted during World War II. Werner Heisenberg, Carl-Friedrich von Weizsäcker, and Karl Wirtz headed the research. Includes audio files of interviews with Heisenberg.
- Einstein Archives Online.
- Itemized database of several thousand documents written by, written to, or written about Albert Einstein. Many items in his own handwriting. Does not contain any images of his letters to Roosevelt, however.
- Leo Szilard Online. Gene Dannen.
- The source of all things Szilard; the author of the famous first letter as well as the obscure fourth letter.
- The Expanded Quotable Einstein. Alice Calaprice.
- A book published by Princeton University Press.