Einstein and the Royal Academy of Sciences in Amsterdam:

"Ich nehme diese Wahl dankbar an ..."

 "I thankfully accept this election ..."

Einstein in a letter to the Royal Academy of Sciences in Amsterdam, May 24, 1920


Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen

A short story of the Academy

The Dutch Royal Academy of Sciences was founded in Amsterdam by Louis Napoléon Bonaparte (1778-1846), King of the Netherlands, on May 4, 1808. This was the time of the French occupation. In the course of the years the Academy was renamed several times. It received its present name in 1938. It is divided into two classes: the class for natural sciences and the class for human and social sciences. The membership is comprised of members, corresponding members and foreign members. Today the Academy awards several scientific prices, for example the Lorentz Medal and the Christiaan Huygens Science Prize. A special award of the Academy is the award for the lifework, the Academy Chair.

Members were among others also the physicists and Nobel laureates Hendrik Antoon Lorentz (1853-1928) and Pieter Zeeman (1865-1943). They jointly received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1902 "... as recognition of the extraordinary merit they have acquired through their examinations concerning the influence of magnetism on the radiation phenomena."
On November 13, 1911 he resides in Prague and writes a letter to Heinrich Zangger about the Dutch physicist Lorentz whom Einstein worshipped very much: „...
H. A. Lorentz ist ein Wunder von Intelligenz und feinem Takt. Ein lebendiges Kunstwerk! Er ist nach meiner Meinung immer noch der intelligenteste unter den anwesenden Theoretikern gewesen."

"... H. A. Lorentz is a wonder of intelligence and fine discretion. A living artwork! In my opinion he still has been the most intelligent among the present theorists."

Some known names of corresponding, i.e. foreign members of the Academy from earlier times shall be mentioned here in the chronological order of their membership:
the two corresponding members Ludwig van Beethoven and Alexander von Humboldt as well as the foreign members Carl Friedrich Gauß, Charles Darwin, Ludwig Boltzmann, Marie Curie, Niels Bohr, Max Planck and Werner Heisenberg, to just name a few.

On May 19, 1920 also Albert Einstein was accepted by the Academy as foreign member.

Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen, www.knaw.nl  External link

Albert Einstein and the Royal Academy of Sciences in Amsterdam

During a meeting taking place on March 27, 1920 thirteen candidates were proposed as foreign members for the natural science class of the Academy, however, there were only nine free places. On April 23, 1920 there were five corresponding rounds of voting. Einstein was already elected in the first round of voting. In a letter of the Ministry of Education dated May 18, 1920 the Secretary of the Academy was informed about the result of the election. He then in turn informed the candidates about their election.

On May 19, 1920 and with the signature of Queen Wilhelmina (1880-1962) on the nomination deed, Albert Einstein was elected as foreign member into the Physics department of the Royal Academy of Sciences in Amsterdam. The Secretary of the Academy, Pieter Zeemann, informed Einstein in writing on May 21. However, Einstein must already have been informed in advance, as he already told his wife Elsa in a letter dated May 20: „... Ausserdem muss ich am 29. noch in der Akademie in Amsterdam sein, wo ich zum ausländischen Mitglied ernannt worden bin."

"... Furthermore I still have to be in the Academy in Amsterdam on 29, where I have been nominated as foreign member."

Einstein approved of the election. In a letter to the Secretary Einstein wrote:

                                                                                                                                              "24. Mai 1920                

Hoch geehrter Herr Secretär,

   In Ihrem Schreiben vom 21. Mai haben Sir mir mitgeteilt, dass Ihre Akademie beschlossen hat, mich als Mitglied aufzunehmen. Ich nehme diese Wahl dankbar an und schätze mich glücklich, diesem Kreise von Forschern anzugehören, mit dessen fachgenössischen Mitgliedern mich seit vielen Jahren eifrige Zusammenarbeit, alte Freundschaft und Gefühle hoher Verehrung verbinden.
   Mit ausgezeichneter Hochachtung Ihr ganz ergebener
                                                                                            A. Einstein"

                                                                                                                                               "May 24, 1920                

Highly respected Mr. Secretary,

   In your letter dated May 21 you have told me that your Academy has decided to accept me as a member. I accept this election thankfully and I am happy to be part of this circle of researchers with the scientific members of which I have been connected for many years through diligent cooperation, old friendship and emotions of high esteem.
   With the greatest respect and admiration, yours totally faithful
                                                                                            A. Einstein"


On May 27, 1920 Hendrik Antoon Lorentz wrote to Einstein:

                                                                                                                              "Haarlem, 27. Mai 1920

Lieber Kollege,

Ich muss Ihnen doch einmal sagen - und hätte es schon früher tun sollen - wie herzlich ich mich darüber freue, dass Sie jetzt als auswärtiges Mitglied zu unserer Akademie der Wissenschaften gehören. Sie können versichert sein, dass alle Mitglieder diese Freude teilen und Ihre Wahl als etwas selbstverständliches betrachtet haben. Ich hoffe, dass wir Sie recht oft in den Sitzungen sehen werden. ... Mit herzlichen Grüssen, und in der Hoffnung, Sie übermorgen zu sehen treulich Ihr

                                                                                         H. A. Lorentz"

                                                                                                                               "Haarlem, May 27, 1920

Dear colleague,

I have to say to you - and should already have done that before – how great my pleasure is that you are now belonging to our Academy of Sciences as foreign member. You can rest assured that all members share this pleasure and have regarded your election as something natural. I hope that we will often see you in the meetings. ... With best regards, and hoping to see you the day after tomorrow, yours trusted

                                                                                         H. A. Lorentz"

The hope of Lorentz should fulfill. On Saturday, May 29, 1920, Albert Einstein was officially presented to the members during a meeting of the Academy.

Einstein had contacts to the Academy as well as to single members for a long time after his nomination as foreign member. His membership in the Royal Academy of Sciences in Amsterdam only ended with his death on April 18, 1955.


Editors: Martin J. Klein, A. J. Kox, Robert Schulmann The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, Volume 5 Princeton 1993
Editors: Diana Kormos Buchwald, Tilman Sauer, Ze'ev Rosenkranz, József Illy The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, Volume 10 Princeton 2006
A. D. Fokker Levensbericht A. Einstein, in Jaarboek, 1954-1955, Amsterdam, pp. 253-261 Amsterdam 1954/1955
Werner Martin Verzeichnis der Nobelpreisträger 1901-1987 Munich 1988

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