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World War II – Einstein’s Letter

The false peace of the Munich Agreement was tailing off in August of 1939.  Preparations for the invasion of Poland were beginning. Secret negotiations between the USSR and Nazi Germany were underway.

In the United States, Albert Einstein, a Jew who had escaped the Nazi’s, penned a letter to President Franklin Roosevelt that predicted the eventual end of the coming war:

Albert Einstein
Old Grove Road
Peconic, Long Island
August 2nd, 1939

F.D. Roosevelt
President of the United States
White House
Washington, D.C.

Sir:

Some recent work by E. Fermi and L. Szilard, which has been communicated to me in manuscript, leads me to expect that the element uranium may be turned into a new and important source of energy in the immediate future. Certain aspects of the situation which has arisen seem to call for watchfulness and if necessary, quick action on the part of the Administration. I believe therefore that it is my duty to bring to your attention the following facts and recommendations.

In the course of the last four months it has been made probable through the work of Joliot in France as well as Fermi and Szilard in America–that it may be possible to set up a nuclear chain reaction in a large mass of uranium, by which vast amounts of power and large quantities of new radium-like elements would be generated. Now it appears almost certain that this could be achieved in the immediate future.

This new phenomenon would also lead to the construction of bombs, and it is conceivable–though much less certain–that extremely powerful bombs of this type may thus be constructed. 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. However, such bombs might very well prove too heavy for transportation by air.

The United States has only very poor ores of uranium in moderate quantities. There is some good ore in Canada and former Czechoslovakia, while the most important source of uranium is in the Belgian Congo.

In view of this situation you may think it desirable to have some permanent contact maintained between the Administration and the group of physicists working on chain reactions in America. One possible way of achieving this might be for you to entrust the task with a person who has your confidence and who could perhaps serve in an unofficial capacity. His task might comprise the following:

a) to approach Government Departments, keep them informed of the further development, and put forward recommendations for Government action, giving particular attention to the problem of securing a supply of uranium ore for the United States.

b) to speed up the experimental work, which is at present being carried on within the limits of the budgets of University laboratories, by providing funds, if such funds be required, through his contacts with private persons who are willing to make contributions for this cause, and perhaps also by obtaining co-operation of industrial laboratories which have necessary equipment.

I understand that Germany has actually stopped the sale of uranium from the Czechoslovakian mines which she has taken over. That she should have taken such early action might perhaps be understood on the ground that the son of the German Under-Secretary of State, von Weizsacker, is attached to the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute in Berlin, where some of the American work on uranium is now being repeated.

Yours very truly,

SignatureAlbert Einstein

3 Comments

  1. Donald McCollor

     /  August 9, 2019

    Few remember now, but Einstein was a prophet…later a city in the Belgian Congo disappeared from the maps of Africa as the uranium was mined…an British Lord (who would have made a good pirate) brought almost all the purified heavy water in the world to Britain when France fell, where it was stored protected with the crown jewels of England in Windsor Castle…of a Norwegian engineer that became a pirate, a spy, and a paratrooper in a single week – and was back at his job at Norsk Hydro without being missed…in America, were gathered scientists and mathematicians that read like a list of Nobel Prize winners…along with the engineers that struggled to turn their deceptively simple equations into processes and designing plants where the separation was proven on filters the size of postage stamps…and the pumps needed had never been invented…could ever be…

  2. OldNFO

     /  August 10, 2019

    +1 on Donald’s comment. So many things happened so quickly, and frankly amazing developments were made in less than five years that literally had never been imagined.

  3. Donald McCollor

     /  August 10, 2019

    …there was one time when the Japanese almost disrupted the Manhattan project – the plutonium breeder reactors at Hanford WA required large amounts of cooling water and were to shut down “scram” if it was interrupted. Naturally no sane engineer would want to test it for real. To ensure electric power, Hanford had dedicated power lines from three big dam hydro units, along with a backup steam plant…a Japanese bomb balloon launched from Japan randomly landed in the switchyard – and shorted everything out…the backups fortunately worked…

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