The world’s most well-known scientist, Albert Einstein, credited with the discovery of countless thereoms that shaped our view on the modern world as we know it, once stood on Glasgow soil when he visited the city to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Glasgow back in 1933.
Einstein, who lived from 1879 to 1955, Einstein was nominated to receive an LLD (Doctor of Laws) from the University in 1932. He travelled to Glasgow to accept it in 1933.
It was June 20 1933, when the theoretical physicist arrived in the city - it was a windy summers day when he arrived in the Quadrangle, the centre of the 500 year-old university complex. 54 years old at the time, Einstein arrived a day early to graduation at the institution to give a speech on mathematics and his theory of relativity - the Bute Hall was filled to the brim of its 1500 person capacity.
The crowd hushed as Einstein prepared to give the first ever ‘Gibson lecture’, a speech on the history of mathematics that would become inaugural after the theoretical physicists monumental speech. The media reports Einstein opening the speech as such, he said: “I was very glad to accept the invitation to say something about the history of my own scientific work.
“Not that I have an unduly high opinion of the importance of my own endeavours…it would be a mistake, from a sense of false modesty, to pass by an opportunity to put the story on record.”
During the rest of the speech, Einstein went into his work on general relativity - which at that point was already widely acclaimed for how revolutionary it was - along with the rest of his extensive scientific catalogue of work. If you’re a student of the University of Glasgow, you can still see a full transcript of the speech Einstein gave in the library.
In fact, Einstein was a huge deal even at the time - there’s no real modern equivalent to a scientist celebrated as much as the German physicist - he was met with huge fanfare on the day he graduated.
The day after the graduation ceremony, on June 21 1933, The Scotsman described the scene:”Einstein, with his shock of grey hair and dressed in his scarlet robes, made an arresting figure as he walked forward to be capped by Principal Sir Robert S. Rait.
“The cheering which greeted his appearance lasted for several seconds, and was acknowledged by a shy smile from the famous savant.”
The visiting physicist was hosted in Glasgow by Archibald Young, the Professor of Surgery, at his home on Park Circus. The pair were pictured enjoying a smoke outside the home across the road from Kelvingrove Park. We can only wonder what brand of tobacco he was smoking, if he brought some from home, or if he was sampling the local range. Club perhaps? Maybe Drum? The answer to that question is most likely lost to time.
Albert Einstein would have had a range of communications through the University and it’s alumni as part of his scientific work in academia - but he never again visited the city in-person. The last documented piece of correspondence between the University of Glasgow and Einstein was in 1947, fourteen years after the Gibson speech and two years after the end of World War II.
The letter was an invitation from the ‘Glasgow University Men’s Union’ to become the Rector of the University - with duties mainly involving the representation of students - he politely turned it down, writing that it was ‘quite impossible for me to become a candidate for such an important position in the British intellectual sphere’.