Albert Einstein on the beach in Santa Barbara. (The Caltech Archives)

Einstein on the beach: a shaggy-haired genius in California

During a visit in 1931, Albert Einstein became so enamored by California that he spent three consecutive winters here.

The shaggy-haired genius was initially lured to Caltech in Pasadena by Arthur Fleming, a lumber baron and president of the university’s board of trustees. His arrival in San Diego after 30 days at sea was a spectacle, with serenading school children and a mob of reporters and photographers.

Ensconced with his wife Elsa in a Pasadena bungalow, Einstein befriended Charlie Chaplin, played his violin with the L.A. Philharmonic’s conductor, and refined his theory of relativity at Mount Wilson Observatory. He was smitten, writing to friends in 1931, “Here in Pasadena, it is like Paradise. Always sunshine and clear air, gardens with palms and pepper trees and friendly people.”

By the winter of 1933, with anti-Semitism swirling through Europe, it became evident that Einstein needed a safe haven. Caltech seemed to be a perfect fit, and the university recruited him aggressively.

But, according to several accounts, campus leaders bungled the negotiation, offering him a paltry sum and rejecting his request that a position be created for his assistant. He went instead to Princeton, where he shared the secrets of the universe until his death in 1955.

Below, a few more pictures from Einstein’s Pasadena days.

Einstein at the Santa Barbara home of Ben Meyer, a Caltech trustee, on Feb. 6, 1933. (The Caltech Archives)
Albert Einstein spoke during a welcome reception in San Diego on Jan. 2, 1931. (Keystone-France/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
At Mount Wilson Observatory with the Austrian mathematician Walther Mayer, left, and Charles St. John, a member of the observatory staff. (The Caltech Archives)
Einstein and Charlie Chaplin attended Chaplin’s film “City Lights” in Los Angeles on Feb. 2, 1931. (Associated Press)
Einstein and Dr. Willem DeSitter, a Dutch astronomer, discussed a formula in Pasadena on Jan. 8, 1932. (Associated Press)
Einstein, left, his wife Elsa, second from right, and others in Palm Springs on Feb. 27, 1933. (Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)
A formal portrait taken in 1933. (The Caltech Archives)

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