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Albert Einstein

Why did Albert Einstein stick his tongue out?

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June 06, 2009 2:23PM

On Einstein's 72nd birthday in 1951, UPI photographer Arthur Sasse was trying to persuade him to smile for the camera, but having smiled for photographers many times that day, Einstein stuck out his tongue instead.[1] This photo became one of the most popular photos ever taken of Einstein and it is well recognized in popular culture,[2][3] often used in merchandise depicting Einstein in a lighthearted sense. One of the only known signed photographs of Albert Einstein’s Iconic Act of Playful Defiance has recently (June, 2009) come to market at RR Auction, a signed memorabilia auction house. The complete background of when the photo was originally taken, how Einstein asked for 9 prints for himself. Only one of these photos have emerged to the public eye with his thoughts and signature on it. the history on this particular signed photo was started in 1953, at the height of the 1950s Communist witch-hunt. Albert Einstein signed the photo for award-winning CBS and ABC anchor reporter Howard K. Smith as a gesture of his admiration of Smith’s work. The German inscription (translated) states: “This gesture you will like, Because it is aimed at all of humanity. A civilian can afford to do what no diplomat would dare.” Einstein’s statement clearly shows his keen senses of both humor and defiance. “This photo of Einstein sticking his tongue out captures his spirit of rebelliousness and non-conformity,” said John Reznikoff of University Archives in Westport, Connecticut, when shown the photo. “It is without a doubt the most desirable photo of Einstein I have ever seen.” The photograph was taken by UPI photographer Arthur Sasse on March 14, 1951, following an event at Princeton to honor Einstein on his 72nd birthday. While Sasse tried mightily to convince the physicist to smile for the camera, the reaction he received, recorded forever on film, was humorously unexpected! Einstein was so amused by the image that he contacted UPI and requested nine prints for his personal use. The photo being offered for sale is the one that Einstein gave to Smith, to whom he listened regularly, and is the only one of the nine that has ever been made available for public purchase. The value of the image, with its connection between scientist and newsman, makes it historically significant and gives us insight directly into what Einstein's thoughts were on the image. By 1953, Einstein had boldly begun speaking out against McCarthyism when he wrote a nationally-published letter that stated, “Every intellectual who is called before one of the committees ought to refuse to testify.” That same year, an electrical engineer was called before McCarthy’s committee and refused to testify with the explanation that he was following “advice from Professor Einstein.” Reznikoff believes Einstein knew the risky implication of his now-famous gesture. “You can tell by the inscription that he fully understood the power the image conveyed, and what he was doing was quite dangerous considering the Government was forcing intellectuals to name names.” Marcia Bartusiak , author of Einstein's Unfinished Symphony and The Day We Found the Universe, believes the photo has become such a timeless symbol of non-conformity “because it shows one of history’s greatest men doing something very out of character for what we imagine great figures of history should look like. It’s a jolt to see science’s most familiar face doing something just a bit naughty.”