Albert Einstein & Wife Arrive at Ellis Island

Albert Einstein photo 1920

By unknown photographer. Scientific Monthly: “Professor Albert Einstein, University of Berlin” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In honor of Albert Einstein’s birthday today (March 14th), I am writing about his arrival in the United States through Ellis Island in 1921.

Albert Einstein, a German physicist, came to the United States with his wife, Elsa, onboard the SS Rotterdam.  They arrived at Ellis Island on March 23, 1921 – he was 43 years old and she was 45 years old at the time.  The ship manifest asked a number of different questions that tell us a great deal about Einstein, his wife, and his purpose in travelling to the United States.

At the time of his arrival, he was a professor and a citizen of Switzerland, but his last known residence was Berlin, Germany.  His birthplace is recorded as Ulm, Germany  His final destination was New York, New York.  His brother, Mr. R. Einstein, was recorded as his closest living relative in his country of origin.  His brother’s address is listed as Haberlanstrasse 5 in Berlin.  His wife had no recorded occupation and was also listed as a Swiss citizen most recently residing in Berlin, Germany.  Her birthplace is recorded as Hechingen, Germany.

Einstein & his wife on the ship manifest.  www.ellisisland.org

Einstein & his wife on the ship manifest. www.ellisisland.org

Einstein's origins and closest relative in Germany

Einstein’s origins and closest relative in Germany. www.ellisisland.org

Both of them were listed as racially Hebrew, with the specifics of their appearance described as follows:

  • Albert was recorded as 5’4″, with grayish hair and brown eyes.
  • Elsa was recorded as 5’4″, with gray hair and blue eyes.
Friends: Zionist Organization of America

Friends: Zionist Organization of America www.ellisisland.org

He paid for his and his wife’s passage, and listed that he had not previously been to the United States.  His U.S. contact was listed as “friends”, with the name and address recorded as the Zionist Organization of America at 55 5th Avenue, New York City.  He planned to remain in the United States for five weeks, with no intention of becoming a U.S. citizen.

The ship’s manifest also recorded Einstein’s answers to a number of questions about himself and his wife, largely designed to make sure they were acceptable for entry into the United States.  The additional questions are:

  1. ever in prison or almshouse or institution for the care and treatment of the insane or supported by charity
  2. whether a polygamist
  3. whether an anarchist
  4. whether a person who believes in or advocate the overthrow by force or violence of the government of the United States
  5. whether coming by reason of any offer, solicitation, promise, or agreement, expressed or implied, to labor in the United States
  6. whether aliens had been previously deported within one year

Einstein would return a second time to the United States, that time to remain permanently.  In 1933, Adolph Hitler came to power in Germany, while Einstein happened to be in the United States.  He chose to remain in the United States and never returned home to Berlin.  He would later become a U.S. citizen in 1940.1

1.  “Albert Einstein.” Article. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_einstein: posted 5 November 2001, revised 13 March 2014.
Images of the ship manifest from the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation.  The original passenger entry for Albert Einstein can be found here.

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