JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post
If you were sitting in a cafe on a cold winter morning in Guthrie, Oklahoma, on January 13, 1920, and opened to page two of the town paper, The Leader, and worked your way down the page, past the ads for KiMoids heartburn pills, Jiff-Jell gelatin desserts, eczema cream, dress patterns, liver pills, adventures to sunny California, and Mr. Louis Bennison starring in a play called "High Pockets", you'd find a picture of Albert Einstein. Snugly nestled amidst this visual candy is a short report on one of the great experimental results of the 20th century, the verification of the general theory of relativity. Results of the observations made during the May 29 eclipse and then reported to a joint meeting of the Royal Society and the Royal Astronomical Society on November 6, 1919, confirming the theory was an enormous occasion. Einstein of course expected it; had the results not obtained, he quipped then that The Creator would have some explaining to do. But everything turned out just fine. J.J. Thomson (as president of the Royal Society) closed the great meeting and and remarked that "This is the most important result obtained in connection with the theory of gravitation since Newton’s day, and it is fitting that it should be announced at a meeting of the society so closely connected with him. . . . The result [is] one of the highest achievements of human thought." Thomson was not given over to being hyperbolic, and if anything was just stating the case as it was.
The event was carried loudly by leading newspapers all in about a week or so after the event, the effect of which established the beginning of Einstein being about the most famous man in the world. Two months earlier he more than likely would have been an unknown except to a very small percentage of a reading population. And so here he is, in almost the center of Oklahoma, and then almost in the center of the U.S., in a tiny report--but the report had a photograph, and the story was at least on page two, making him a known-something in about the middle of the middle.
Detail of page two, from the Library of Congress' fantastic Chronicles of America (digitized) newspaper collections:
- The Guthrie daily leader. (Guthrie, Okla.), 13 Jan. 1920. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.