Along with his article submission, the scientist included an apologetic note to the editors:
“The article is somewhat long and not quite easy to grasp. I should, therefore, not be astonished if you find it unsuited for publication in your magazine.”
Despite the author's concern, the publisher, Gerard Piel, and the editor in chief, Dennis Flanagan, ran the article in Scientific American. They also framed the letter.
The author? Albert Einstein. His article, “On the Generalized Theory of Gravitation,” appeared in the April 1950 issue (above).
I stumbled across this charming anecdote while paging through one of our old scrapbooks, which included a clipping from the November 19, 1961, edition of the Chicago Sun-Times, along with others about our publication of the feature submission from Einstein.
Of course, it wasn't our first encounter with Einstein. As you would expect from a magazine that is now celebrating its 170th year of reporting innovation, the editorial team and our scientist authors covered his theories as he published them. For example, Max Planck commented about the evolution of relativity theory in a 1910 article, “The Mechanical Theory of Nature”: “The principle of relativity, despite its youth, appears very promising.” He mentions Einstein, “who boldly generalized the principle and proclaimed the relativity of all intervals and epochs of time.”
And in 1920—long before the world ever heard of “crowdsourcing,” the magazine sought to rectify the paucity of lay explanations of the physics via a global essay contest. The editors explained: “Mr. Eugene Higgins offered, through the Scientific American, a prize of the extraordinary amount of $5,000 for the best popular essay on the Einstein Theories of Relativity.” The contest drew exactly 300 essays from “all parts of Europe and North America, from India and South Africa and South America.” With the agreement of the judges, Mr. L. Bolton of London got the award, with publication of his essay in a February 5, 1921, issue.
A century after Einstein's landmark December 2, 1915, publication of “Die Feldgleichungen der Gravitation” (“The Field Equations of Gravitation”), which we celebrate in this edition, we offer today's perspective on efforts to grasp the nature of spacetime. Issue editor Clara Moskowitz and the team have created a special report that is profound yet playful and sparkles with the wonder of discovery—rather like the great man himself. We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we did putting it together.