ONE DAY IN 1884 Mr. Hermann Einstein came home from work carrying a small package. It was a present for his five-year-old son, Albert, who was in bed with a cold.
“I thought Albert would enjoy this compass,” he said to his wife. “He’s such a serious boy.”
“A compass!” Mrs. Einstein took the strange-looking present and examined it closely. It was a tiny round box with a glass lid. Under the glass, a needle swung on a pivot or pin in the center of the box. One half of the needle was colored dark. The bottom of the box bore the words North, East, South, and West.
“Now watch the compass work,” said her husband. Slowly he turned the compass in one direction, then in another. “See how the needle spins around? No matter which way the box is turned, the dark end of the needle will point to the north.”
It did indeed! Mrs. Einstein watched with interest as her husband turned the compass.
Now Mr. Einstein continued. “All you have to do is move the compass so that the word North is under the dark end of the needle. Then you can tell the other directions easily.”
Mrs. Einstein was delighted. “Albert loves puzzles,” she said, “and that’s a puzzle if I ever saw one.”
“Then this compass should keep him busy for hours,” said Mr. Einstein.
Mrs. Einstein laughed. “You’re going to be a busy man, Hermann. Have you forgotten all the questions that Albert will ask?”
Mr. Einstein pretended to groan. How well he remembered! Most of the time Albert was so quiet that people hardly knew he was about. When he was puzzled about something, however, there was no end to the questions he could ask.
Then Mr. Einstein began to laugh. “It will be a good joke on me, Pauline. I suppose I might as well take the compass in to Albert now and face his questions.”
“Yes, Hermann, and I’m going with you. I just know Albert is going to be a great professor someday. I would like to hear what he thinks of this compass.”
A STORY FOR ALBERT
The Einsteins were a Jewish family who lived in Munich, Germany. There were four persons in the family—Mr. and Mrs. Einstein, Albert, and his three-year-old sister Maja. Mr. Einstein’s brother Jacob lived with them, too. There was also a fat green parrot named Laura, who thought she was boss of the Einstein home.
Laura talked all the time. Sometimes Mr. and Mrs. Einstein said she was a nuisance, but Albert loved her. Laura was talking now as Mr. and Mrs. Einstein approached Albert’s room.
“Somebody’s coming! Somebody’s coming!” she said in a loud voice.
“Oh, Laura, it’s only Father and Mother,” Albert said with a smile.
“Your father has a present for you, Albert,” Mrs. Einstein said. “A compass!”
“What’s a compass?” asked Albert.
“What’s a compass?” repeated Laura.
Mr. Einstein turned to the parrot. “Quiet, Laura. Let Albert enjoy his present.”
“Quiet, Laura!” the parrot repeated loudly. “Laura’s a bad girl. Tsk, tsk, tsk! Take her out of the room.”
“That’s a splendid idea.” Mrs. Einstein picked up Laura’s cage and started for the door.
“Poor Laura!” Albert laughed.
“Noisy Laura,” said Mr. Einstein.
“Bad bird!” Laura wailed. “Bad bird!”
When Mrs. Einstein returned to the room, father and son were bending over the compass. Albert’s questions had already begun.
“What’s a compass for? How can a needle in a box tell which way is north? Why does the needle turn around?”
“Questions, questions, questions!” Mr. Einstein shook his head laughingly. “Maybe if I tell a story, it will help you to understand how a compass works.”
Albert’s brown eyes lighted up with joy. There was nothing that he loved better than a story. “Yes, Father, please do.” He snuggled back in his pillows and waited for the story to begin.
Mrs. Einstein pulled up a chair and sat down.
“Well,” Mr. Einstein began, “once an old woodsman named Hans lived deep in a forest not far from Munich.”
“Was he very old?” asked Albert.
“Very old,” his father repeated, “but even though he was very old, he never had learned how to find his way in the forest.”
“My goodness!” cried Mrs. Einstein. “A woodsman who couldn’t find his way in the forest would certainly be in a fix.”
Mr. Einstein nodded. “Poor old Hans was in a fix all right. He had been lost more times than Albert can count.”
“I can count to a hundred,” Albert said.
“I know you can, son, and Hans had been lost more than a hundred times. Each morning when he left the house, Mrs. Hans would worry and worry. Sometimes it would be days before Hans could find his way home. His wife would think, ‘Oh, my, this time my Hans has surely been eaten up by a bear.’ ”
“Of course, she would,” agreed Mrs. Einstein. “I’m glad you’re not a woodsman, Hermann, or I should worry, too.”
“Aha, but I wouldn’t get lost!” Mr. Einstein said. “I’d have a compass to tell me the direction I needed to go.”
“So that’s what a compass is for!” Albert exclaimed. “To keep you from getting lost!”
“Right!” said his father. “It’s exactly what Mrs. Hans decided to get for old Hans. One day she came into Munich and bought the best compass she could find. She wasn’t going to have Hans getting lost anymore. Then what do you think Hans did?”
“He asked how the compass worked,” laughed Mrs. Einstein, “just as Albert did.”
Albert giggled. His mother was teasing, of course. She and his father often teased him about his questions, but they always did their best to answer them.
“Well, Father,” Albert said, “how did the compass work?”
“Hans thought ghosts were making it work,” his father said. “He said spirits swung that needle back to the north when he turned the compass around.”
Albert and his mother laughed. What a foolish fellow Hans was! Everybody knew there were no such things as ghosts.
“Mrs. Hans knew better, however,” Mr. Einstein went on. “She had asked the storekeeper to tell her about the compass when she bought it, and this is what he said.”
Albert sat up in bed and Mrs. Einstein pulled her chair closer. They wanted to hear what the storekeeper had said.
“A compass needle is really a magnet,” Mr. Einstein said.
“Of course!” Albert said, nodding his head. “I’ve seen a magnet. Mother uses one to pick up needles from the floor when she sews.”
“That’s right, son,” said Mr. Einstein. “Now every magnet has two ends. One end is called ‘north’ and the other ‘south.’ If you put the north ends of two magnets together, they will fly apart. Two south ends will do the same thing.”
“What about a north end and a south end?” asked Albert curiously.
“That’s the strange thing,” replied his father. “A north end and a south end attract each other.”
“What does that have to do with a compass?” Mrs. Einstein wanted to know.
“Well, my dear, this is the part that is hard to believe. It’s the part that old Hans couldn’t believe at all. The earth itself is a big magnet. Any small magnet, when it isn’t fastened, will begin to turn. It will turn until the south end of the magnet is pointing north.”
“My goodness!” cried Mrs. Einstein. “It makes one feel odd to think that we’re living on a big magnet, doesn’t it?”
Mr. Einstein and Albert both laughed. Still, they agreed that the idea did make them feel a little strange.
“Go on,” said Albert. “Tell us more about Hans. Did he ever learn to use the compass?”
“Yes, finally, but not until he had had a very bad fright. One day he was out chopping wood. Suddenly a big bear came up to him, just as Mrs. Hans had always feared.”
“Did the bear chase him?”
“It certainly did. Old Hans ran and ran. Finally he lost the bear.”
“By that time I’ll bet Hans was really lost, too,” said Mrs. Einstein.
“He was,” said Mr. Einstein. “At last when he found his way home, he was a mighty tired and hungry man. He decided that even if spirits did make the compass needle turn, he’d rather trust the compass than get lost again.”
“So this time he listened to Mrs. Hans?” Mrs. Einstein asked.
“Yes, indeed. She showed him how to use the compass, and he never got lost again.”
“Oh, my goodness!” Mrs. Einstein jumped from her chair. “Your story was so interesting that I almost forgot our supper! I hope it hasn’t burned up.”
Fortunately, supper wasn’t burned. Mrs. Einstein brought Albert’s supper to him on a tray. She had cooked chicken and dumplings, one of Albert’s favorite dishes. She had also made a big cherry tart.
After supper, Albert looked at his compass. “It certainly is strange about the earth being a magnet,” he thought. “I wonder what makes it a magnet? Father didn’t explain that.”
He turned the compass around in his hands and watched the needle swing always to the north. “Father didn’t explain how the magnet became a magnet, either,” he thought. “I guess I’ll have to ask him.”
Albert Einstein is a household name synonymous with genius around the world. His work unlocked mysteries of the universe and also impacted everyday conveniences like remote controls and televisions. And while most are familiar with Einstein’s adult wisdom (and wild hair), do you know what he was like as a child?
From his passion for music—he played both the violin and the piano—to his early curiosity for understanding the mysteries of science, in this narrative biography you’ll learn all about Albert Einstein’s childhood and the influences that shaped the life of a remarkable man.
- Aladdin |
- 192 pages |
- ISBN 9780020418603 |
- October 1986 |
- Grades 4 - 6