Did Dr. Thomas Harvey really steal Einstein’s brain?


Albert Einstein is very well known for the Nobel prize-winning physicist who produced the theory of relativity, E =mc2, and the law of the photoelectric effect. Definitely he must have had a brilliant brain for these kinds of inventions related to Physics. What is quite stupefying is that his brain was considered so special or rather ‘sacred’ that when he breathed his last in Princeton Hospital, on the 18th April 1955 the doctor, Thomas Harvey, who was on duty that night stole the great physician’s brain.

It should be highlighted that Einstein never mentioned that he wanted his body or brain to be examined or studied after his demise. In fact Brian Burrell mentions in 2005, “He had left behind specific instructions regarding his remains: cremate them, and scatter the ashes secretly in order to discourage idolaters.”

The doctor, nonetheless, ‘stole’ the brain without legal permission from Einstein or his family. “When the fact came to light a few days later, Harvey managed to solicit a reluctant and retroactive blessing from Einstein’s son, Hans Albert, with the now-familiar stipulation that any investigation would be conducted solely in the interest of science”.

Soon after, the doctor lost his job at the Princeton hospital and took the brain to Philadelphia where it was imprinted into two hundred and forty pieces and preserved in celloidin, a hard and tough form of cellulose. He distributed up the pieces into two jars and put in storage in his basement.

A study carried out in 1996 revealed that Einstein had thinner brain tissue compared to control brains and in 1999, another study published in Lancet compared pictures of the physician’s brain with other brains. The results known were that Einstein had abnormal folding in parts of his brain compared to control brains.

In his book Postcards from the Brain Museum, Brian Burrell made mention of Harvey’s optimistic goals and his own limitations as a pathologist:

“It should be emphasized that Thomas Harvey was not a brain specialist. His understanding of the brain did not extend beyond the post-mortem diagnosis of disease, atrophy, or injury. Which is to say that he had neither the means nor the expertise to undertake the study he had proposed to Einstein’s son.”