What happened to Einstein’s Stolen Brain?

When Albert Einstein passed away at Princeton Hospital on April 18, 1955, the pathologist on call, Dr. Thomas Harvey, did the unthinkable – He STOLE Einstein’s brain!

Einstein Worried About What Would Happen to His Brain

Albert Einstein knew his brain would be of interest to researchers. He left specific instructions regarding his remains:

Cremate them, and scatter the ashes secretly in order to discourage idolaters.

Besides Einstein’s brain, Dr. Harvey also removed the eyes and gave them to Einstein’s eye doctor, Henry Abrams.

Princeton Hospital did not look too kindly on Dr. Harvey’s harvesting of Einstein’s organs. Harvey attempted to explain himself:

I just knew we had permission to do an autopsy, and I assumed that we were going to study the brain.

Harvey’s explanation rings with untruth. Even if the hospital were granted research rights, that certainly would not apply to Dr. Harvey taking personal possession of the organs.

Hans Albert Einstein, the eldest son,  granted Dr. Harvey permission to research the brain, but it was too late. After Dr. Harvey refused to surrender the organs, he was let go from the hospital.

Why Steal Einstein’s Brain?

Dr. Harvey wanted to see if Einstein’s brain could shed insight on the nature of genius. He sectioned over 200 pieces of the brain and sent them to neuropathologists. The remainder of the brain was placed in formalin-filled jars.

Though not a brain specialist himself, Harvey also conducted his own research on Einstein’s brain. When asked about his findings, he replied he was only a year away from publishing his research. He continued to give this answer for the next forty years – never publishing any findings.

Einstein's Brain

Slices of Einstein’s Brain

The Aftermath

Things did not get better for Dr. Harvey. After his dismissal from Princeton Hospital, his wife left him and threatened to throw away what was left of the brain. Dr. Harvey retrieved the brain from his ex-wife and moved to Wichita, Kansas as a medical supervisor in a biological testing lab. He kept the brain in a box and stashed it under a beer cooler.

He later moved to Missouri and started practicing medicine, but after failing competency exams, he lost his medical license.

Moral of the story: Don’t steal organs that don’t belong to you.

What about Einstein’s Eyes?

Dr. Harvey had given Einstein’s eyes to Einstein’s optometrist, Dr. Henry Abrams. It is believed they are locked away in an NYC safety deposit box. Every once in awhile a rumor surfaces that the eyes are going up for auction, but Abrams insists he will never sell the eyes.

The Fate of Einstein’s Brain

One of the largest collections of Einstein’s brain, and one of only two places in the world to see Einstein’s brain, is at the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia.

The brain is sectioned into 20 slides.

Slides of Einstein's brain. Via The Mütter Museum.

Slides of Einstein’s brain. Via The Mütter Museum.