July 22, 2024

A two-page letter written by Albert Einstein Franklin D Roosevelt – then the president of the USA – warns that Nazi Germany could use nuclear research to invent an atomic bomb, will be sold at Christie’s auctioneers in September with an estimated value of $4 million.

Einstein’s letter – one of two the theoretical physicist drafted in a cabin on the north shore of New York’s Long Island with a fellow scientist, Leo Szilard – warned that the German government was actively supporting nuclear research and “extremely powerful bombs” like the kind eventually deployed by the US at the end of World War II.

He urged the US government to do the same. And Roosevelt responded by forming a committee that was a precursor to the J Robert Oppenheimer chief. Manhattan Project who built the bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, ending the second world war and ushering in the nuclear age.

The letter that the father of the theory of general relativity about space and time sent to the president is at the roosevelt library and museum in Hyde Park, New York. But the second version – signed and slightly shorter – is being sold by the estate of late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

Allen, a magpie collector of sorts who amassed an art collection that recently sold at Christie’s for $1.6 billion, as well as almost anything related to Jimi Hendrix, used the letter from publisher and third-party presidential candidate Malcolm Forbes in 2002 for $2.1 purchased. m. The Wall Street Journal said it was the first 20th-century historical document to exceed $1 million.

Forbes previously acquired it from the estate of Szilard.

Christie’s has a history with Einstein memorabilia. It previously sold the physicist’s so-called God Letter – in which he wrote that “for me the word God is nothing but the expression and product of human weakness” – for nearly $3 million in 2018.

But the letter is unlikely to break the $13 million record set in 2021 for one of the few surviving records outlining his theory of general relativity.

With the visual art market under stress, the auction house anticipates that the market for historical artifacts could attract bidders, especially one that is at the forefront of current concerns about a new, three-way nuclear arms race between the US, Russia and China, along with the success of last year’s Oscar winner Oppenheimer biopic.

Marc Porter, Chairman of Christie’s Americas, told the Journal that Allen “undoubtedly knew it was one of the most important documents in the history of the 20th century, and it’s not the kind of thing you just hang in your office”. Allen, he said, stored the letter carefully and away from sunlight.

The letter, dated August 2, 1939, less than a month before Germany invaded Poland, began, “Sir: Recent work in nuclear physics has made it probable that uranium can be turned into a new and important source of energy.”

In the letter sent to Roosevelt, Einstein wrote: “It may be possible to set up a nuclear chain reaction in a large mass of uranium … and this new phenomenon will also lead to the construction of bombs.”

Nuclear reaction is currently on the mind of Allen’s Microsoft partner Bill Gates, who recently announced that he is willing to invest billions in a next-generation nuclear power plant project in Wyoming.

Gates told CBS’ Face the Nation that his startup TerraPower expects to complete the new reactor that uses liquid sodium instead of water as a coolant in 2030. “I’ve put in over a billion, and I’ll put in billions more,” Gates said.

This comes as companies such as Microsoft and Google have expressed interest in a new generation of nuclear power plants to meet increasing demands for power to run data storage centers that are expected to increase dramatically.

The International Energy Agency has estimated that global electricity demand from AI, data centers and crypto will rise to at least 800TWh, or terawatt-hours, in 2026, a nearly 75% increase from 460TWh in 2022.

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