Historic Einstein Letter Warning of Nazi Nuclear Threat Up for Auction at Christie’s

A two-page letter penned by Albert Einstein in 1939, warning then-US President Franklin D. Roosevelt of Nazi Germany’s potential to develop atomic bombs, is set to be auctioned at Christie’s in September. The letter, co-written with physicist Leo Szilard, is expected to fetch an estimated $4 million.

This pivotal document, one of two versions drafted, was instrumental in prompting Roosevelt to establish a committee that led to the Manhattan Project, ultimately producing the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While the original letter resides at the Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park, New York, the version up for auction was acquired by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen from Malcolm Forbes in 2002 for $2.1 million.

Christie’s has previously sold notable Einstein memorabilia, including the “God Letter” for nearly $3 million in 2018. Despite the current pressures on the visual art market, the auction house is optimistic about interest in historical artifacts, especially given the contemporary relevance of nuclear concerns and the recent success of the Oppenheimer biopic.

Einstein’s letter begins by highlighting the potential of uranium as a new energy source and warns of the possibility of nuclear chain reactions leading to powerful bombs. As global nuclear tensions rise and the specter of a new arms race looms between the US, Russia, and China, this document’s significance remains profoundly relevant.

Allen, known for his extensive and eclectic collection, which included significant art pieces and memorabilia like this letter, stored it carefully, preserving its condition. Marc Porter, chairman of Christie’s Americas, emphasized its historical importance, noting that Allen recognized it as one of the 20th century’s most critical documents.

The letter’s auction coincides with rising global interest in nuclear power, highlighted by Bill Gates’ recent commitment to investing billions into next-generation nuclear power plants. Gates’ TerraPower project aims to complete a new reactor by 2030, using advanced technology to meet the escalating energy demands driven by AI, data centers, and cryptocurrency.

The International Energy Agency forecasts that global electricity demand from these sectors will surge to 800 terawatt hours by 2026, a 75% increase from 2022 levels. As interest in nuclear energy solutions grows, the historical context provided by Einstein’s letter adds a poignant reminder of the origins and enduring complexities of nuclear power.

Stay tuned for more updates on this significant auction and its implications for historical preservation and modern scientific advancements.