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Letter to FDR from Einstein warning of Nazi atomic bomb to sell for millions

The legendary physicist would go on to call the correspondence “the one great mistake in my life.”

Albert Einstein in 1947. Credit: Pixabay.
Albert Einstein in 1947. Credit: Pixabay.

Christie’s auction house anticipates an explosive sale price for a two-page letter from 1939 that laid the foundation for the Allied victory in World War II.

In September, the auction giant will present items from the collection of billionaire Paul Allen, who died in 2018. The sale will include a letter written by Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard with a group of scientists, signed by Albert Einstein and sent to then-President Franklin Roosevelt. The item’s estimated value is between $4 million and $6 million.

It is regarded as the most desirable item up for bid in this particular sale. Still, the letter is unlikely to break a $13 million record set in 2021 for an item detailing Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

The letter, dated Aug. 2, 1939, urged the American development of an atomic bomb out of fear that Nazi Germany would make such a weapon first. In direct response to the warning, Roosevelt created a committee that would lead to the Manhattan Project.

Christie’s calls the item “arguably the most influential single letter of the 20th century.”

In 1947, Einstein said: “Had I known that the Germans would not succeed in producing an atomic bomb, I would never have lifted a finger.”

Later in life, he would tell American chemist Linus Pauling: “I made one great mistake in my life—when I signed a letter to President Roosevelt recommending that atom bombs be made.”

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