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The industrialist Olinto De Pretto, a native of the Veneto region of Italy, published the article in which he gave, in its final form, the equation E=mc2. This article appeared on June 16, 1903, and was published again in February 27, 1904, the second time in the Atti of the Reale Instituto Veneto di Scienze. De Pretto thereby preceded Einstein's famous 1905 " E=mc2 " paper by at least a year-and-a-half. In the article, Olinto De Pretto actually comments on how amazing his discovery is. De Pretto could hardly believe his mathematical discovery.
De Pretto himself however, understood the significance of his discovery. Speaking of E=mc2 he wrote:"To what astonishing result has our reasoning brought us? Nobody would easily admit that stored in a latent state, in a kilogram of whatever material, completely hidden from our investigations, there comes into play such a sum of energy. The idea would be adjudged crazy!”De Pretto was 46 years old when he made this discovery. Unfortunately, he would never be in a position to take credit for it.
In 1921, a year before Einstein received the Nobel Prize, De Pretto was shot dead, murdered by a woman over a business dispute. De Pretto was in the process of having a complete book of his scientific ideas published when he was killed.Could Einstein have copied from De Pretto? Nobody can absolutely prove that Einstein saw De Pretto's article but Professor Bartocci offers some intriguing speculation. Professor Bartocci has traced a link between De Pretto and Einstein, through Einstein's best friend, Michele Besso. Besso is the only person credited in the famous E=mc2 paper of 1905.
Throughout all of his famous papers on 1905, Einstein gives no sources or citations. The only credit given to anyone is a brief mention of his friend Michele Besso. Why the lack of citation of any source material? Interestingly, Besso was originally from the Veneto region of Italy; his native tongue was Italian. The city of Vicenza, Italy, again in the Veneto region, was where Olinto De Pretto was from. Michele Besso was close to his uncle, Beniamino Besso, who lived in Rome. Beniamo Besso worked as an engineer in Rome with Olinto De Pretto's brother, Augusto De Pretto. Perhaps Augusto passed on Olinto's discovery to Beniamo Besso who in turned told Michele Besso who in turn told Einstein—or so goes the thread.
While the De Pretto-to-Besso-to-Einstein link is seemingly tenuous, it must be noted that Einstein was well aware of other groundbreaking work by Italian physicists (having read deeply the Italian physics literature). During the very same "anno mirabilis" of 1905, when Einstein published his famous four physics papers in the Annalen der Physik (including the paper that derived the E=mc2 formula), he also published in the very same Annalen der Physik reviews of articles written by Italian physicists. For example, the Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, published by Princeton University Press, contains a review written by Albert Einstein in March 1905 of the an article written by Arturo Giammarco, "A Case of Corresponding States in Thermodynamics" Einstein also wrote a review of Giuseppe Belluzzo, "Principles of Graphic Thermodynamics."
This shows that Einstein was reading rather deeply in the Italian physics literature at the time. Perhaps the Besso connection is probably unnecessary although it could very well have happened. Einstein, too, could have stumbled across De Pretto's formula on his own. The Veneto region is not that far from where Einstein was then living in Switzerland. Indeed, Albert Einstein was quite fluent in Italian. According to Abram Pais in his biography of Einstein, "Subtle is the Lord", when Einstein graduated from high school in Aarau, Germany, he was required to take exams in both the German language and the Italian language. Out of a maximum score of 6,Einstein received a score of 5 in German (his native tongue) and also a score of 5 in Italian! This in and of itself is proof of Einstein's conversance in Italian; Einstein could write as well in Italian as he could in his native German tongue.
Also, the Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, published by Princeton University Press, notes that Einstein spoke Italian. Of course, Einstein had lived in Italy during his youth, and Einstein's father is buried in Milan. Further, in order for Einstein to gain Swiss citizenship (a requirement for him to work in the Berne patent office since that was a government job) it could only help him if he could show proficiency in Italian, which, along with German and French, is one of the three official languages of Switzerland. Finally, there are still extant postcards written by Einstein in Italian as well as living Italians who spoke to Einstein in his later years who can attest to his fluency. There is no doubt that Einstein spoke Italian well.
Indeed, the above cited reviews of the Italian physics literature prove the point. It is impossible to say if Einstein ever saw the De Pretto article. All one can say with any assurance is that if Einstein indeed saw the article, Einstein's Italian language skills were strong enough that he could read it. When Einstein did publish his famous article in 1905 wherein he gave a variation of the famed " E=mc2 " formula, he titled this "discovery" in the form of a question. Published in November, 1905, in Volume 18, pages 639-641, the title of Einstein's paper was phrased as a question, "Does the Inertia of a Body Depend upon its Energy Content?”
Professor Bartocci finds it curious that Einstein would title his article in the form of a question. Perhaps he was not quite sure of its significance or perhaps he wanted the title in question form in order to later attribute the idea to someone else should the formula prove incorrect. Or perhaps Einstein is making a veiled reference to something he saw in the Italian physics literature. Professor Bartocci spends much of his book discussing how difficult it was to get anyone to believe him. The Einstein "establishment" is so strong, and the mythology surrounding Einstein so ingrained, that no one in Italy would publish his book. Once he did find a publisher, he could not get the book reviewed. It was only in Great Britain, far from Italy, that word leaked out regarding the book.
On the face of it, the Einstein story is irresistible. How one obscure patent clerk single-handedly published in the same year (1905) four articles that, respectively,? ? explained Brownian motion; ?? explained the photo-electric effect; ?? formulated the equation E=mc^2, ?? and invented the theory of relativity!For one man to have done all that, and all in the same year, is nothing short of miraculous. Any one of these discoveries would have assured Einstein a place in history. To have single-handedly made all four and published them all in the space of a year, well, that is astonishing genius.
Perhaps the British reviewers are a bit more cynical. They publicized Professor Bartocci's findings when no one else would. Perhaps Einstein, undoubtedly a brilliant man, did not do quite all that he is said to have done. What is absolutely indisputable is that the formula was published, not once but twice, in the Italian physics literature. Its authorship should rightly be credited to the industrialist, Olinto De Pretto.
Rory Carroll in RomeThursday November 11, 1999The Guardian “…De Pretto had stumbled on the equation, but not the theory of relativity, while speculating about ether in the life of the universe, said Prof Bartocci. De Pretto did not discover relativity but there is no doubt that he was the first to use the equation. That is hugely significant. I also believe, though it's impossible to prove, that Einstein used De Pretto's research. The influence of work by other physicists on Einstein's theory is also controversial. A German, David Hilbert, is thought by some to have been decisive. De Pretto deserves credit if his contribution can be proven. Even so, it should not detract from Einstein.”
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