Albert Einstein? Associated Press? Time magazine? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: You recently discussed one quotation by Albert Einstein about taxes, but my question is about another remark attributed to the genius. The Canadian newspaper “Globe and Mail” published the following earlier this year [GME]:
Albert Einstein said of his tax return, “This is too difficult for a mathematician. It takes a philosopher.”
Is this information accurate?
Quote Investigator: There is evidence that Einstein spoke this; however, the precise wording in the original differs. The following text appeared in an Associated Press article in the New York Times titled “Tax Form Baffles Even Prof. Einstein” dated March 11, 1944 [NTE]:
Asked what his reaction was to the maze of income tax questions, Professor Einstein, whose theory of relativity is supposedly understood by only seven persons in the world, replied:
“This is a question too difficult for a mathematician. It should be asked of a philosopher.”
The byline stated the location was Princeton, New Jersey, and Einstein did work at the Institute for Advanced Study of Princeton University in 1944. The AP wire story was widely distributed; for example, on the same day the quotation was printed in the Los Angeles Times [LAE] and the Christian Science Monitor [CME].
On March 12, 1944 the Hartford Courant in Connecticut ran this version of the story with the same quotation [HCE]:
He is world-famous as a mathematician, but Professor Albert Einstein says he was forced to call in a tax expert to help him work out the complex income tax form.
Of his reaction to the income tax form he said last night, “this is a question too difficult for a mathematician. It should be asked of a philosopher.” Einstein’s theory of relativity is supposedly understood by only seven persons in the world.
In 1963 the saying appeared with altered phrasing in Time magazine. This modified quotation is the same as the one used in the Globe and Mail above [TME]:
The late great Albert Einstein once admitted that figuring out his U.S. income tax was beyond him—he had to go to a tax consultant. “This is too difficult for a mathematician,” said Einstein. “It takes a philosopher.”
In April of 1964 Reader’s Digest excerpted the version of Einstein’s saying given in Time magazine. The short piece was printed under the title “The Tax Man Cometh” [RDE]. Thus, the modified words achieved even wider circulation.
In 1972 the Time magazine version radiated to Canada and was published in the Edmonton Journal newspaper of Alberta [EJE]:
On completing his tax return several years ago, Albert Einstein was reported to have said “this is too difficult for a mathematician. It takes a philosopher.”
In conclusion, the quotation sent in by the questioner corresponds closely, but inexactly, to the sentences that were spoken by Albert Einstein according to an Associated Press article from 1944. A previous post on this blog noted that Einstein’s tax forms were prepared by Leo Mattersdorf. That post has an interesting comment by an individual identified as Mattersdorf’s grandson.
Thanks for your question. This answer is being posted on April 15, 2011, the traditional deadline day for the filing of tax returns in the U.S., but in 2011 the deadline is April 18th. I hope all goes well for readers of this blog. Thanks for visiting.
[GME] 2011 January 07, Globe and Mail, Hate our taxes? You’re wrong by Andrew Steele, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Globe and Mail website theglobeandmail.com; Accessed 2011 April 14) link
[NTE] 1944 March 11, New York Times, Tax Form Baffles Even Prof. Einstein [Associated Press], Page 1, New York. (ProQuest)
[LAE] 1944 March 11, Los Angeles Times, Einstein Admits He Had to Call in Income Tax Expert, Page 1, Los Angeles, California. (ProQuest)
[CME] 1944 March 11, Christian Science Monitor, Einstein Needs Help On U.S. Income Tax, Page 8, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest)
[HCE] 1944 March 12, Hartford Courant, Philosopher Needed For Tax, Says Einstein, Page C7, Hartford, Connecticut. (ProQuest)
[TME] 1963 February 01, Time magazine, Taxes: Enter Balance Due Here, Time, Inc., New York. (Online Time magazine archive; Accessed 2011 April 14) link
[RDE] 1964 April, The Reader’s Digest, The Tax Man Cometh, Page 133, Volume 84, The Reader’s Digest Association. (Verified on paper)
[EJE] 1972 April 24, Edmonton Journal, “U.S. Tax Form Gobbledygook Spawns Rampant Fraud, Error” by Duart Farquharson, Southam News Services, Page 5, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Google News archive)