You’d think that if anyone would be able to crack the problem of flying cars, it’d be Einstein, right? I mean, after all, you don’t have to be some kind of Copernicus to know that Einstein’s a real Einstein. Even so, it seems improbable. That’s what makes this recently re-discovered film of Albert Einstein flying around in a flying car so wonderful. Is it fake? Well, yes and no.
The footage is, of course, not really of Einstein driving a flying car, but it is really Albert Einstein, and he’s really pretending to take a little sky-jaunt in what looks like a cut-down Model T. The steering wheel definitely seems like a Model T wheel, at least. Here’s the footage, so you can be suitably delighted:
That’s Albert there, and next to him is his wife, Elsa, and the year was 1931. Einstein was in California on a research trip, and while he was there he took some time to visit Warner Bros studios, where he got a tour that included this little demonstration of the then-new rear-projection technique for movie special effects.
This seems to be very real footage, as a New York Times article from 1931 mentions the event:
Look at that: “Einstein was surprised tonight into loud and long laughter.” What’s not to like about that?
Einstein never actually learned how to drive, so I guess there’s multiple levels of deception going on here. What’s not deceptive is Einstein’s interest in movie making and camera technology. Being machines that capture light, the physicist had a very deep understanding of how they worked, and even patented an auto-exposure movie camera back in 1936.
It’s also worth noting that the 1931 article mentions that the master film was destroyed, and the Einsteins were only given one copy. That copy was seemingly lost until this April, when Becca Bender, a student working at Lincoln Center, found a box of old home movies, one of which was labeled “Einstein.”
Incredibly, the reel was preserved in incredible condition, and will be stored at the Library of Congress, with digital versions on the web (as you can see) and preserved at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Finally, a story about a flying car that’s never going to be sold that doesn’t drive me up the wall.