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February 10, 2012

April 18, 1955: The Day Albert Einstein Died Photos by Ralph Morse

Albert Einstein, whose theories exploded and reshaped our ideas of how the universe works, died on April 18, 1955, of heart failure. He was 76. His funeral and cremation were intensely private affairs, and only one photographer managed to capture the events of that extraordinary day: LIFE magazine’s Ralph Morse.

Armed with his camera and a case of scotch — to open doors and loosen tongues — Morse compiled a quietly intense record of a 20th-century icon’s passing. But aside from one now-famous image — of Einstein’s office, exactly how he left it, taken hours after his death — the pictures Morse took that day were never published. At the request of Einstein’s son, who asked that the family’s privacy be respected while they mourned, LIFE’s editors chose not to run the full story, and for more than five decades Morse’s photographs lay in the magazine’s archives, unseen and forgotten.

Now LIFE presents a selection of Morse’s photographs from that day on a spring morning in Northern New Jersey, when he found himself racing around an Ivy League town trying to find out what became of the late, great scientist...

Albert Einstein's office - just as the Nobel Prize-winning physicist left it - taken mere hours after Einstein died, Princeton, New Jersey, April 1955.

Albert Einstein's papers, pipe, ashtray and other personal belongings in his Princeton office, April 18, 1955.

Albert Einstein's casket, moved for a short time from the Princeton Hospital to a funeral home, Princeton, New Jersey, April 1955.

From left: Frida S. Bucky; Albert Einstein's son, Hans Albert (in light suit); unidentified woman; Einstein's longtime secretary, Helen Dukas (in light coat); and friend Dr. Gustav Bucky (partially hidden behind Dukas) arriving at the Ewing Crematorium, Trenton, New Jersey, April 18, 1955.

Mourners walk into the service for Albert Einstein, passing the hearse that carried his casket from Princeton, April 1955.

Friends and family make their way to their cars after the funeral service for Albert Einstein, Trenton, April 1955. The ceremony was brief: Einstein's friend Otton Nathan, an economist at Princeton and co-executor of the Einstein estate, read some lines by the great German poet, Goethe. Immediately after the service, Einstein's remains were cremated.

An unidentified man holds a car door open for Albert Einstein's secretary, Helen Dukas, following Einstein's cremation, April 1955.

Family and friends return to Einstein's home at 112 Mercer Street in Princeton, where he lived for 20 years, after his funeral, April 18, 1955.

Dr. Thomas Harvey (1912 - 2007) was the pathologist who conducted the autopsy on Einstein at Princeton Hospital in 1955.

(Photos: Ralph Morse – Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)

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