In the first contribution we report about a contact of the special kind of Albert Einstein who was brilliant not only as physicist and philosopher, but also as engineer. After the hectic rush of the Einstein year has abated, one can approach him casually again and discover facts unknown till now. We will de-scribe not yet recognized parallels between Albert Einstein and Heinrich Wild in the following. Wild is regarded as the pioneer of modern surveying metrology, who founded the Wild Heerbrugg company, the pre-runner of today's Leica Geosystems Ltd., in 1921. Einstein and Wild have influenced our knowledge decisively about the measurement of the earth and one wonders, whether due to a lot of similarities, perhaps both sappers even were in the dialog?

The author Fritz Staudacher has noticed some of these parallels already longer time ago as head of the communication department of Leica Geosystems Ltd. in Heerbrugg. However, only after his re-tirement he had the time for recherches and to summarize the results [1] in a book project. His and our special gratitude is for the library of the ETHZ for the cession of a sensational photo.

Bernhard Braunecker, SPS-Secretary


Wild-Einstein relation discovered newly

Albert Einstein and Heinrich Wild, Swiss Federal Experts III. Class

Not only both relativity and essential parts of the quantum theories took their worldwide beginning in the Swiss federal capital Berne a century ago, but also the modern technologies of earth and land survey. The III. class expert Heinrich Wild (1877-1951), working at the Swiss Federal Office of Topography improved the measurement and mapping of the earth with his new optomechanical instruments. At the same time the III. class expert Albert Einstein (1879-1955), working at the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property in Berne created with his theories the bases for today's laser, GPS and digital sensor measurement technologies.

Einstein and Wild rewrote thus completely independently of each other a central chapter of the surveying history a century ago. But even if it may sound unbelievable: Despite many biographical parallels - same places of residence and same working ways - according to existing documents both genii didn’t know themselves. Or perhaps anyway?

Simultaneous at Zurich universities, in Berne and in Germany

Both had left early the school and both registered in 1896 at a Zurich technical university, both worked as federal employees III. class in Bernese administrations a century ago and developed there their pioneering new ideas; both got married in Berne with 23 years and lived in the Bernese Thunstrasse with their families at the same time, and both left Berne seven years later to start a new professional career in Germany before the outbreak of the first world war and lived there also during the hunger time of the icy "bonce winter" and the collapse of the German empire. Finally both were honoured in the year 1930 by the Swiss technical university Zurich with the award of Doctor Honoris Causa.

Albert Einstein: Physicist and Gyrocompass constructing engineer

Einstein's theories were strongly influenced by the work of land surveyors and mathematicians. The work of Henri Poincaré already had great influence on his thinking and especially on the formulation of the relativity theories in Zurich and Berne. Poincaré was director of the world-famous office of the length in Sèvres which reference metre was based on the determination of the length of the meridian by French surveyors. Einstein also used the formalism of the non-euclidean curved spaces of the mathematician and land surveyor Carl Friedrich Gauss. But Einstein's relations to the surveying tasks reach far until after the theoretical tasks of the university physicist. He developed a gyroscopic compass device which was patented on his name and was manufactured in Kiel in such a large number that it granted him considerable takings as an instrument designer. Einstein was so fascinated by the development that he did not only interrupt 1915 the work on the general relativity theory, but also used the functional principle of the gyroscope as a model of his atomic description of the permanent magnetism [2].

Heinrich Wild: Measurement equipment designer and businessman

Heinrich Wild was not only the brilliant inventor of technical innovations, but also the founder of several business organisations with his measurement equipment which he essentially reduced in size and improved in performance. Like nobody else he shaped all three most important companies of measurement and photogrammetry equipment of the 20th century and thus configured the world of the surveying up to the satellite technology. So he founded already 1908 the geodesy division at Zeiss in Jena / Germany; set up 1921 his own enterprise, today Leica Geosystems Ltd., with two partners in Switzerland and initiated later the photogrammetry group as well as new generations of geodetic instruments at Kern in Aarau. In its obituary a German professional journal described the Swiss Heinrich Wild as the "most important designer of geodetic instruments who has ever lived" [3].

Worldwide meaning and market leadership

The Swiss cartography enjoys an internationally first-class reputation with its terrestrial maps and mountain representations, up to the Mt. Everest. Swiss surveying instruments are at the leading edge of technology worldwide. While purely optomechanical instruments dominated the first half of the last century, today they are replaced by sophisticated laser, GPS and digital sensor systems, based on Einstein's photoeffect, Wild’s design principles and precision optics and, in the case of GPS, on Einstein’s relativistic corrections [4].

A photography which shows both pioneers of the development of the modern metrology in one picture was discovered recently due to my enquiries in the ETH archives. The unknown photo shows both as honorary doctors during a ceremony of the Swiss technical university Zurich among other laureates on November 7th, 1930.

This photography illustrates the culmination point of an amazing thirty years' parallelism between Einstein and Wild. Unfortunately, a patent application submitted by Heinrich Wild and checked by Albert Einstein during their common Bernese years could not be found up till now.

It is remarkable, what happened in Berne a century ago: The developments based on the theories in physics of Einstein and on the technical creations of Heinrich Wild improved our knowledge and our orientation on the earth but also on the moon and in the space.

The highest peaks of the continents, the most important buildings of the 20th century and numerous maps around the globe, are quantified by mass numbers derived from the instruments, based on their theories and constructions.

Fritz Staudacher


Foto: © Bildarchiv ETH-Bibliothek [m]


Einstein, Ammann and Wild 77 years ago

This newly discovered picture shows the Nobelprize winner Albert Einstein (51 years old) among other ETH honorary doctors of the year 1930. It was recorded on the occasion of the ceremony for the 75th anniversary of the Swiss technical university in the Zurich municipal theatre on November 7th, 1930.

The envelope of a child letter to Einstein was once written up with "chief designer of the universe": The Nobelprize winner can be seen together with the chief designer of the measurement world (Wild) and the chief designer of the bridge-building (Ammann) on the picture section. Othmar Ammann, the con-structing engineer of the George-Washington-Bridge in New York in the first row and third from the right is virtually the link between Albert Einstein (on the left below) and Heinrich Wild (on the right above).

It is the only common picture of the world-famous Swiss Einstein, Ammann and Wild - a historical tes-timonial of three great international "chief designers".

Foto: © Bildarchiv ETH-Bibliothek



[1] Fritz Staudacher, "Einstein's Wild", unpublished manuscript 2006; staud1[at]
[2] Peter Galison, Harvard University, “Jubiläumsfeier 150 Jahre ETH Zürich“, Zürich, 21. April 2005
[3] Edwin Berchtold, Allgemeine Vermessungs-Nachrichten AVN 1953, Nr.3 (17578)
[4] GPS: Relativistic effects
GPS satellites move with v = 3’880 m/s in an orbit with radius rS = 26’000 km.
According to the special relativity theory (SR) this leads to a time correction of Δt/Δt' =√(1 - v2/c2) = 1 - 0.835·10-10;
while according to the general relativity theory (GR) we obtain Δt/Δt' = 1+ ΔU/c2 = 1 + 5.28·10-10;
using ΔU=GM*(1/rE -1/rS) with rS = 26’000 km; rE = 6’378 km and GM = 3.9861014 m3/s2.

The clock runs according to SR 7.2 µs slower per day, and according to GR 45.9 µs faster. In 38.7 µs the satellites fly 15 cm and the earth rotates at the equator by 17 mm. Thus without Einstein's corrections the system would be useless within few days!


[Release of the english version: May 2008]


PS: If you believe having found more celebrities on this picture please contact the SPS committee.