NEW YORK: Of his many accomplishments, Brooklynite Herbert Salzer had one that easily topped all his others.
Salzer was one of the few people on the planet who could say that he corrected Albert Einstein’s math — and got the brilliant physicist to admit as much.
“Therefore your transformation equation is correct, mine wrong,” wrote Einstein in a candid letter to Salzer in 1938, admitting that his number crunching didn’t measure up to that of the 23-year-old Crown Heights native.
That letter — the equivalent of Mozart praising a young pianist — along with another Einstein wrote Salzer are up for auction on Nov. 7 at Guernsey’s Auction House on the Upper East Side and could fetch close to $400,000.
“I used to brag about it to everybody,” said Salzer’s niece, Dr. Jacqueline Salzer, who was given the letter in 2006 by her uncle, who died in that same year at 91. “When I was younger, we were all so proud of Uncle Herbie because he found a mistake in one of Einstein’s theories.”
While working on his thesis for a master’s degree in math and applied sciences at Columbia University, Salzer wrote Einstein about an error in his distant parallelism field theory.
Einstein wrote back: “I don’t have my earlier work available . . . But it sure seems that I have made the same mistake there.” Einstein signed that letter, “With the highest esteem.”
“I had written to him questioning a point about the first approximation equation,” Salzer once wrote.
Einstein, after laying out a series of brain-busting equations, concluded that Salzer had been mistaken.
“Yours respectfully, A. Einstein,” the brain behind the theory of relativity signed the Aug. 29, 1938 letter in his native German.
But less than a month later, Einstein reconsidered.
“Shortly after I wrote you, I noticed that the error was on my side,” Einstein wrote Salzer on Sept. 13, 1938.
Salzer’s bold correction is credited with helping Einstein revive and reexamine his unified field theory, according to Guernsey’s president Arlan Ettinger.
“His correction… opened the door to further inspection,” Ettinger said. “Had not Herbert Salzer pointed this out, we may be all way behind where we are today — so it indeed has enormous importance.”
After grad school, Salzer, who eventually settled on Washington Avenue near the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, went on to become a mathematician, scientist, and inventor.
He never met Einstein in person.
A letter written in 1939 by Einstein to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in which he urged the US to research building an atom bomb, fetched $2 million at a 2002 auction. (Courtesy NYPOST)