10 False History 'Facts' Everyone Knows

Einstein Failed Math as a Student
Does it really seem plausible that Einsten would have failed math as a youth? Here he is, giving a lecture to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1934. © Bettmann/CORBIS

This is a classic inspiration story for every kid who ever got a C- on a third-grade multiplication test. "You know who also struggled with numbers, Johnny? Albert Einstein!" Sure, and Michael Jordan was also cut from his high school basketball team. Wrong and wronger.

Yes, Albert Einstein was a late bloomer — he was slow to talk and socially awkward — and he didn't get the best grades in school. He even flunked the entrance exam to the Zurich polytechnic school [source: History.com]. But that's not because he couldn't do math. He passed the math section, but failed the botany, zoology and language requirements. By all accounts, little Al was an ingenious problem-solver who was simply bored to death by most subjects other than math.

The source of the "Einstein flunked math" myth is not clear. However, when shown the allegation in a 1935 "Ripley's Believe It or Not" column, Einstein replied, "I never failed in mathematics. Before I was 15 I had mastered differential and integral calculus" [source: Isaacson].