On Friday, Jan. 11, Dr. Peter Panagos, a former colleague of Albert Einstein and now a resident of Merwick Care & Rehabilitation Center, turned 91. While reminiscing about his early years with other residents and staff at Merwick, he also enjoyed some birthday cake. He said in the 1940s and 1950s both men worked together at The Institute for Advanced Study.
Dr. Panagos was born in Hartford, Conn, on January 11, 1922, the son of Thomas and Hade Panagos. His family moved from Hartford to Yonkers, NY, and then eventually relocated to Kearney, NJ. As a youth, Peter attended Robert Treat Elementary School. He made his way to Kearney High School, where he graduated with excellent grades in 1939. His grades helped him gain acceptance to Princeton University that fall.
During his time at Princeton, Dr. Panagos said, he studied mechanical, electrical and civil engineering, physics and many other related areas of study. Peter was so interested in the overlap of studies of engineering that he gave up his summer breaks to study at Princeton. He received his undergraduate degree in 1943. Within five and a half years of entering the Ivy League university, Dr. Panagos had earned advanced degrees covering all areas of engineering that could have been studied at the time, he said.
After graduating, Dr. Panagos became a part of a team of researchers who worked with Einstein on many of his projects at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Peter recalls the much older Albert as being “very kind to me. I enjoyed being with him at all times … He did everything he could to help me.”
Dr. Panagos said he worked on creating the nuts, bolts and various other parts of the unit that he said was a component of the atomic bombs that destroyed Nagasaki and Hiroshima and thus ended World War II.
There came a time when an Institute committee came to Dr. Panagos saying they wanted to get Einstein a special birthday present. They were looking for advice on what to get him. When Peter heard this, he said, “I know exactly what to get him.”
Dr. Panagos knew that Albert loved cabinetry that was very plain but finished nicely, so he built a wooden cabinet to hold a new high fidelity record player. Peter said Einstein was amazed with the high fidelity sound and with the design of the cabinet. In a letter to Peter dated March 15, 1949, Einstein said, “I thank you with all my heart for the great trouble to which you have gone for my sake, and I assure you that I shall be thinking of you, often and with pleasure, whenever the blissful sounds stream forth from the fabulous creature.”
Dr. Panagos proudly shares the letter with his friends at Merwick, including Merwick Assistant Administrator Barry Fliegelman.
According to the Institute’s website, Dr. Panagos was also part of the team working on the “Electronic Computer Project, which was envisioned as” a general-purpose postwar tool for the disparate branches of scientific research.” The machine was used “continually and productively until 1060, when it was given to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History’s Computer History Collection.”
After leaving the Institute, Peter lived with his mother in an apartment in Palmer Square for 26 years. His hobbies included woodworking, working with his hands, and cooking. He especially liked to cook and eat Eastern European dishes. To this day he loves to read anything he can get his hands on, especially his beloved New York Times. Dr. Panagos welcomes visitors, especially engineering students from his alma mater.
-Submitted by Andrew Reilly