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Can You Guess the Famous Genius by Their Office?

Without the knowledge of the people who occupied them, these desks and tables just look like regular pieces of furniture—but they helped produce some major literary masterpieces and scientific breakthroughs.

vintage deskThe Print Collector/Getty Images

Where the magic happens

Famous historical “geniuses” might seem like larger-than-life, superhuman figures. But many of them worked long, hard hours at desks and in laboratories much like ones anyone else might use. Looking at these impressive, but simultaneously simple, images of offices and workspaces, take a shot at guessing which “great” used them. And if you get lots of them right, maybe you’re a genius yourself! Try taking this Mensa quiz to see if you could be a genius.

thomas edison bed and desk Bettmann/Getty Images

Genius Office #1

Which devoted mastermind had this not-uncomfortable-looking cot in his or her office?

thomas edison Bettmann/Getty Images

Thomas Edison

Today, there’s a bit of debate surrounding whether or not Thomas Edison actually invented the lightbulb. (The consensus seems to be that he contributed, but definitely had help and may have unduly taken more credit than he deserved.) Regardless, the celebrated inventor was clearly working day and night in this office (not to mention, he was putting the invention for which he would be remembered to good use with that light fixture)! Find out some historical figures you’ve been picturing all wrong.

charles dickensHulton Archive/Getty Images

Genius Office #2

Who used this stately-looking desk?

charles dickensBettmann/Getty Images

Charles Dickens

This 19th-century writer produced some of the most well-known classics of British literature: Oliver TwistA Christmas CarolA Tale of Two Cities, and many others. While Dickens wrote at a pretty traditional desk, get a look at some more offbeat places where famous writers produced masterpieces.

katherine johnson deskNASA/Donaldson Collection/Getty Images

Genius Office #3

Don’t let the relatively simple workspace fool you; some seriously high-stakes calculations were made here.

katherine johnsonNASA/Donaldson Collection/Getty Images

Katherine Johnson

In 1939, Johnson was one of three black students to be accepted into the newly-integrated West Virginia University. She went on to be a research mathematician for NASA, performing crucial calculations for Alan Shepard’s and John Glenn’s space flights. After being played on film by Taraji P. Henson in 2016’s Hidden Figures, Johnson—who celebrated her 101st birthday in 2019—is finally receiving the widespread historical recognition she deserves. Learn more about why Johnson is one of the most incredible pioneering women who made history.

louis pasteur officeHulton Archive/Getty Images

Genius Office #4

To whom do all of these scientific odds and ends belong?

Louis PasteurHulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis/Getty Images

Louis Pasteur

Pasteur gave his name—and, of course, his genius—to the process of pasteurization, which kills harmful bacteria in dairy, eggs, and other food products. Alive from 1822 until 1895, Pasteur also helped produce the first vaccine against rabies.

nikola teslaStefano Bianchetti/Corbis/Getty Images

Genius Office #5

Rather than a photo, this is an illustrated rendering of a certain genius’s workspace and electricity experiments. Can you guess whose?

nikola teslaLibrary of Congress/Getty Images

Nikola Tesla

This inventor worked under Thomas Edison in the late 1800s—and famously butted heads with him over electrical currents in one of the petty conflicts that changed history.

helen keller officeHulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis/Getty Images

Genius Office #6

Can you figure out what brilliant mind is in this 1911 office photo?

helen kellerOscar White/Corbis/VCG/Getty Images

Helen Keller

Helen Keller became the first deaf and blind person to receive a Bachelor of Arts and spent her life advocating for rights and education for people with disabilities. During her life, she wrote approximately 500 different essays and speeches—clearly putting that desk to good use! Check out these subtle signs you might actually be more intelligent than you think.

sigmund freud officeHulton Archive/Getty Images

Genius Office #7

Who spent time in this stately study?

sigmund freud Bettmann/Getty Images

Sigmund Freud

The founder of psychoanalysis spent much of his life in Vienna, Austria, where this particular study was located. This photo was taken around 1905, shortly after Freud published The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, the book that would introduce the idea of “Freudian slips.”

albert einstein study Bettmann/Getty Images

Genius Office #8

This office, and the major brain behind it, definitely lend some credibility to the idea that you could be a genius if you have a messy desk.

albert einsteinBettmann/Getty Images

Albert Einstein

The man behind the groundbreaking Theory of Relativity had a pretty chaotic workspace! This is his office at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, of which he became a member in 1933.

Madame Curie's laboratory Bettmann/Getty Images

Genius Office #9

Which scientific genius studied this hand-drawn periodic table?

madame marie curieHulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis/Getty Images

Marie Curie

The first woman to win a Nobel Prize, and the first person to win two, Marie Curie definitely earns the “genius” title. She discovered radioactivity, and she and her husband discovered the elements radium and polonium. This office is in the Radium Institute at the University of Paris, named for the element Curie helped discover. If you think the periodic table seems like confusing scientific mumbo-jumbo, check out this cool illustrated version that shows how we use each element.

william shakespeareHulton Archive/Getty Images

Genius Office #10

Who produced masterpieces in this high-ceilinged room?

william shakespeareHulton Archive/Getty Images

William Shakespeare

This prolific playwright was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, where this office (now a museum) is located. Shakespeare wrote 37 plays and hundreds of poems during his life of just over 50 years. Next, see how you fare on these 50 trivia questions only geniuses will get right.

Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a Staff Writer for RD.com who has been writing since before she could write. She graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English and has been writing for Reader's Digest since 2017. In spring 2017, her creative nonfiction piece "Anticipation" was published in Angles literary magazine. She is a proud Hufflepuff and member of Team Cap.