Creativity Is contagious. Pass It On

Albert Einstein? Bernice Bede Osol? Eugene Raudsepp? François de La Rochefoucauld? Dale Carnegie? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following words are often credited to the scientific genius Albert Einstein:

Creativity is contagious. Pass it on.

I cannot find a good citation. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Einstein wrote or spoke the statement above. The comprehensive reference “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press contains a section on “Creativity” but the quotation is not listed there or anywhere else in the book. 1

In 1956 a partial match appeared in “The Cincinnati Enquirer” of Cincinnati, Ohio. An article about a local elementary school described a teacher who helped students and fellow teachers to create ceramics for an exhibition. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 2

Creativity was contagious. Teachers also became interested. They were found taking a few minutes from their lunch time for work on their ceramics, too, and again at home at night.

In 1973 a syndicated horoscope column by Bernice Bede Osol included a partial match: 3

GEMINI (May 21-June 20) Your creativity’s contagious. Seek support for your ideas today. Others will appreciate their potential.

In 1977 “Creative Growth Games” by Eugene Raudsepp with George P. Hough Jr. contained a full match for the expression. The following appeared as an epigraph to a section titled “Games and Exercises”: 4

Through the process of association of ideas your imagination will find new and relevant relationships between things.
Creativity is contagious, pass it on.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.




Expressions asserting that behaviors, feelings, and ideas could be contagious have a long history. The famous French aphorist François de La Rochefoucauld included a pertinent statement in “Réflexions ou Sentences et Maximes” (Maxims and Moral Reflections). The 1678 edition contained the following: 5

Rien n’est si contagieux que l’exemple, & nous ne faisons jamais de grands biens ny de grands maux, qui n’en produisent de semblables. Nous imitons les bonnes actions par émulation, & les mauvaises par la malignité de nôtre nature que la honte retenoit prisonniere & que l’exemple met en liberté.

An English translation published in 1776 stated: 6

Nothing is so contagious as example; never is any considerable good or ill done that does not produce its like. We imitate good actions through emulation; and bad ones through a malignity in our nature, which shame concealed, and example sets at liberty.

In 1830 “The History of Chivalry” by G. P. R. James mentioned two contagious feelings: 7

Nothing, except fear, is so contagious as enthusiasm: the spirit of crusading was revived in a wonderfully short time.

In 1834 the popular English author Edward Bulwer Lytton also mentioned the ready transmission of enthusiasm: 8

Nothing is so contagious as enthusiasm; it is the real allegory of the tale of Orpheus—it moves stones; it charms brutes. Enthusiasm is the genius of sincerity, and truth accomplishes no victories without it.

In 1852 a Richmond, Virginia newspaper wrote a cautionary passage suggesting that crime was a contagion: 9

Richmond is less tainted with it than some of her sister cities, but crime is contagious, and unless her moral atmosphere be maintained in a pure and healthy condition, there is no telling how soon her streets will also become the scenes of daring and disgraceful deeds of lawlessness and crime.

In 1890 a lecturer speaking to parents at the Art Institute in Chicago, Illinois advocated teaching courtesy: 10

Courtesy is contagious. Keep a child in a courteous atmosphere, and he becomes a gentleman, and one of the greatest barriers in life is removed.

In 1908 “The Battle of Life” by Henry Van Dyke asserted that several virtues were contagious: 11

The strongest of all obstacles to the advance of evil is a clean and generous man, doing his duty from day to day, and winning others, by his cheerful fidelity, to serve the same Master. Diseases are not the only things that are contagious. Courage is contagious. Kindness is contagious. Manly integrity is contagious. All the positive virtues, with red blood in their veins, are contagious.

In 1947 “The Arizona Republic” of Phoenix, Arizona offered the following “Safety Tip” encouraging the spread of courtesy: 12

Courtesy is contagious—let’s start an epidemic of it on the highways.

In 1948 the famous self-help guru Dale Carnegie included an instance about happiness in “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living”: 13

I found that happiness is contagious. By giving, we receive. By helping someone and giving out love, I had conquered worry and sorrow and self-pity, and felt like a new person.

In 1949 a letter published in the “Decatur Sunday Herald and Review” of Decatur, Illinois advocated the transmission of cheerfulness: 14

Remember, cheerfulness is pleasantly contagious; be a “carrier.”

In 1956 “The Cincinnati Enquirer” printed the following as noted previously: 15

Creativity was contagious.

In 1973 a newspaper in Indianapolis, Indiana described graffiti written in the chemistry building at Purdue University. The phrase “pass it on” was incorporated in a graffito about sex: 16

On sex, drugs, the draft and other extra-curricular concerns:

“Candy is dandy but sex won’t rot your teeth” and “Sex is contagious (pass it on).” Or the quietly desperate, “Virginity is not terminal.”

In 1974 an instance of the expression with “courtesy” and the phrase “pass it on” was printed in the “Register-Republic” newspaper in Rockford, Illinois: 17

“Courtesy is contagious — pass it on!” is the message being passed on to nurses at Swedish-American Hospital by “Capt. Courtesy,” feature performer of National Hospital Week festivities this week at the local hospital.

In 1977 the book “Creative Growth Games” included a match for the full expression under examination as noted previously: 18

Through the process of association of ideas your imagination will find new and relevant relationships between things.
Creativity is contagious, pass it on.

In 1992 the short version of the saying was assigned to Albert Einstein in a newspaper advertisement from IBM. The company was publicizing a public television documentary series called “The Creative Spirit” which was sponsored by IBM: 19

Einstein once said, “Creativity is contagious.” Tune in and catch it on The Creative Spirit. Funded by IBM.

In conclusion, the ascription to Albert Einstein appears to be spurious. A class of adages highlighting the contagious nature of behaviors and feelings and has been evolving for hundreds of years. Currently, the earliest instance known to QI of the full expression appeared in a 1977 book by Eugene Raudsepp with George P. Hough Jr.

Image Notes: Portrait of Albert Einstein circa 1921. Crayons symbolizing creativity from ParentRap at Pixabay. Portrait of François duc de la Rochefoucauld circa 1836. Portraits accessed via Wikimedia Commons. Images have been resized, cropped, and retouched.

(Great thanks to Andrew Lindsay, Nicola Porter, Jamie Hovis, George Mannes, Marie Medina, and Ane Bülow whose inquiries led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Section: Misattributed to Einstein, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (The quotation was absent)(Verified on paper)
  2. 1956 May 6, The Cincinnati Enquirer, Imagery In Ceramics, Section 3, Quote Page 1, Column 4, Cincinnati, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1973 January 18, Dixon Evening Telegraph, Astrograph by Bernice Bede Osol, Quote Page 19, Column 3, Dixon, Illinois. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1977, Creative Growth Games by Eugene Raudsepp with George P. Hough Jr., (Epigraph of part 1), Quote Page 15, Jove Publications: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York. (Verified on paper)
  5. 1678, Réflexions ou Sentences et Maximes Morales by François de La Rochefoucauld, Cinquie’me Edition, Number 230, Quote Page 88, Chez Claude Barbin, A Paris. (Google Books Full View) link
  6. 1776, Maxims and Moral Reflections by the Duke de la Rochefoucault, A New Edition, Revised and Improved, Author: François de La Rochefoucauld, Topic: Example, Number: CXXII (122), Quote Page 40 and 41, Printed for Alexander Donaldson, Edinburgh, Scotland. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  7. 1830, The History of Chivalry by G. P. R. James (George Payne R. James), Series: The National Library, Volume 4, Quote Page 268, Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  8. 1834, The Last Days of Pompeii by Edward Bulwer Lytton, Volume 1 of 2, Quote Page 78, Harper & Brothers, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  9. 1852 November 13, The Daily Dispatch (Richmond Dispatch), Police and Watch Department, Quote Page 2, Column 3, Richmond, Virginia. (Newspapers_com)
  10. 1890 December 4, The Chicago Daily Tribune, How to Teach a Child Courtesy, Quote Page 9, Column 5, Chicago, Illinois. (Newspapers_com)
  11. 1908 Copyright, The Battle of Life by Henry Van Dyke, Quote Page 21 and 22, T. Y. Crowell & Company, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  12. 1947 November 8, Arizona Republic, Safety Tip, Quote Page 1, Column 7, Phoenix, Arizona. (Newspapers_com)
  13. 1948, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie, Quote Page 141, Simon and Schuster, New York. (Verified on paper)
  14. 1949 January 2, Decatur Sunday Herald and Review, Letters to the Editor, (Letter titled “Offers Two Resolutions” from Byron H. Studebaker), Quote Page 8, Column 6, Decatur, Illinois. (Newspapers_com)
  15. 1956 May 6, The Cincinnati Enquirer, Imagery In Ceramics, Section 3, Quote Page 1, Column 4, Cincinnati, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)
  16. 1973 July 31, The Indianapolis Star, Chemistry Couplet Carvings Classics by John F. Gallien (Star Purdue-Lafayette Bureau), Quote Page 27, Column 8, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Newspapers_com)
  17. 1974 May 13, Register-Republic, Photo caption, Quote Page B1, Column 6, Rockford, Illinois. (GenealogyBank)
  18. 1977, Creative Growth Games by Eugene Raudsepp with George P. Hough Jr., (Epigraph of part 1), Quote Page 15, Jove Publications: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York. (Verified on paper)
  19. 1992 April 1, Arizona Republic, (IBM advertisement for “The Creative Spirit”, a documentary series from public television station WETA of Washington D.C.), Phoenix, Arizona. (Newspapers_com)