Category Archives: Martin Andre Rosanoff

Everybody Steals in Commerce and Industry. I’ve Stolen A Lot Myself

Thomas Edison? Martin André Rosanoff? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: While reading a novel about the remarkable inventor Nikola Tesla I came across a statement credited to Thomas Edison that I find very hard to believe [TLDS]:

Everyone steals in commerce and industry. I’ve stolen a lot, myself. But I know how to steal! They don’t know how to steal!

Did Edison really say something like this? I know that Tesla and Edison were rivals, and perhaps the author of this Tesla book is biased against Edison. I hesitate to believe that this quotation is accurate.

Quote Investigator: A remark that was nearly identical to the one above was attributed to Edison in an article published in Harper’s magazine in September 1932 titled “Edison in His Laboratory”. The statement began with “everybody” instead of “everyone”. Note that Edison died in 1931, the year before the Harper’s article was printed. The author of the article was Martin André Rosanoff who performed chemical investigations for Edison.

Rosanoff stated that Edison asked him to test the composition of a wax that was used by a rival company because Edison suspected that the other company had stolen a secret formula for the wax. In the following excerpt Rosanoff referred to Edison as “the Old Man” [MRTE]:

The first I knew of this was when the Old Man asked me to investigate it and ascertain whether the rival’s wax was really new. He said I might be called upon to testify in court and urged me to make my experimental study thorough.

Rosanoff performed an exhaustive analysis of the wax and concluded that the rival’s wax was identical in composition to that used by Edison’s company. Rosanoff was angered by this apparent commercial theft, and described the data to Edison [MRTE]:

When I reported my results to the Old Man with spirited indignation at the unsavory ways of his rival, he asked with a merry twinkle of amusement, “What are you so excited about? Everybody steals in commerce and industry. I’ve stolen a lot myself. But I knew how to steal. They don’t know how to steal—that’s all that’s the matter with them” I said nothing; my breath was taken away.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Hell! there ain’t no rules around here! We are tryin’ to accomplish somep’n!

Thomas Edison? Martin André Rosanoff? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote investigator: All the rules and regulations of the modern world can be quite aggravating. That is why I greatly enjoy the following quotation proclaimed by Thomas Edison to the employees in his Menlo Park laboratory:

Hell, there are no rules here. We’re trying to accomplish something.

I read this statement in a book published in 2000, but an exact reference was not given. Did Edison really say this?

Quote Investigator: Yes, he probably did make a comment like this to one of his researchers. The evidence was published in the September 1932 issue of Harper’s Magazine which contained an article titled “Edison in His Laboratory” by Martin André Rosanoff who performed chemical investigations for Edison. Rosanoff described an exchange he had with Edison shortly after he had joined the staff around 1903 [HMLR]:

I approached him in a humble spirit: “Mr. Edison, please tell me what laboratory rules you want me to observe.” And right then and there I got my first surprise. He spat in the middle of the floor and yelled out,

“Hell! there ain’t no rules around here! We are tryin’ to accomplish somep’n!”

And he walked off, leaving me flabbergasted.

Note that the original printed quotation used the informal contraction “ain’t” instead of “are no”. Also, dialect spellings were employed for “tryin'” and “somep’n”.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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