Albert Einstein? Eda LeShan? Alan Ashley-Pitt? Francis Phillip Wernig? Oscar Wilde? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: The following quote has been credited to Albert Einstein and posted on Facebook and various websites:
The one who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. Those who walk alone are likely to find themselves in places no one has ever been before.
Here is an alternative version I have seen:
The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before.
Is this a sample of Einstein’s wisdom?
Quote Investigator: Probably not. It does not appear in the comprehensive collection of quotations “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press. 1
The earliest evidence of the saying that QI has located appeared in the 1970s. The 1973 self-help book “The Wonderful Crisis of Middle Age” by Eda LeShan contained a discussion about creativity that included a version of the saying, and the author did not attribute the words to Albert Einstein. She stated that the quotation was from a poster she had seen, and in a footnote she identified Alan Ashley-Pitt as the creator: 2
The man who follows the crowd will usually get no further than the crowd. The man who walks alone is likely to find himself in places no one has ever been before.
Creativity in living is not without its attendant difficulties, for peculiarity breeds contempt. And the unfortunate thing about being ahead of your time is that when people finally realize you were right, they’ll say it was obvious all along. You have two choices in your life; you can dissolve into the mainstream, or you can be distinct. To be distinct, you must be different. To be different, you must strive to be what no one else but you can be . . . *
* By Alan Ashley-Pitt (Aardvarque Enterprises, 116 W. Arrellaga Street, Santa Barbara, California 93104).
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In 1890 Oscar Wilde published an essay in “The Nineteenth Century” that contained an engaging thematic precursor to the remark under examination. 3 In 1891 Wilde revised the essay and published it under the title “The Critic as Artist”: 4
What we want are unpractical people who see beyond the moment, and think beyond the day. Those who try to lead the people can only do so by following the mob. It is through the voice of one crying in the wilderness that the ways of the gods must be prepared.
A “Catalog of Copyright Entries” from the United States Copyright Office for the time period January-June 1971 listed a poster titled “On creativity” by Alan Ashley-Pitt: 5
On creativity. [Girl in bandstand in park; poster] PP3. By Alan Ashley-Pitt, pseud. of Francis Phillip Wernig. Print. © Aardvarque Enterprises; 15Jul70; K92106.
Note that the entry gave a copyright date of July 15, 1970 for the poster and also indicated that Ashley-Pitt was a pseudonym for Francis Phillip Wernig. It is not certain that this copyright entry referred to the poster seen and written about by Eda LeShan in 1973, but the creator was the same.
In 1977 a column in the Chicago Metro News weekly newspaper mentioned the quotation. It was seen by the columnist in an office, and no attribution was given: 6
“The man who follows the crowd will usually get no further than the crowd. The man who walks alone is likely to find himself in places no man has ever been before.”
This profound axiom hangs on the wall in the attractive, fashionable office of “Mr. Ebony”, Joseph Owens’ office and although it is rarely seen by those who enter Mr. Ebony’s Boutique, it is an apt and descriptive analogy of this daring clothing entrepreneur and his philosophy.
In 1987 a version of the statement appeared in a paper at an academic conference on “Creativity and Innovation: Towards a European Network”. The words were indented indicating they were part of a quotation, but no ascription was given. The word “person” was used instead of ‘man, “woman”, or “one”: 7
The person who follows the crowd will usually get no further than the crowd. The person who walks alone is likely to find himself in places no one has ever been before.
The GoodReads website included a version of the expression with the word “woman” in their database. The number of members who liked the quote exceeded 500: 8
“The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before.”
― Albert Einstein
In conclusion, based on current evidence this saying was probably crafted by Francis Phillip Wernig who was using the pseudonym Alan Ashley-Pitt. The earliest known version referred to a “man”, and later versions switched to “one”, “person”, or “woman”.
(Thanks to Amar Singh Saksena whose inquiry inspired QI to construct this question and perform this exploration. Special thanks to Konstantin Dushenko who pointed to the quotation from Oscar Wilde.)
Update History: On April 5, 2017 the citations dated 1890 and 1891 were added to the article.
- 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 1973, The Wonderful Crisis of Middle Age by Eda LeShan, Quote Page 304, [Copyright 1973; First Printing November 1974], Warner Books, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩
- 1890 September, The Nineteenth Century, Volume 28, The True Function and Value of Criticism, Start Page 435, Quote Page 445, Kegan Paul, Trench, & Company, London. (Google Books Full View) link ↩
- 1891, Intentions by Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist, Part II, Start Page 123, Quote Page 145, Heinemann and Balestier, Leipzig. (Google Books Full View) link ↩
- 1972, Catalog of Copyright Entries: Third Series, Volume 25, Parts 7-11A. Number 1, [Works of Art: Reproductions of Works of Art; Scientific and Technical Drawings; Photographic Works; Prints and Pictorial Illustrations, January-June 1971], Section: Aardvarque Enterprises, On creativity, Quote Page 1, Copyright Office, The Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (Internet Archive) ↩
- 1977 January 15, Chicago Metro News, Rhoygnette’s Revelations by Rhoygnette Ellison, Quote Page 1, Column 1, Chicago, Illinois. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1988, Creativity and Innovation: Towards a European Network: Report of the First European Conference on Creativity and Innovation, Delft, The Netherlands, 13-16 December 1987, Edited by Patrick Colemont et al, Article: Concepts of Creativity by S. G. Isaksen, Start Page 257, Quote Page 257, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, Netherlands.(Google Books preview) ↩
- GoodReads website, Albert Einstein: Quotable Quote. (Accessed at goodreads.com on October 18, 2012) link ↩