Albert Einstein? Apocryphal?
I never think of the future – it comes soon enough.
Did he really say this? When did he say it?
Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence of this saying located by QI was printed in a newspaper article on December 12, 1930 by David P. Sentner who was a correspondent for the International News Service (INS). Albert Einstein was a passenger aboard the Red Star Liner Belgenland which docked in New York, and Sentner reported on the questions that were addressed to Einstein by a group of reporters. One query concerned his remarkable theory of relativity: 1
“Can you explain your theory simply for the masses of America?” he was asked.
“No,” he answered running his fingers through his shock of graying hair, “it would take me three days to do it.”
Sentner noted that Einstein was primarily not speaking English during the colloquy; hence, translation was required to surmount the language barrier for most of the American newspeople. It was during this interchange that the scientist made his now famous remark about the future: 2
Professor Einstein spoke almost entirely in German, but the barrage of questions and answers were translated for the benefit of the distinguished visitor and reporters by a number of interpreters, official and volunteer. The scientist was asked whether he had anticipated the interview would be such a trying ordeal as it turned out to be.
“I never think of the future,” he said. “It comes soon enough.”
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
On December 27, 1930 an article in The Literary Digest combined several news accounts of the event including a scene-setting excerpt from the Evening Post: 3
The welcome to Professor Einstein on the Belgenland was “a spectacle unequaled in the history of New York, or, perhaps, the well-known universe,” according to Mr. Sherwin’s Evening Post account, where we are told further that Einstein said, of the reporters, “These men are like wolves. Every one of them wants to have a bite at me.” But the physicist was joking, as his whole demeanor in the interview showed.
The account given by David P. Sentner that included the Einstein quotation was reprinted in The Literary Digest, and that aided its further dissemination. After the quote a sentence was appended that described the friendly attitude of Einstein.
“I never think of the future,” he said. “It comes soon enough.”
Throughout the long interview, Professor Einstein wore an amused and half-quizzical look, and had nothing but kindly remarks no matter how hard reporters prest him.
In 1937 the saying credited to Einstein was published in a feature called “Grab-bag” in a newspaper in Ohio: 4
Words of Wisdom.
I never think of the future. It comes soon enough.—Einstein.
In 1938 the remark ascribed to Einstein was printed in a Syracuse, New York paper together with three other miscellaneous sayings under the title “Wisemen”. 5
In 1944 the influential widely-distributed columnist Walter Winchell published the comment together with other sayings in a section called “Quotation Marksmanship”: 6
B. Franklin: There are three faithful friends: An old wife, an old dog and ready money . . . A. Einstein: I never think of the future. It comes soon enough.
In 1959 the words were printed in “Dale Carnegie’s Scrapbook: A Treasury of the Wisdom of the Ages”, and once again Einstein was credited. 7 Laurence J. Peter included the remark in his popular 1977 collection “Peter’s Quotations: Ideas for Our Time”. 8 Further, in 1987 the “Barnes & Noble Book of Quotations” listed the comment attributed to Einstein. 9
In 2010 “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press published an entry about the saying. The editor Alice Calaprice noted that the statement was included in the Einstein Archives as element number 36-570. But there was some confusion because the remark was labeled “Aphorism, 1945-46.” Calaprice presented evidence for a December 1930 dating and wrote: 10
…perhaps it was recalled later and inserted into the archives under the later date.
In conclusion, there is good evidence that Albert Einstein did make this comment to reporters in 1930. He probably stated it in German, and it was translated into English during an interview. The news service journalist David P. Sentner recorded the remark, and it appeared in newspapers by December 12, 1930.
(Great thanks to Trevor who wondered what evidence existed for the ascription of this saying to Einstein.)
- 1930 December 12, Clearfield Progress, Would Take Three Days To Make Simple Explanation Of Theories, Says Einstein by David P. Sentner, (I.N.S. [International News Service] Correspondent), Quote Page 1, Column 1, Clearfield, Pennsylvania. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1930 December 12, Clearfield Progress, Would Take Three Days To Make Simple Explanation Of Theories, Says Einstein by David P. Sentner, (I.N.S. [International News Service] Correspondent), Quote Page 1, Column 2, Clearfield, Pennsylvania. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1930 December 27, The Literary Digest, “We May Not ‘Get’ Relativity, but We Like Einstein”, Start Page 29, Quote Page 29, Column 2, Funk & Wagnalls Company, New York. (Unz) ↩
- 1937 November 13, Mansfield News Journal, Grab-Bag: Words of Wisdom, Quote Page 4 (NArch Page 12), Column 2, Mansfield, Ohio. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1938 July 12, Syracuse Journal, Section: Editorial Page, Wisemen, Quote Page 6, Column 8, Syracuse, New York. (Old Fulton) ↩
- 1944 June 26, Greensboro Record, On Broadway by Walter Winchell, Quote Page 6, Column 3, Greensboro, North Carolina. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1959, Dale Carnegie’s Scrapbook: A Treasury of the Wisdom of the Ages, Edited by Dorothy Carnegie with writings by Dale Carnegie, Quote Page 63, Published by Dale Carnegie & Associates, Garden City, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩
- 1977, “Peter’s Quotations: Ideas for Our Time” by Laurence J. Peter, Quote Page 371, William Morrow and Company, New York. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 1987, Barnes & Noble Book of Quotations: Revised and Enlarged, Edited by Robert I. Fitzhenry, Section: The Future, Page 137, Barnes & Noble Books, Division of Harper & Row, New York. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Section: On Einstein Himself, Page 18, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Verified on paper) ↩