When Croesus Tells You He Got Rich Through Hard Work, Ask Him “Whose?”

Don Marquis? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Recently, a wealthy acquaintance told me that hard work was their key to becoming rich. I asked, “Whose?”

Would you please explore the provenance of this riposte?

Quote Investigator: Don Marquis was a popular columnist and storyteller. In 1921 he published a column called “The Weather Vane” that was carried by the “Buffalo Evening News” of New York. His version of this jest referred to Croesus who was an ancient King famous for his treasures and opulence. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

WHEN CROESUS TELLS YOU HE GOT RICH THROUGH HARD WORK, ASK HIM: “WHOSE?”

QI believes that Don Marquis was the most likely creator of this remark. Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1875 a newspaper in Honesdale, Pennsylvania expressed skepticism about whether hard work was the path to a great fortune: 2

There is a good deal of truth in the popular saying that no man can get rich by hard work.

A newspaper in Paxton, Illinois suggested that intelligence must accompany hard work to garner success: 3

No man can get rich by hard work only. It must be directed by a higher intelligence than the beast which bears the burden.

In 1921 Don Marquis published the joke in his column “The Weather Vane” as mentioned previously. In 1925 Marquis published the gag again in his new syndicated column “The Lantern”: 4

When Croesus tells you he got rich through hard work, ask him “Whose?”

In 1929 a variant appeared without attribution in newspapers such as “The Chattanooga Sunday Times” of Tennessee: 5

Many a man who says he has become rich through hard work neglects to say through whose hard work.

In 1950 a collection of proverbs from around the world printed the following skeptical saying about hard work: 6

If one became rich through hard work, a donkey would have a packsaddle of gold. (Languedoc.)

In 1967 “The Modern Handbook of Humor” by Ralph L. Woods credited Marquis with a version that did not mention Croesus: 7

When a man tells you he got rich through hard work, ask him: “Whose?”
—Don Marquis

In 1969 “The Home Book of Humorous Quotations” credited Marquis with the same remark and suggested that it appeared in a newspaper that employed Marquis early in his career: 8

When a man tells you that he got rich through hard work, ask him: “Whose?”
Don Marquis, New York Sun.

In 1970 the remark appeared as the answer to a syndicated puzzle: 9

Yesterday’s Cryptoquote: WHEN A MAN TELLS YOU THAT HE GOT RICH THROUGH HARD WORK, ASK HIM WHOSE.—DON MARQUIS

In conclusion, QI conjectures that Don Marquis crafted this joke and published it first in “The Weather Vane” in 1921. His version mentioned Croesus. It is conceivable that Marquis published an earlier instance in the New York newspaper “The Evening Sun” which is not readily searchable electronically at this time.

Image Notes: Illustration of gold ingots from Stevebidmead at Pixabay. Image has been cropped and resized.

(Great thanks to the anonymous person whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. The anonymous person was also wealthy. Thanks to researcher Barry Popik who previously explored this topic. Popik found a 1925 instance in “The New York Herald Tribune”.)

Notes:

  1. 1921 February 15, Buffalo Evening News, The Weather Vane by Don Marquis, Column Section: Our Own Wall Mottoes, Quote Page 8, Column 3, Buffalo, New York. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1875 January 14, The Wayne County Herald, The Value of Brains, Quote Page 1, Column 7, Honesdale, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1880 March 25, Paxton Record, Miscellaneous Items, Quote Page 2, Column 5, Paxton, Illinois. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1925 June 4, The Tennessean, The Lantern by Don Marquis, (Copyright New York Herald Tribune), Quote Page 4, Column 3, Nashville, Tennessee. (Newspapers_com)
  5. 1929 May 12, The Chattanooga Sunday Times, (Filler item), Quote Page 25, Column 6, Chattanooga, Tennessee. (Newspapers_com)
  6. 1950, Racial Proverbs: A Selection of the World’s Proverbs Arranged Linguistically, Edited by Selwyn Gurney Champion, Second Edition, Section: French, Quote Page 150, Column 2, Barnes & Nobel, New York. (Verified with scans)
  7. 1967, The Modern Handbook of Humor by Ralph L. Woods (Ralph Louis Woods), Section: Rich and Poor, Sub-Section: Aphorisms, Quote Page 50, Column 2, The McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York. (Verified with scans)
  8. 1969 Copyright, The Home Book of Humorous Quotations, Edited by A. K. Adams, Topic: Wealth, Quote Page 376, Column 1, Dodd, Mead & Company, New York. (Verified with scans)
  9. 1970 April 30, The Windsor Star, Daily Cryptoquote (King Features Syndicate), Quote Page 66, Column 1, Windsor, Ontario, Canada. (Newspapers_com)