Humanity Invented the Atom Bomb. No Mouse in the World Would Think of Building a Mousetrap

Albert Einstein? Werner Mitsch? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: It is difficult to conceive of an ordinary creature foolish enough to design and build a device that would dramatically increase the probability of its self-annihilation. The great scientist Albert Einstein supposedly made the following remark:

Mankind invented the atomic bomb, yet a mouse would never invent a mousetrap.

Unfortunately, no one has presented a supporting citation, and I know that fake Einstein quotations are endemic. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Albert Einstein wrote or spoke this statement. It is not listed in the comprehensive reference “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press. Einstein died in 1955, and he received credit for the remark many years afterward in 2010.

The earliest match known to QI was identified by top German quotation expert Gerald Krieghofer who traced the saying to German aphorist Werner Mitsch who placed it into the 1983 collection “Das Schwarze unterm Fingernagel. Sprüche. Nichts als Sprüche” (“The black under the fingernail. Sayings. Nothing but sayings”). Here is the original German followed by an English rendering. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Der Mensch hat die Atombombe erfunden. Keine Maus der Welt käme auf die Idee, eine Mausefalle zu konstruieren.

Humanity invented the atom bomb. No mouse in the world would think of building a mousetrap.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1966 the popular columnist Earl Wilson printed a joke suggesting that mice would not build traps; instead, they would make strong efforts to avoid traps: 2

TODAY’S BEST LAUGH: A fellow grumbled about his luck: “If I built a better mousetrap, the mice would build better mice.”

In 1983 the remark appeared in a book by Werner Mitsch as mentioned previously, and in 1993 the saying was included in the twelfth volume of “Duden: Zitate und Aussprüche” (Duden: Quotes and Sayings): 3

Der Mensch hat die Atombombe erfunden. Keine Maus der Welt käme auf die Idee, eine Mausefalle zu konstruieren.
WERNER MITSCH

Humanity invented the atom bomb. No mouse in the world would think of building a mousetrap.
WERNER MITSCH

On June 23, 2009 the twitter account @KaffeeSchock using the handle “Udo Bangert” tweeted an elaborate version of the German saying without attribution: 4

Der Mensch erfand das Schwert, das Schießpulver und die Atombombe. Doch niemals würde es einer Maus einfallen eine Mausefalle zu konstruieren

Man invented the sword, gunpowder and the atomic bomb, but it would never occur to a mouse to construct a mousetrap

On June 24, 2009 the twitter account @cekay_de using the handle “Chris Korte (DE)” tweeted another instance: 5

Der Mensch hat die Atombombe erfunden, welche Maus würde eine Mäusefalle erfinden ? (via Kommentar beim Home Film DE Youtube)

Man invented the atom bomb, which mouse would invent a mouse trap? (via comment at Home Film DE Youtube)

On January 26, 2010 the twitter account @JKingDaRuler using the handle “Kingsley” tweeted an instance in English: 6

Man invented the Atom Bomb, but no Mouse in the World would ever construct a Mousetrap …

On May 4, 2010 the twitter account @RDS90 using the handle “Community Manager” tweeted an instance in English while crediting Albert Einstein. An accompanying link pointed to Facebook, but the content is not accessible at this time: 7

Info update: “Man invented the atom bomb, but no mouse in the world would construct a mousetrap.” -Albert Einstein… http://bit.ly/btLSss

The linkage to Werner Mitsch was not forgotten. On October 6, 2010 the twitter account @Zitante using the handle “Zitante Christa” credited a slightly truncated version of the German saying to Mitsch. The accompanying link is currently broken: 8

@wuluu Der Mensch hat die Atombombe erfunden. Keine Maus der Welt käme auf die Idee, eine… Stammt von Werner Mitsch http://bit.ly/afS4Fy

@wuluu Man invented the atomic bomb. No mouse in the world would think of a … Comes from Werner Mitsch http://bit.ly/afS4Fy

An article dated March 2017 on the website of the “Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists” ascribed the remark to Einstein: 9

Albert Einstein noted, “Mankind invented the atomic bomb, but no mouse would ever construct a mousetrap.”

In conclusion, QI believes that this saying should be credited to Werner Mitsch based on the 1983 citation and based on the expertise of German quotation specialist Gerald Krieghofer. QI has found no matches for the expression before 1983.

Image Notes: Public domain illustration of exploding planet from AlexAntropov86 at Pixabay.

(Great thanks to Jarrod Baniqued whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Special thanks to Gerald Krieghofer.)

Notes:

  1. 1983, Das Schwarze unterm Fingernagel. Sprüche. Nichts als Sprüche (The black under the fingernail. Sayings. Nothing but sayings) by Werner Mitsch, Quote Page 91, Letsch Verlag, Stuttgart, Germany. (Citation from Gerald Krieghofer; QI has not seen this book) link
  2. 1966 September 28, Delaware County Daily Times, Big Season Seen for N.Y. by Earl Wilson, Quote Page 43, Column 8, Chester, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1993, Duden: Zitate und Aussprüche (Duden: Quotes and Sayings), Duden Band 12 (Duden Volume 12), Teil II (Part II): Thematische Sammlung von Zitaten, Sentenzen, Bonmots und Aphorismen, (Thematic Collection of Quotations, Sentences, Bon Mots and Aphorisms), Topic: Atombombe (Atom bomb), Quote Page 550, Dudenverlag, Mannheim, Germany. (Verified with scans)
  4. Tweet, From: Udo Bangert @KaffeeSchock, Time: 3:37 PM, Date: Jun 23, 2009, Text: Der Mensch erfand das Schwert, das Schießpulver … (Accessed on twitter.com on Sep 7, 2021) link
  5. Tweet, From: Chris Korte (DE) @cekay_de, Time: 8:10 PM, Date: Jun 24, 2009, Text: Der Mensch hat die Atombombe erfunden … (Accessed on twitter.com on Sep 7, 2021) link
  6. Tweet, From: Kingsley @JKingDaRuler, Time: 1:39 AM , Date: Jan 26, 2010, Text: Man invented the Atom Bomb … (Accessed on twitter.com on Sep 7, 2021) link
  7. Tweet, From: Community Manager @RDS90, Time: 9:48 AM. Date: May 4, 2010, Text: Info update … (Accessed on twitter.com on Sep 7, 2021) link
  8. Tweet, From: Zitante Christa @Zitante, Time: 1:30 PM, Date: Oct 6, 2010, Text: @wuluu Der Mensch hat die Atombombe erfunden … (Accessed on twitter.com on Sep 7, 2021) link
  9. Website: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Article title: A better mousetrap?, Article author: David Krieger, Date on website: March 23, 2017, Website description: Media organization with the following mission statement – The Bulletin equips the public, policymakers, and scientists with the information needed to reduce man-made threats to our existence. (Accessed thebulletin.org on September 8, 2021) link