What Man Can Conceive, Man Can Achieve

Robert Owen? Elbert Hubbard? Orlando K. Fitzsimmons? Sidney Abram Weltmer? O. A. Hawkins? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: An optimistic rhyming maxim highlights the enormous potential for positive accomplishments. Here are three versions:

(1) What humanity can conceive, humanity can achieve.
(2) What man can conceive, man can achieve
(3) Man can achieve what man can conceive

Would you please explore this adage?

Quote Investigator: This saying is difficult to trace because it can be expressed in several different ways. The prominent social reformer and socialist Robert Owen employed an instance in the 1845 edition of his treatise “The Book of the New Moral World Containing the Rational System of Society”. Owen emphasized the need for charity, wisdom, and kindness. His book contained a partial match. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[ref] 1845, The Book of the New Moral World Containing the Rational System of Society by Robert Owen, First American Edition, Part 4: The Principles and Practice of the Rational Religion, Chapter 7, Quote Page 134, G. Vale, New York. (Google Books Full View) link [/ref]

It is this spirit and language of truth which must pervade the whole mass and the entire of society, before man can conceive what man can achieve, or society united can accomplish.

Owen used a conditional phrasing. He believed that the principles he extolled would produce a society in which mankind’s positive conceptions would be achieved.

In 1906 a full match for the saying appeared in “Metamorphose: Involving Regeneration of Individual and Race, and Also the Solution of the Great Problem of Poverty” by Orlando K. Fitzsimmons:[ref] 1906, Metamorphose: Involving Regeneration of Individual and Race, and Also the Solution of the Great Problem of Poverty by Orlando K. Fitzsimmons, Chapter 12: The Rationale of the New, Quote Page 212, Progress Publishing Company, Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link [/ref]

If the conditions existing in the fabled Golden Age can be conceived in the mind of man as a definite Idea, he can attain unto those conditions!

The motto of the new Order is: WHAT MAN CAN CONCEIVE, MAN CAN ACHIEVE.
The Change is at hand!

No attribution is specified for the saying above, and QI believes that currently the originator remains anonymous.

Here are selected citations in chronological order.

In 1912 Sidney Abram Weltmer received credit for the saying in a book by his son Ernest Weltmer titled “Realization: The Story of a Climber”. The elder Weltmer advocated hypnosis and magnetic healing. The image at the top of this article was printed on many pages of the book:[ref] 1912, Realization: The Story of a Climber by Ernest Weltmer, Quote Page 2, 110, 160, and many other pages, Published by The Weltmer Institute of Suggestive Therapeutics Company of Nevada, Missouri. (Google Books Full View) link [/ref]

S A Weltmer

In 1913 “The Constructive Socialist” printed a piece by O. A. Hawkins who proposed that socialists in Oklahoma should raise money to build factories. He stated that he believed the maxim:[ref] 1913 January 15, The Constructive Socialist, Broon Corm Factories by O. A. Hawkins, Quote Page 3, Column 3, Alva, Oklahoma. (Newspapers_com) [/ref]

It would not only encourage cooperation in one line but it would become the only method of doing business in all lines and what we need is the willingness to make the effort. And verily do I believe what man can conceive man can achieve.

In 1914 “NOW: A Journal of Affirmation” of Glenwood, California printed the following:[ref] 1914 September, NOW: A Journal of Affirmation, Volume 11, Number 9, Affirmations, Quote Page 132, Column 1, Henry Harrison Brown, Glenwood, California. (HathiTrust Full View) link [/ref]

Man can never be any more than his own ideals. But he can be all that his ideal can conceive. We have as the motto on the button we wear, “Man can achieve what man can conceive;” but he does not achieve anything beyond his concepts; keep that in mind.

In 1916 “Day Dreams” by Sidney Abram Weltmer included the following passage:[ref] 1916 Copyright, Day Dreams by Sidney A. Weltmer, Section: Afterword, Quote appears on final page containing text, The Weltmer Institute of Suggestive Therapeutics, Nevada, Missouri. (Google Books Full View) link [/ref]

Dream! For the world of progress must come from the dreams of its dreamers. The secret key to all new wonders must be found in the dreamer’s soul. If you would make your works eternal, dream!
Man can achieve what man can conceive

In 1926 Felix Shay published a biography of aphorist Elbert Hubbard who had died in 1915. A son of Hubbard enabled Shay to obtain a pin that belonged to the famous man:[ref] 1926, Elbert Hubbard of East Aurora by Felix Shay, Chapter: His Eccentricities, Quote Page 233, William H. Wise & Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link [/ref]

After his death, Bert Hubbard very thoughtfully gave a preferred few the privilege of taking a keepsake from among his father’s personal effects. I took his old everyday slouch hat, pinned up on one side with a gold pin, engraved with the words, “Man Can Achieve What Man Can Conceive.”

I thought it the most expressive memento of this odd and lovable man—the old broad-brimmed hat—and conceiving—and achieving!

In conclusion, the originator of this maxim remains anonymous. Robert Owen employed a precursor in 1845. In 1906 Orlando K. Fitzsimmons called the expression a “motto of the new Order”, but he did not specify an attribution.

Image Notes: Public domain illustration from the 1912 book “Realization: The Story of a Climber” by Ernest Weltmer.

(Great thanks to Steve McCrea whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. McCrea asked about a more complex expression using conceive, believe, and achieve. The simpler maxim examined here is a precursor.)

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