Quote Origin: Imagination Is Everything. It Is the Preview of Life’s Coming Attractions

Albert Einstein? Henry Miller? Gerald W. Marshall? Bill Glass? Epcot Slogan? Apocryphal?

Collection of colored pencils from Leohoho at Unsplash

Question for Quote Investigator: A dynamic imagination is vital because it helps us to envision future possibilities. This notion has been expressed as follows:

Imagination is everything. It is the preview of coming attractions.

This statement has been attributed to the famous physicist Albert Einstein, but I am decidedly skeptical because I have never seen a proper citation. Would you please explore this topic?

Reply from 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.1

Einstein died in 1955. The earliest close matches known to QI appeared in two books in 1981. The self-help book “Reaching Your Possibilities Through Commitment” by Gerald W. Marshall contained the following:2

It has often been said that we are only one generation from heathenism. Perhaps we are only one generation from the Dark Ages as well if we don’t have big ideas. We need vivid imagination to create new ideas for success. Albert Einstein once said, “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of coming attractions.”

Also, in 1981 Bill Glass published the motivational book “Expect To Win” which printed a slightly longer version of the saying using the word “life’s”:3

Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.” And this works both positively and negatively.

Both 1981 books credited Einstein, and QI hypothesizes an earlier instance exists, but there is no compelling reason to believe that Albert Einstein used the expression.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

There is evidence that Einstein valued imagination. In 1929 “The Saturday Evening Post” published an interview conducted by George Sylvester Viereck during which Einstein made following remark:4

“I am enough of the artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

A separate QI article about the above quotation is available here.

In 1944 the prominent writer Henry Miller published a collection with a chapter titled “A Third Fragment from ‘The Rosy Crucifixion’”. The chapter contained a thematically related passage which highlighted the power of imagination:5

We are all guilty of crime, the great crime of not living life to the full. But we are all potentially free. We can stop thinking of what we have failed to do and do whatever lies within our power.

What these powers that are in us may be no one has truly dared to imagine. That they are infinite we will realize the day we admit to ourselves that imagination is everything. Imagination is the voice of daring. If there is anything Godlike about God it is that He has dared to imagine everything.

In 1981 a close match for the quotation appeared in two books as mentioned at the beginning of this article. Einstein was given credit.

In 1987 the motivational book “How to Unleash the Power of Your Subconscious Mind” by James K. Van Fleet included the following passage:6

You are limited only by your imagination. As Albert Einstein, the renowned scientist, once said, “Imagination is everything; it is the preview of life’s coming attractions.”

So imagine yourself to be a winner. Program your subconscious mind with positive concepts and attitudes of love, success, and self-respect. As you think, so shall you become

In 1995 “The Deseret News” of Salt Lake City, Utah published a piece about Epcot Center of Walt Disney World. The slogan of the “Imagination Theater” was a concise version of the quotation:7

There is power in imagination — to take what might be and make it what is. There is fun — to explore countless nooks and crannies, twists and turns of the world of the mind. And there is anticipation — as they say in Epcot’s Imagination Theater: “Imagination is the preview of life’s coming attractions.”

In 1997 “The Speaker’s Quote Book” compiled by Roy B. Zuck included the following entry:8

Imagination is more than knowledge. It is a preview of life’s coming attractions.
— Albert Einstein

In 1999 “Something Else To Smile About” by Zig Ziglar contained a chapter titled “Positive Trivia” which listed the following three inspirational sayings without attribution:9

You can’t climb the ladder of success with cold feet.
Imagination is the preview of life’s coming attractions.
You’ve got to believe before you can achieve.

In 2006 the best-selling self-help book “The Secret” by Rhonda Byrne ascribed the saying to Einstein:10

“Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.”
Albert Einstein (1879–1955)

In conclusion, this article presents a snapshot of current research. QI has found no substantive evidence that Albert Einstein employed this saying. The earliest known matches appeared in 1981 which was many years after the death of Einstein. The creator of the expression remains unknown.

Image Notes: Picture of a collection of colored pencils from Leohoho at Unsplash. The image has been cropped.

Acknowledgements: Great thanks to Joseph Dowdy and David Taylor-Klaus whose inquiries led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Special thanks to the anonymous editors of Wikiquote. On the Wikiquote Talk webpage for Einstein, participant Hypnosifl expressed skepticism about the attribution and pointed to the earliest match in the book “Expect to Win”. Thanks also to Barry Popik for his pioneering research. He located helpful citations including the match in the book “Reaching Your Possibilities through Commitment”.

Update History: On May 10, 2024 the format of the bibliographical notes was updated. Also, the full article was placed on this website.

  1. 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, (The phrase “coming attractions” is absent), Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Verified on paper) ↩︎
  2. 1981 Copyright, Reaching Your Possibilities Through Commitment by Gerald W. Marshall, Chapter 2: Aspiring and Desiring, Quote Page 24, Regal Books: A Division of G/L Publications, Ventura, California. (Verified with scans) ↩︎
  3. 1984 (1981 Copyright), Expect To Win by Bill Glass, Chapter 1: Think Right Thoughts, Quote Page 20, Word Books, Waco, Texas. (Verified with hardcopy in 1984 reprint) ↩︎
  4. 1929 October 26, The Saturday Evening Post, What Life Means to Einstein: An Interview by George Sylvester Viereck, Start Page 17, Quote Page 117, Column 1, Saturday Evening Post Society, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Verified on microfilm) ↩︎
  5. 1944, Sunday After the War by Henry Miller, Chapter: A Third Fragment from ‘The Rosy Crucifixion’, Quote Page 231, New Directions, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩︎
  6. 1987 Copyright, Hidden Power: How to Unleash the Power of Your Subconscious Mind by James K. Van Fleet, Chapter 6: How to Use the Powers of Your Subconscious Mind to Become a Winner in Everything You Do, Quote Page 72, Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. (Verified with scans) ↩︎
  7. 1995 March 19, The Deseret News, Article: Imagine That! Disney World Keeps Changing, Author: Carma Wadley (Feature Editor), Edition: Metro, Section: Travel, Quote Page T1, Salt Lake City, Utah. (NewsBank Access World News) ↩︎
  8. 1997, The Speaker’s Quote Book: Over 4,500 Illustrations and Quotations for All Occasions, Edited by Roy B. Zuck, Topic: Imagination, Quote Page 208, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, Michigan. (Verified with scans) ↩︎
  9. 1999, Something Else To Smile About: More Encouragement and Inspiration for Life’s Ups and Downs by Zig Ziglar, Chapter: Positive Trivia, Quote Page 97 and 98, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee. (Verified with scans) ↩︎
  10. 2006, The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, Quote Page 91, Atria Books, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩︎
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