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.

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

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

You Never Fail Until You Stop Trying

Albert Einstein? Florence Griffith Joyner? Thomas Edison? Louise Chandler Moulton? Mike Ditka? Elmer Burritt Bryan? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following motivational remark has been attributed to the famous scientist Albert Einstein:

You never fail until you stop trying.

This saying has also been credited to the Olympic-medal-winning athlete Florence Griffith Joyner and the well-known inventor Thomas Edison. 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 2012.

This adage is difficult to trace because it is a member of a large and ever evolving family of sayings. QI believes that the creator should be considered anonymous. Here is a sampling of pertinent sayings with dates:

1890 Jun: No man can be wholly defeated unless he defeat himself
1904 Feb 6: Human beings never fail until they fail to try
1910 Jun 1: You have never been defeated until you give up
1912 May 30: You are never defeated until you lose faith in yourself
1918 May 2: You are not defeated unless you admit defeat
1921 Apr 28: You’re never defeated until you surrender
1922 Jul 15: You are never defeated unless you admit it to yourself
1930 Jun 28: No absolute failure until you stop trying to succeed
1930 Dec 4: You are never defeated unless you think you are
1931 Aug 14: You are never defeated unless you defeat yourself
1937 Nov 27: You are never defeated until you stop trying
1946 Oct 11: You’re never defeated unless you admit it to yourself
1951 Dec 13: You are never a failure until you stop trying
1959 Dec 22: You never lose until you stop trying
1967 Dec 7: You never fail until you stop trying

Below are selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading You Never Fail Until You Stop Trying

A Clever Person Solves a Problem. A Wise Person Avoids It

Albert Einstein? Jerome Halprin? Abba Eban? Leonard Lyons? Sidney Greenberg? Paul Connett? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A popular quip highlights the distinction between the adjectives clever and wise:

A clever person solves a problem. A wise person avoids it.

This notion can also be expressed as follows:

A clever person gets out of a situation that a wise person would never get into.

The first statement is often attributed to Albert Einstein, but I have been unable to find a solid citation. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Einstein wrote or spoke either of the statements above. Neither is listed in the comprehensive reference “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press. Einstein died in 1955, and he received credit for the saying many years afterward in 1992. 1

This quip is difficult to trace because it can be phrased in many ways. The earliest match located by QI appeared on April 11, 1969 in the “Jewish Journal” of New Brunswick, New Jersey within a short editorial piece without a byline titled “Nobody Asked Me, But”. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 2

Do you know the difference between a clever man and a wise man? A clever man gets out of situations that a wise man would never get into.

The editor listed on the masthead of the “Jewish Journal” was Jerome Halprin, so he might be credited with the joke, but QI believes the quip was probably already circulating with an anonymous origin.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Clever Person Solves a Problem. A Wise Person Avoids It

Notes:

  1. 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Section: (Statement does not appear), Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1969 April 11, Jewish Journal, Nobody Asked Me, But, Quote Page 2, Column 1, New Brunswick, New Jersey. (GenealogyBank)

An Alleged Scientific Discovery Has No Merit Unless It Can Be Explained To a Barmaid

Albert Einstein? Ernest Rutherford? Cyril Hinshelwood? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: It should be possible to explain a valid scientific theory to anybody, e.g., a nine-year-old, a grandmother, or the man in the street. This dubious assertion is challenged by the fact that few humans are able to comprehend the notion of a four-dimensional space-time manifold which is central to the breakthrough theory of special relativity in physics.

Would you please explore another debatable claim of this type? Here are three versions:

  • A good scientific theory should be explicable to a barmaid
  • It should be possible to explain the laws of physics to a barmaid.
  • No physical theory is worth much if it cannot be explained to a barmaid.

This remark has been attributed to both Albert Einstein and Ernest Rutherford, two Nobel Prize winning scientists.

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the journal “Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society” within a 1955 article about Albert Einstein who had died earlier in the year. The piece noted that some fellow scientists were initially reluctant to accept Einstein’s research results because of their complex abstract nature. While discussing this resistance the article mentioned the saying together with an ascription to Ernest Rutherford. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Some of it may have been due to the popular principle attributed to Rutherford, that an alleged scientific discovery has no merit unless it can be explained to a barmaid.

Over time Einstein’s colleagues embraced his work and performed experiments that supported his theories.

Ernest Rutherford died in 1937, so the attribution above is posthumous and rather late. Also, the phrasing has been highly variable. Over all, the supporting evidence is not strong. On the other hand, Rutherford is the leading candidate because other ascriptions only emerged in the 1970s.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading An Alleged Scientific Discovery Has No Merit Unless It Can Be Explained To a Barmaid

Notes:

  1. 1955 November, Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, Volume 1, Albert Einstein 1879-1955 by Edmund Whittaker, Start Page 37, Quote Page 54, Published by Royal Society, United Kingdom. (JSTOR) link

The Eighth Wonder of the World Is Compound Interest

Albert Einstein? Napoleon Bonaparte? Baron Rothschild? Paul Samuelson? John D. Rockefeller? Advertising Copy Writer? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Salespeople and advertisers invoke the name of the scientific genius Albert Einstein when they wish to impress gullible individuals. The following grandiose statement has been attributed to Einstein:

Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world.

Sometimes the remark is credited to financial luminaries such as Baron Rothschild or John D. Rockefeller. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The saying appeared in a section titled “Probably Not By Einstein” in the authoritative volume “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press. 1

The earliest close match located by QI appeared in an advertisement for The Equity Savings & Loan Company published in the “Cleveland Plain Dealer” of Ohio in 1925. No attribution was specified. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 2

The Eighth Wonder of the World—is compound interest. It does things to money. At the Equity it doubles your money every 14 years, but here is an even greater wonder of it—

Deposit five dollars a week for twenty years, say, and let the interest accumulate. You will have actually put away only $5,200, but you will have $8,876.80. The difference of $3,676.80 is what 5% compound interest has done for you.

QI hypothesizes that the statement was crafted by an unknown advertising copy writer. Over the years it has been reassigned to famous people to make the comment sound more impressive and to encourage individuals to open bank accounts or purchase interest-bearing securities.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Eighth Wonder of the World Is Compound Interest

Notes:

  1. 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Section: Probably Not By Einstein, Quote Page 481, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1925 April 27, Cleveland Plain Dealer, (Advertisement for The Equity Savings & Loan Co., 5701 Euclid Ave.) Quote Page 26, Column 6, Cleveland, Ohio. (GenealogyBank)

Light Travels Faster Than Sound. That’s Why Some Folks Appear Bright Until They Speak

Albert Einstein? Steven Wright? Earl Wilson? Robert Orben? Gary Apple? Bo McLeod? Brian Williams? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The speed of light is a crucial value in the theory of relativity. Perhaps that is why the following joke has been credited to Albert Einstein:

Light travels faster than sound. That’s why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.

I am very skeptical that Einstein ever made this remark. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Einstein made this quip. The most comprehensive reference about the physicist’s pronouncements is the 2010 book “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press, and the expression is absent.

A precursor appeared in Earl Wilson’s popular gossip column in 1959. The attribution was anonymous. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

EARL’S PEARLS: Someone described a second-rate singer: “Luckily light travels faster than sound — because she looks better than she sounds.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Light Travels Faster Than Sound. That’s Why Some Folks Appear Bright Until They Speak

Notes:

  1. 1959 April 20, The Raleigh Register, Ingrid In Maternity ‘Ward’—By Mistake by Earl Wilson, Quote Page 4, Column 6 and 7, Beckley, West Virginia. (Newspapers_com)

Time Is What Keeps Everything From Happening At Once

Albert Einstein? Ray Cummings? Mark Twain? Arthur C. Clarke? John Archibald Wheeler? Arthur Power Dudden? Susan Sontag?

Dear Quote Investigator: Albert Einstein has received credit for a humorous remark about time:

The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.

Would you please explore the provenance of this quip?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Einstein wrote or spoke the statement above. It is listed within a section called “Probably Not By Einstein” in the comprehensive reference “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press. 1

The earliest match known to QI appeared in 1919 within a story titled “The Girl in the Golden Atom” by Ray Cummings in the magazine “All-Story Weekly”: 2

“How would you describe time?”
The Big Business Man smiled. “Time,” he said, “is what keeps everything from happening at once.”
“Very clever,” said the Chemist, laughing.

The text above is from the 1970 reprint collection “Under the Moons of Mars: A History and Anthology of ‘The Scientific Romance'”. QI has not yet verified the quotation by directly examining the 1919 issue of All-Story Weekly”.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Time Is What Keeps Everything From Happening At Once

Notes:

  1. 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Section: Probably Not by Einstein, Quote Page 481, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1970, Under the Moons of Mars: A History and Anthology of “The Scientific Romance” in the Munsey Magazines: 1912-1920, Edited by Sam Moskowitz, The Girl in the Golden Atom by Ray Cummings (All-Story Weekly, March 15, 1919), Start Page 175, Quote Page 205, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York. (Verified with scans)

One Hand Extended Into the Universe and One Hand Extended Into the World

Albert Einstein? Christina Baldwin? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a quotation about art attributed to the famous scientist Albert Einstein which describes a person extending a hand into the universe and acting as a “conduit for passing energy”. I am skeptical of this ascription because I have been unable to find a citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Einstein made this statement. It is not listed in the 2010 book “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” which is a comprehensive reference about the physicist’s pronouncements from Princeton University Press. 1

The earliest match known to QI occurred in a 1990 spiritual book by Christina Baldwin. 2 A vivid statement within Baldwin’s book caught the eye of researcher Rosalie Maggio who placed it into her 1992 compilation “The Beacon Book of Quotations by Women”. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 3

Spiritual love is a position of standing with one hand extended into the universe and one hand extended into the world, letting ourselves be a conduit for passing energy.

Christina Baldwin, Life’s Companion, Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest (1990)

The above statement was about spiritual love and not art; however, by 2018 the remark had been altered to produce a new expression and had implausibly been reassigned to Albert Einstein who had died decades before in 1955. The “Newtown Bee” of Newtown, Connecticut on August 31, 2018 printed a miscellaneous set of quotations which included the following: 4

Art is standing with one hand extended into the universe and one hand extended into the world and letting ourselves be a conduit for passing energy.
—Albert Einstein

Below is one additional selected citation and a conclusion.

Continue reading One Hand Extended Into the Universe and One Hand Extended Into the World

Notes:

  1. 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, (No page number because statement is absent), Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Verified with hardcopy)
  2. 1990, Life’s Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest by Christina Baldwin, Page Number Not Yet Checked, (This citation has not yet been verified with hardcopy by QI), Bantam Books, New York.
  3. 1992 Copyright, The Beacon Book of Quotations by Women, Compiled by Rosalie Maggio, Topic: Spirituality, Quote Page 305, Column 2, Beacon Press, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified with scans)
  4. 2018 August 31, Newspaper: Newtown Bee, Article: News, Quote Page 2A, Newspaper Location: Newtown, Connecticut. (NewsBank Access World News)

In Theory There Is No Difference Between Theory and Practice, While In Practice There Is

Yogi Berra? Albert Einstein? Richard Feynman? Benjamin Brewster? Charles F. Kettering? Walter J. Savitch? Jan L. A. van de Snepscheut? Dave Jeske? Chuck Reid?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following popular adage balances unsteadily between brilliance and absurdity:

In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.

This notion has been attributed to many people including famous baseball player Yogi Berra, scientific genius Albert Einstein, and prominent physicist Richard P. Feynman. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive reason to credit Berra, Einstein, or Feynman. The expression was coined before Einstein had reached his third birthday and before the other two were born.

The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in “The Yale Literary Magazine” of February 1882 which was written and edited by students. Benjamin Brewster who was a member of the class of 1882 wrote about an argument he had engaged in with a philosophical friend about theory versus practice. His companion accused him of committing a vulgar error. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

I heard no more, for I was lost in self-reproach that I had been the victim of “vulgar error.” But afterwards, a kind of haunting doubt came over me. What does his lucid explanation amount to but this, that in theory there is no difference between theory and practice, while in practice there is?

Brewster was humorously summarizing the position of his friendly opponent, and QI believes that the saying should be credited to Brewster.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading In Theory There Is No Difference Between Theory and Practice, While In Practice There Is

Notes:

  1. 1882 February, The Yale Literary Magazine, Conducted by the Students of Yale College, Volume 47, Number 5, Portfolio: Theory and Practice by Benjamin Brewster, Quote Page 202, New Haven, Connecticut. (Google Books Full View) link

Try Not To Become a Man of Success But Rather Try To Become a Man of Value

Albert Einstein? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The blinkered pursuit of success can lead an individual to ignore other aspects of life such as adventure, humor, spirituality, exploration, altruism, and curiosity. Albert Einstein apparently offered pertinent advice. Here are four versions:

  • Try not to become a person of success but rather a person of value.
  • Do not try to become a person of success but try to become a person of value.
  • Try not to become a man of success but rather try to become a man of value.
  • Try to become not a man of success but try rather to become a man of value.

Would you please examine the provenance of this expression?

Quote Investigator: Some months before Albert Einstein’s death in April 1955 an editor of “LIFE” magazine named William Miller visited the famous scientist at his home in Princeton, New Jersey. The journalist was accompanied by his son Pat Miller and by Professor William Hermanns of San Jose State in California. Einstein responded to the son’s desire for guidance in life. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day.

Never lose a holy curiosity. Try not to become a man of success but rather try to become a man of value. He is considered successful in our day who gets more out of life than he puts in. But a man of value will give more than he receives.

The text above appeared in the May 2, 1955 issue of “LIFE”. The initial statement used the word “man” to designate an individual of unspecified sex instead of “person” which often occurs in modern instances. Also, over time variant phrases have proliferated based on compression and word re-ordering.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Try Not To Become a Man of Success But Rather Try To Become a Man of Value

Notes:

  1. 1955 May 2, LIFE, Death of a Genius: His fourth dimension, time, overtakes Einstein, Subsection: Old Man’s Advice to Youth: ‘Never Lose a Holy Curiosity’ by William Miller (Editor at LIFE magazine), Start Page 62, Quote Page 64, Time Inc., New York. (Google Books Full View) link