Thomas Edison? Martin André Rosanoff? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: While reading a novel about the remarkable inventor Nikola Tesla I came across a statement credited to Thomas Edison that I find very hard to believe [TLDS]:
Everyone steals in commerce and industry. I’ve stolen a lot, myself. But I know how to steal! They don’t know how to steal!
Did Edison really say something like this? I know that Tesla and Edison were rivals, and perhaps the author of this Tesla book is biased against Edison. I hesitate to believe that this quotation is accurate.
Quote Investigator: A remark that was nearly identical to the one above was attributed to Edison in an article published in Harper’s magazine in September 1932 titled “Edison in His Laboratory”. The statement began with “everybody” instead of “everyone”. Note that Edison died in 1931, the year before the Harper’s article was printed. The author of the article was Martin André Rosanoff who performed chemical investigations for Edison.
Rosanoff stated that Edison asked him to test the composition of a wax that was used by a rival company because Edison suspected that the other company had stolen a secret formula for the wax. In the following excerpt Rosanoff referred to Edison as “the Old Man” [MRTE]:
The first I knew of this was when the Old Man asked me to investigate it and ascertain whether the rival’s wax was really new. He said I might be called upon to testify in court and urged me to make my experimental study thorough.
Rosanoff performed an exhaustive analysis of the wax and concluded that the rival’s wax was identical in composition to that used by Edison’s company. Rosanoff was angered by this apparent commercial theft, and described the data to Edison [MRTE]:
When I reported my results to the Old Man with spirited indignation at the unsavory ways of his rival, he asked with a merry twinkle of amusement, “What are you so excited about? Everybody steals in commerce and industry. I’ve stolen a lot myself. But I knew how to steal. They don’t know how to steal—that’s all that’s the matter with them” I said nothing; my breath was taken away.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.