Thomas Jefferson? Coleman Cox? Stephen Leacock? Samuel Goldwyn? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: There is a humorously insightful quotation about luck that is often credited to the American Founding Father Thomas Jefferson:
I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.
The class notes of a course taught by the renowned entrepreneur and venture capitalist Peter Thiel featured this quote. Here is a more concise version of the saying:
The harder I work, the more luck I have.
Is this remark really connected to Jefferson?
Quote Investigator: The saying has been ascribed to Jefferson for a few decades. However, the valuable Thomas Jefferson Monticello website states that there is no evidence to support the attribution [TJGB]:
Neither this statement nor any variations thereof have ever been found in Thomas Jefferson’s writings.
The earliest close match for this aphorism known to QI is in a 1922 collection titled “Listen to This” by Coleman Cox who composed a large number of sayings [CCGB]:
I am a great believer in luck. The harder I work, the more of it I seem to have.
This theme has been reflected in adages for quite a long time. The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations lists the following proverb which it dates to the late 16th century [OXDL]:
Diligence is the mother of good luck.
A novel in 1857 “The Laird of Restalrig’s Daughter” presented a maxim about luck in a comical context. The following passage used alternate spellings to reflect dialect [JHGL]:
Good luck mainly depends on the thrying to get it, as Darby O’Reilly said when he made Thady O’Rhu’s will afther the creathur was dead, and left the whole dollop iv his fortune to himself, sure.
In 1870 the periodical “Contemporary Review” reprinted a small collection of “Notices to Correspondents” from the London Journal. These items were similar to the classified advertisements or Craigslist ads of today. A notice from a woman named Maggie May commented about luck [CRNC]:
People make their own luck in this world.
In 1879 the American Bee Journal printed the same basic adage about luck [BJML]:
I think that many of you will say, “You make your own luck.”
In 1890 an agricultural magazine “Western Garden and Poultry Journal” linked hard work with making your own luck [WGML]:
Poor luck is often given as an excuse for lack of energy. You make your own luck and must work hard and plan carefully if you would succeed.
This post continues with additional selected citations in chronological order.
Note that information from the website of top etymologist and quote-tracer Barry Popik helped QI to construct this short essay. A commenter using the name “Anna Berkes” at the website provided an important lead to the saying which was credited to Coleman Cox in 1923 in a magazine [ANBP] [CMCC].
Continue reading I’m a Great Believer in Luck. The Harder I Work, the More Luck I Have