Niels Bohr? Albert Einstein? Carl Alfred Meier? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: There is popular anecdote about a journalist or friend who visited the home of a prominent physicist. The visitor was surprised to find a horseshoe above the front doorway of the scientist’s abode. Tradition asserts that a horseshoe acts as a talisman of luck when placed over a door.
The visitor asked the physicist about the purpose of the horseshoe while expressing incredulity that a man of science could possibly be swayed by a simple-minded folk belief. The physicist replied:
Of course I don’t believe in it, but I understand it brings you luck, whether you believe in it or not.
This slyly comical remark has been attributed to both Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein. I love this entertaining tale, but I am skeptical. Any insights?
Quote Investigator: The earliest match known to QI appeared in “Svenska Dagbladet” (“The Swedish Daily News”) in January 1956. The scientist was identified as Niels Bohr. Boldface added to excepts by QI: 1
att den frejdade atomforskaren Niels Bohr nyligen fick besök av en nyfiken amerikan.
— Professorn har en hästsko ovanför dörren, sa han, Tror professorn på skrock?
— Naturligtvis inte. Men jag har hört sägas att en hästsko kan bringa tur även ät folk som inte är vidskepliga . . .
Here is one possible translation into English:
It is alleged
that the celebrated nuclear scientist Niels Bohr was recently visited by a curious American.
— “The professor has a horseshoe above the door,” he said. “Does the professor believe in superstition?”
— “Of course not. But I have heard it said that a horseshoe can bring good luck even to people who are not superstitious” . . .
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1956 January 4, Svenska Dagbladet (The Swedish Daily News), Det påstås, Quote Page 8, Column 6, Stockholm, Sweden. (Verified with scans) ↩