I Understand It Brings You Luck, Whether You Believe in It or Not

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

Det påstås
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.

Continue reading I Understand It Brings You Luck, Whether You Believe in It or Not

Notes:

  1. 1956 January 4, Svenska Dagbladet (The Swedish Daily News), Det påstås, Quote Page 8, Column 6, Stockholm, Sweden. (Verified with scans)