Thomas Edison? Henry Dodd? Isaiah Hale? Paul Larmer? Lila Kroppmann? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: The following quote is credited to Thomas Edison:
Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.
Do you know when he said this and to whom?
Quote Investigator: Both QI and top researcher Barry Popik explored this saying and this entry is based on results from both investigators. The first attribution to Edison known to QI appeared in 1962. Since Edison died in 1931 this is very weak evidence.
May 1921 was the date of the earliest citation for a closely matching expression known to QI. The words were printed in a newspaper in Indiana, and the adage was not credited to any specific person [LPTI]:
The reason most people do not recognize an opportunity when they meet it is because it usually goes around wearing overalls and looking like Hard Work
An interesting precursor to this statement was in circulation by 1911. The precursor did not mention overalls but it did contain other key elements of the saying. No attribution was listed [ODHW]:
The successful man was out and on the job long before opportunity came a-knocking.
And this same opportunity, by the way, is ofttimes disguised as hard work
Another interesting precursor that was closer to the target quotation was in print by 1913. No specific name was given for attribution [ASAM]:
The reason a lot of people can’t find Opportunity is because old Op usually goes around disguised as Hard Work.
In May 1921 a version of the quotation under investigation using the word overalls was published as detailed previously in this post.
In June 1921 the same statement was printed in another newspaper in Indiana without attribution [BNAN], and in July 1922 it was printed without ascription in “The Beaver”, a magazine based in Winnipeg, Canada that was published by the Hudson’s Bay Company for their employees [TBWC].
In September 1922 the expression was printed in “The Rotarian” magazine published by Rotary International. Many sayings were grouped together in a section called “Take It From Me—” by quotation collector and coiner Coleman Cox. The adage was finally credited to a specific individual [RTHD]:
Henry Dodd says, “The reason most people do not recognize an opportunity when they meet it is because it usually goes around wearing overalls and looking like Hard Work.”
In later years the expression was assigned to other people, e.g., Paul Larmer, Lila Kroppmann, and Thomas Edison. The details are given further below.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.