Tag Archives: John D. Rockefeller

A Pessimist Sees the Difficulty in Every Opportunity; an Optimist Sees the Opportunity in Every Difficulty

Winston Churchill? Bertram Carr? F. W. Cole? John D. Rockefeller? L. P. Jacks? Helen Keller? Anonymous?

Dear Quote investigator: Here are four versions of a popular saying about differing mental attitudes:

  1. The pessimist sees an obstacle in every opportunity; the optimist sees an opportunity in every obstacle.
  2. An optimist finds an opportunity in every difficulty; a pessimist finds a difficulty in every opportunity
  3. A pessimist is one who sees a disaster in every opportunity. An optimist sees opportunity in every disaster.
  4. An optimist sees an opportunity in every calamity; a pessimist sees a calamity in every opportunity.

The statesman Winston Churchill is typically credited with this remark, but I have been unable to find a citation. Would you please help?

Quote investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Churchill made this statement. The historian Richard M. Langworth placed the saying in an appendix titled “Red Herrings: False Attributions” in his book “Churchill By Himself” which is the most comprehensive collection of Churchill quotations. 1

The earliest strong match located by QI was spoken in 1919 by Bertram Carr who was the Mayor of Carlisle, England. He was addressing “The Fifty-First Annual Co-operative Congress”, a gathering inspired by social reformers and the cooperative movement. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

The past history of an old walled city such as this leaves its legacy of ideas antiquated and out of date. These, as expressed in tangible form, are an embarrassment, and hinder the wheels of progress, but we view these, I hope, in the spirit of the optimist to whom every difficulty is an opportunity, and not as the pessimist, to whom every opportunity presents some difficulty.

The ascription to Carr is tentative because the saying may have already been circulating. Fragments appeared earlier, and the full statement was probably assembled from these pieces over time.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 2013 December 12 (Kindle Edition Date), Churchill By Himself (Winston Churchill’s In His Own Words Collection), Compiled and edited by Richard M. Langworth, Appendix I: Red Herrings: False Attributions, Entry: Pessimist and optimist. (Kindle Location 19806)
  2. 1919, The Fifty-First Annual Co-operative Congress, Held at the Market Hall, Carlisle, England, On 9th, 10th, and 11th June, 1919, The Congress Luncheon, Start Page 61, Quote Page 64, Published by the Co-operative Union Limited, Holyoake House, Hanover Street, Manchester, England. (HathiTrust Full View) link

I Believe the Market Is Going to Fluctuate

John Pierpont Morgan? John D. Rockefeller? William Rockefeller? Jay Gould? Jesse Livermore?

rockefeller03 Dear Quote Investigator: The best-known prediction for investors is also the most humorously vacuous. According to legend a young person approached one of the top businessmen in the U.S. and asked with an undertone of desperation for guidance in the stock market. The prominent man looked gravely at his questioner and replied:

I believe the market will fluctuate.

Who crafted this unerringly accurate and perfectly useless forecast? I have heard it attributed to the powerful financier J. P. Morgan and the major industrialist John D. Rockefeller.

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in an anecdote credited to Henry Poor in the pages of the Wall Street Journal in October 1922. Today, Henry Poor is remembered as the founder of the firm which became the powerhouse financial analysis company called Standard & Poor’s. He died in 1905 several years before the article presenting the tale was published.

In this version of the story Poor was inquiring about a set of companies called Standard Oils. There were several Standard Oil companies, e.g., Standard Oil of Ohio and Standard Oil of New Jersey, even before the breakup mandated by anti-trust regulators in 1911. The companies were linked together through a trust structure, and John D. Rockefeller was the most powerful owner and executive of the Standard Oil Trust: 1

Henry Poor used to tell this story: He walked down to the financial district with John D. Rockefeller one morning and tried to elicit some information as to the market for Standard Oils. The latter passed two blocks before giving an answer and then said slowly, “I think they will fluctuate.” During the next few days they dropped over 30 points.

In 1924 another instance of the story was printed in the Washington Post. The questioner was an unidentified young person: 2

A smart young man is said to have approached Mr. Rockefeller with the question, “Mr. Rockefeller, what do you think Standard Oil stocks will do?” After ponderous deliberation, the reply was, “Young man, I think they will fluctuate.”

In 1926 the book “Security Speculation: The Dazzling Adventure” was published, and the author presented a variant of the anecdote featuring John Pierpont Morgan instead of Rockefeller. The inquiry concerned the overall stock market and not specific securities. Also, the label “legend” was already being employed: 3

Legend avers that an alert young man once found himself in the immediate presence of the late Mr. J. P. Morgan. Seeking to improve the golden moment, he ventured to inquire Mr. Morgan’s opinion as to the future course of the stock market. The alleged reply has become classic: “Young man, I believe the market is going to fluctuate.”

It did. It always has. Perhaps it always will. In the main, security prices are always and eternally going somewhere.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1922 October 18, Wall Street Journal, What of the Market?, Quote Page 2, Column 5, New York. (ProQuest)
  2. 1924 December 31, Washington Post, Straight Talks About Money: Acting on Financial Tips by Mary Elizabeth Allen, Quote Page 10, Column 5, Washington D.C. (ProQuest)
  3. 1926, Security Speculation: The Dazzling Adventure by Laurence H. Sloan (Laurence Henry Sloan), Quote Page 17, Harper & Brothers, New York and London. (Verified on paper)